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The Globe and Mail

Transcript: Leadership lessons from Canada's most senior female general

Chris Whitecross, a major-general in the Canadian Forces.

KARL MOORE – This Is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail.

When did you start thinking about yourself as a leader? Was it in high school or earlier or later on in life? When did you see yourself first as a leader, Chris?

CHRIS WHITECROSS – That is an interesting question because when I was in high school I joined the cadet movement, I was a bandsman, so I never considered myself anything else besides a bandsman. But then I started getting involved in other things and then the cadet instructors would come to me to organize things. The schoolteachers would come to me to organize things - at that time I was organizing my peers, and I was realizing that maybe I could do this, I could do this more and more often and I was getting engaged at higher and higher levels. So at the time I didn't really associate that with leadership but I associated it with being able to manage people and being able to put things together. As I joined the military, as I was at Queens University, doing the same sorts of things, I realized that I could actually lead people and then when I was in military then I put 2 and 2 together and realized that this was really what it was called.

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KARL MOORE – One of the common problems for high potential managers is that at a young age you are managing people who are more experienced and quite a bit older in age. So you come out of Queens, you are a Lieutenant right away, how do you handle the problem of managing people quite senior to you?

CHRIS WHITECROSS – It is not actually a really big problem in the military because we are brought up in that kind of environment where the people, as officers, that you are leading are always going to be more senior, have more experiences and are older than you – it is always going to be that way. Their job, actually, is to teach you to be a better manager, to teach you to be a better leader, to teach you your technical skills, to teach you to be a better engineer for me, because that was my occupation, but to teach me to lead my people and to care for them: what they need, what they don't need, how to be hard, how to be compassionate, when to be hard and compassionate and all those sorts of things was their job. So it was good because you put young and old together and you become a strong and vibrant team. Then, as you get older, that is your job and then you have to bring up the young people. So you are always looking out for those with the experience to bring up the young people to take that. That is the environment within a military structure; I think that is what really sets us apart I think from, let's say, the rest of the public service or the rest of the government or the rest of the civil service.

KARL MOORE – When you look at it, the boomers are in that place where they are mentoring younger people because they are just not going to be around forever. What motivates and older person, as we see in the military, to help a younger person to, in fact, be promoted over them again and again? What is the motivation for the older person in that context?

CHRIS WHITECROSS – I don't think they are ever motivated to promote them to be to outrank them – I don't think that is part of their psyche. It is to motivate them to be the best that they can be. It is to treat the soldiers, sailors, airmen, airwomen, with as much respect and as much as above themselves as they can because ultimately that is what we want to be because, as leaders, we want to make sure that those who are coming behind us take care of the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces. To do that, we need to teach them to do that. So, as a side benefit they come and they beat you in rank or whatever, that happens all the time and we are used to it so I don't think it really bothers us.

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