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opinion

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and leadership coach based in Calgary.

Recent events across the country that prompted the historic invoking of the Emergencies Act have transfixed avid news watchers and those who work supporting leaders. No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, or what your views about the legitimacy or effectiveness of vaccine mandates are, this was a bold step that many felt was necessary to restore order.

Only time will tell if it was the right decision.

For those in leadership positions, the challenges of facing what organizational and leadership strategists call VUCA moments – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – are those facing Canadian politicians and public authorities now. These are situations that make or break a leader. If the decision proves to be successful, the leader is likely to be applauded for their vision, insight and decisiveness when faced with a difficult test. If the decision turns out badly, it will be the fodder for endless analysis and speculation around alternative scenarios by armchair quarterbacks.

What is Canada’s federal Emergencies Act? A summary of the law’s powers and uses

As leaders, I think we can draw several important lessons from these events.

First and foremost, decisions of this scale and magnitude demand rapid and effective collaboration with key stakeholders who will either be involved in executing the plan, or who are going to be significantly affected. Arguably, this is where the government’s initial actions weren’t as vigorous and co-ordinated as many expected, given the severity of the situation, especially when it came to disruptions of vital trade at border crossings. Although there were undoubtedly conversations occurring between various levels of government over the past several weeks of standoffs with protesters in Ottawa and elsewhere, the public impression largely was one of floundering and playing the blame game.

It’s unreasonable to think leaders must have a magic bullet to fix every problem. But we should expect them to know how and when to convene the right people to provide necessary information and insights and help to develop solutions. That’s why we elect them to high office or pay them very well to run major organizations.

In this instance, effective action takes many brains around the table and it is the leader’s role to get them all exploring courses of action that lead to a resolution of the problem. I am sure there will be fascinating books and articles probing the nuances of the back-room meetings that occurred in the lead-up to the recent decisions.

Second, leaders need to have the courage to make a decision, whether it’s ultimately right or wrong. Even with the best advice and input, it often comes down to a solitary individual who must make the difficult choice between various courses of action. Recent events have created the appearance that some leaders did not take early action and appeared indecisive. Hindsight may prove that perspective to be false, but most of us would think that if we stopped our car in the middle of a busy street and set up camp to protest something, the reaction of the local police would likely be swift and decisive. While modern policing carries the baggage of heavy-handed and ill-considered actions of the past, there is still a public expectation that those leaders trained in maintaining law and order would demonstrate their professionalism and leadership amid the apparent chaos.

Third, as members of the public or the organization involved, we need to give the leaders in question the room to implement their solution. As with any decision, there will be critics who voice their immediate dissent about the chosen course of action. They have the luxury to do so, as they didn’t have to make the decision and stand the test of scrutiny to come. Were the roles reversed, many such critics would be the first to tell you that they need time to resolve the problem.

Ultimately, whether the decisions of the past few weeks were the right ones will be debated for years. That a decision of some sort was necessary is undoubted.

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