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Toronto Business CEO Williamson talks about his book and 30 years in the industry

Doug Williamson, Canadian business leader and chief executive officer of The Beacon Group, has kicked off his literary career with the launch of his new book, Straight Talk on Leadership – Solving Canada's Business Crisis. Crossing off one of the activities on his bucket list, Mr. Williamson wrote his first book to provide readers with insight into the Canadian business leadership model and what he believes needs to be accomplished in the future. Canadian business leaders have been playing it safe, losing ground in the battle for economic and social relevance in the developing world order, Mr. Williamson said. "Having spent over 30 years in business meetings and boardrooms all over the world, I thought it would be great to take that learning and assemble it," Mr. Williamson told The Globe and Mail.

How did you come up with the idea to write a book?

I realized I had a privileged position of being inside boardrooms all across the country and internationally. When you're inside that environment, you get a sense of what business is like behind the scenes. Rather than look back at the past, [the book] is about what Canadians and business leaders need to do going forward.

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What are the key topics discussed in your book?

I think there are three strands. The one strand is the 'Canada brand,' a belief that Canada is so well-known and so positively thought of around the world. The second strand has to do with the particular leadership competencies or capabilities that are necessary to guide a business in the new hypercompetitive landscape . The feeling I had was 'what got us here won't get us there, and we need to pivot.' The third strand is the inadequate production of good leaders in Canada. We haven't done a very good job at producing successful Canadian business leaders from within the belly of business.

What is the biggest problem the current business leadership model in Canada?

It's too North American-centric, and it's too short-term. And then the question becomes 'why are we that way?' The answer is Canada has had great fortune because of the market to the south of us. Also, Canada has had a hugely important natural resource sector, but that kind of fell in our lap as well. When you take away the U.S. and natural resource positives and you strip the Canadian economy down, it's not very pretty. We don't have a huge market with middle-tier companies. We have a huge number of large, multi-national companies and then we have mom-and-pop shops. Our problem is we don't seem to know how to grow a company.

How does Canada's performance compare to other countries around the world?

There are a number of reports published every year, and unfortunately Canada is falling in the standings. The problem is that we're not keeping pace. The world is moving faster than Canada is, and we're falling back. That is true in terms of innovation, exports and pretty much any metric you could look at in terms of business.

What will be the most vital factor in determining Canada's future success?

It's what I call in the book: sense-making and sense-shaping. Looking at the crazy world, top grades go to the individual who can make sense out of the craziness and who can shape the response to the craziness in the best way. I refer to that as CQ – contextual intelligence, and SQ – strategic intelligence. It's about who can connect the dots with all this noise in order to create a story or a picture that can then be used to galvanize an organization into action. People want someone – a leader – to help them understand what's going on.

What do you hope your book will accomplish?

The objective of the book is twofold. One objective is to stimulate a national dialogue that is conducted among business people. The second objective of the book is to write a prescription that describes these new leadership competencies as a blue-print for someone to help guide the skill-sets for the future.

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