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What can we learn about leadership from Mark Carney?

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney will take the reins as Governor of the Bank of England next year, British finance minister George Osborne told parliament this week.


Not many managers, when they change jobs, glean the kind of universal praise that greeted Mark Carney when it was announced this week that he will leave the top job at the Bank of Canada to become governor of the Bank of England.

Mr. Carney has become the poster boy for the charming, sharp-dressing, get-to-the-point executive that many bosses would like to be, but aren't.

So what is it about Mr. Carney that makes him the quintessential leader, and an example to others who aspire to leadership?

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"What impresses me about him is his steady hand and his calming voice," said Louis Gagnon, a professor of finance at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and a former bank executive. "He is an excellent communicator [who] goes straight to the point and makes himself heard."

Mr. Carney is also remarkably good at explaining complex policy actions in a simple manner, Prof. Gagnon said, essentially "bringing transparency to a process that is inherently opaque." That ability to get the message across, along with the sense Mr. Carney gives that he is in control of the situation, "are the hallmarks of a good leader," Prof. Gagnon said.

Executives who want to emulate Mr. Carney should concentrate on communicating "frequently, and with precision," he said.

Mr. Carney's ability to speak bluntly without offending was underlined in August, when he admonished Canadian business leaders for sitting on "dead money" instead of investing it or returning it to shareholders. Even those executives who disagreed with him avoided personal attacks, instead countering the central bank chief's polite tone with a reasoned counter-punch.

Mr. Carney also drew in many Canadians who would not normally identify with his views, when he declared a year ago that the "Occupy" movement had legitimate complaints and that their protests were "entirely constructive."

Charles St-Arnaud, a former Bank of Canada economist who now works for Nomura Securities in New York, said it was clear what made Mr. Carney a good manager when the two worked together briefly at the central bank about eight years ago.

Mr. Carney was deputy governor at the time, and Mr. St-Arnaud was a relatively junior economist in the international section.

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Mr. St-Arnaud said Mr. Carney would come directly to his office to ask questions about reports he had written, bypassing the bank's formal chain of command. "I felt that he had read the report, and he knew who I was. He had very good interpersonal skills that made me feel confident."

As a manager, Mr. Carney worked hard to know everyone in the organization, and that made each staff member feel they had a valuable role, Mr. St-Arnaud said. "He is a very charismatic figure."

Business executives who have watched Mr. Carney's public persona say his strong leadership skills are apparent even to those outside the central bank. "[Mr. Carney] is decisive, and has the courage and conviction to implement what he believes is the right thing, when he could have taken the easy or popular way out," said Daryl Ritchie, chief executive officer of accounting firm MNP LLP in Calgary. That makes people respect and trust him, even if they disagree, Mr. Ritchie said.

Matt Campbell, CEO of Rocky Mountain Dealerships Inc., a Calgary-based chain of construction and agriculture equipment dealers, said Mr. Carney not only has an "aura that displays confidence" but he has surrounded himself with a strong support team.

But Mr. Carney also has another advantage, which was not his own doing, Mr. Campbell said. He presided over an economy that was in far better shape than others around the world during and after the recession. Much of the credit for that should go to the current government and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Mr. Campbell said.

Mr. Carney not only had a strong team, "but had strong support from his masters," Mr. Campbell said. "Mark Carney is a star quarterback [but] the team was built and coached by Harper."

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