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Private Links: Leadership can take on many forms

I was invited to speak at the second annual conference hosted by Markel Insurance recently, specifically to introduce one of my favourite speakers but also to make a few comments or observations on th...




I was invited to speak at the second annual conference hosted by Markel Insurance recently, specifically to introduce one of my favourite speakers but also to make a few comments or observations on the subject of leadership.

In preparing, I tried to identify a single word or even a phrase that would summarize what leadership means to me. Instead I found that leadership is a word that carries with it a variety of definitions – dependent for the most part on the perspective of the definer.

History is replete with people we consider to have been leaders. Using the traditional definition, they have names like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Churchill, Eisenhower, and more recently Trudeau – each directed the efforts of troops and nations in times of crisis. If asked to define leadership, their names would spring immediately to mind.

Another style of leadership also came to mind, that embraced by people such as Ghandi, Mandela, and Martin Luther King. They led, or continue to lead, peacefully, with dignity, and by personally setting the example.

And there are people like Nicholas Winton, the English stockbroker who, in 1939, saved 669 Czech children from their fate in the Nazi death camps.

His achievement went unrecognized for more than half a century so don’t be concerned if you don’t know his name. His story only emerged when his wife Greta came across an old leather briefcase in an attic, and found lists of the children and letters from their parents. He hadn’t even told her of his role during the war.

Broadening our perspective a little further, as Markel challenged us to do during the conference, I think I could even make an argument for considering Mark Twain as a leader.

Sure, I know he’s more famous for having been a prolific writer of amusing stories and articles, and for the “death and taxes” expression, but he used humour in a very skilful manner to expose the injustices of racism, and he certainly wasn’t preaching to the converted in his day. Twain’s world of the southern United States at that time was not a place that black people would have considered warm and welcoming.

In our own lives each of us can undoubtedly identify an individual, or if you’re lucky, several individuals, who have provided us with leadership in different ways.

In my own working life, I’ve been lucky to have had several bosses with the good grace – or some might say the good sense – to basically leave me alone to meet the established goals of the particular company for which I was working.

In my mind that’s a style of leadership that is grossly underestimated – the ability to lead people by letting them set their own goals, and then encouraging or assisting them from the sidelines – without stepping out front and taking the credit for their accomplishments.

That type of leadership is often overlooked in the world of business, where individuals are so desperate to prove their worth that they will jump at any opportunity to shine. Few are willing to allow their employees or others to take any credit for accomplishments.

Leadership is not solely about climbing the corporate ladder though. If you’re looking for proof of that statement, consider the number of corporate chiefs currently spending their days in court or in jail. It’s difficult not to become disillusioned with the leaders of today’s corporate world.

Real leaders embrace leadership as a lifestyle. They don’t leave it on the coat rack in the office as they leave at night.

On my list I would include those who devote their personal time and energy to helping their neighbours – perhaps by driving them to hospital appointments, or delivering hot meals when they are ill, or making a telephone call just to let them know that they have a friend. These leaders don’t act out of any sense of obligation, it’s not their job, and they certainly don’t look for reward or recognition.

So, through my deliberations I decided that leadership can take many forms, and it’s not always easy to identify who the real leaders are. Sometimes they are in the background, making things work and helping others to be as successful as they can be.

I can see many leaders among our members in the private trucking community.

People that are very good at their jobs and go about doing them in a professional, businesslike way, making room for other people’s ideas and contributions, and ready to share information or to help out when called upon.

That’s just one of the things that makes the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada such a great association in which to be a member.

– The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. This column presents opinions on trucking issues from the perspective of private carriers. Comments can be addressed to trucks@pmtc.ca


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