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Ten rules to know as leader of a U.S. company’s Canadian division

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Tongue in cheek, I thought I'd capture random thoughts from over the years as a Canadian working for U.S.-based companies. Friends and colleagues who have chosen to remain nameless have contributed poignant rules and examples.

In short: Leadership isn't always leadership, eh?

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Much has been made of the hollowing out of middle management in Canada. I believe Canadian university's should offer a MBA specifically for managers going to work for the Canadian division of global organizations, with a minor in U.S.-based "global" organizations.

Rule No. 1

Expect to go to a meeting once a year on a Canadian holiday – often, Thanksgiving – where the "global" plan for the subsequent year will be unveiled. Objectives will be set, trends identified, strategies and tactics articulated, key performance indicators handed out. Often referred to as "Death by PowerPoint", this meeting may involve break-out groups where the global leaders will feign interest in your views and consider "tweaking" their plan on the basis of your feedback. That the plan is printed in colour and placed in a binder already, tells all you need to know about their sincere interest in your opinions.

Conversely, understand that Memorial Day and Thanksgiving in November are high holidays in the United States. You can expect therefore a flurry of activity and requests for templates, conference calls, status and activity reports, 90-day plans, etc. in the lead-up weeks. When queried, I'd respond, "I'll get back to you after Victoria Day". The silence in the reply was deafening.

Rule No. 2

Realize that there will have been many debates about whether the Canadian division should be part of the "international" organization, or the "North American" organization. If your organization is U.S.-based, there has been serious consideration given to linking Canada and North Dakota as a single "region" within Team North America. Once upon a time, a Canadian country manager could be an important voice, a so-called thought leader in a company. Today they are more like exalted middle managers. You're in charge as long as you make your revenue and margin numbers every month – the equivalent of the regional vice-president of sales in any of the United States division. And as a Canadian manager, remember that Europeans (especially the French) consider you American by proxy.

Rule No. 3

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Foreign leaders of the Canadian division of a global company tend to be here long enough to get a stamp in their passport. Wanting to prove something on the way up the corporate ladder, their top priority is hitting immediate financial targets. In business, like in any good marriage, information with these leaders should be shared on a "need to know" basis.

Rule No. 4

Use the 'You should try that as a pilot project in Canada before you roll it out globally' play, strategically. It is a good way of getting much-needed head count. Once the project is abandoned, the people hired can't be let go easily because the cost of severance is prohibitive in Canada, versus in a 'right-to-work' state. This specifically applies if your organization sells goods or services to any government in Canada. "We can't do that because it would violate the employment clause in our government contracts." Conversation over.

Rule No. 5

If the special project actually works, ensure that you re-brand the Canadian organization as "that innovative group in Canada" so the phrase rolls off the tongue as easily.

Rule No. 6

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Whenever possible, reference universal health care, or any UN or UNESCO survey that ranks Canada ahead of the country of origin of whomever you are debating whether in a corporate meeting, e-mail or telephone call.

Rule No. 7

Your company undoubtedly has a corporate mission statement that reads something like, "We value diversity". It's probably true, but you have to realize U.S. companies value diversity as long as it's their idea of diversity. In the United States context, diversity refers to the hiring of Latino-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and sexual orientation. It does not include diversity of any opinion you may wish to offer. In other words, to an American manager diversity means: "We want you to look different but think exactly the same."

Rule No. 8

"We have a matrixed organization" is code for "nobody reports to you", and your authority is only as strong as your influence.

Rule No. 9

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You will be given a target that appears to be random and unexplainable. The reason is, it is random and unexplainable. What happens is that someone creates guidance for Wall Street analysts, and someone else reverse-engineers that number to figure out how much you need to grow the Canadian revenue line. It absolutely does not take into account how mature your market is – whether you already have a dominant position in the market and therefore can't possible grow as fast as India, China or Brazil.

Rule No. 10

The "on-site minion" is the individual who comes to Canada and, in the face of all opposition to any issue, threatens to call up the CEO right then and there to explain that you are thwarting their wishes.

Finally, expect your American managers to talk, more than listen. You can use this to advantage later – just claim you had a different opinion at the time the decision was made. They won't recall what had been decided. Document that difference of opinion because your e-mail has little risk of getting read, and you can therefore provide it as evidence.

Go to your happy place now.

James Toccacelli, of Toccacelli and Associates, has more than 25 years of global corporate communications and public affairs experience in Canada, the U.S. and Asia.

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