Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary Alberta
“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way,” is a famous quote attributed to impatient and hard-charging U.S. General George S. Patton, and has been used more recently by contemporary business leaders like Ted Turner.
Clearly, the saying doesn’t counsel a leader to sit still, dither and cause a traffic jam, like what is happening right now in Alberta with Premier Jason Kenney. He recently put his leadership mandate to a vote by party members after months of divisive sniping from internal detractors over his record with COVID-19 and other political issues.
He didn’t set the bar very high, stating that 50 per cent, plus one, was a suitable number for him to stay on as leader, because it met the constitutional threshold. In the end, he got just slightly more than 51 per cent, and immediately announced he would be stepping down, saying the result wasn’t what he had expected and didn’t give him the mandate to lead into the next election.
At first, that sounded like he was going to do the obvious thing that others in a similar place of non-confidence in their leadership have done: step away, appoint an interim leader and clear the way for new leadership to take the helm.
But no. That just wouldn’t be much fun. Days later, he announced that he is going to stay on as premier for an undetermined amount of time, such as when the party eventually elects a new leader. That all adds up to the equivalent of an old, tired campaign bus stalled in the passing lane of Alberta politics.
This will probably form the core of leadership “what not to do” case studies for years to come. Some say it is an act of desperation. To me, it’s an act of power, ego and the overall entitlement of a particular brand of leadership: the one that expects others to follow without question.
There aren’t many equivalents in the corporate world, unless you want to make the current situation seem like a made-in-Alberta spin off of the backbiting family leadership turmoil portrayed in the hit TV series Succession. In most companies, the interim leadership succession plan would have been on the table the moment the old CEO left the podium to say her or his goodbyes. That just makes sense when the demand for confidence in leadership at any level is under such significant public scrutiny and is especially paramount for public companies trying to retain crucial shareholder confidence.
For Mr. Kenney to be staying in his position without a mandate to lead in any particular direction is astounding. Remember that, as premier, he not only is supposed to provide political leadership for more than four million Albertans, but also directional leadership for the province’s more than 25,000 public employees (up to 95,000 if you count all public-sector union members). Not to mention providing nominal leadership to a government with revenues of roughly $30-billion a year, and an economy with a GDP of more than $323-billion last year.
A leader who has lost the mandate to lead should step aside immediately. Full stop.
When ego and entitlement take over, we see leaders who still believe no one else can do as good a job leading in their place. They do not trust others to inherit their mantle and have clearly not accepted the results of those in a legitimate position to evaluate their leadership. They believe they know better and refuse even the best of counsel (all sound familiar to Succession fans?).
They want to do things their way, and listen to few others, which is likely how they got themselves in the position of lost confidence to begin with.
Being a leader, a respected leader, means falling on your sword when it is appropriate. It means making decisions you disagree with, but that are in the best interest of the organization, and of those who work within it. It also means admitting you are not the right leader for the time, despite whatever success you may have had in past, and actually believing it.
If you can’t lead, and don’t have the ability to follow, then the only remaining option is to get out of the way.
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