Your Own Time
Eminent Chancellor (Peter Robinson), President and Vice Chancellor Dr. Allan Cahoon, Honoured Guests, Graduands of the Faculty of Management and Center for Applied Leadership and Management in the Class of 2010, Members of the Board Governors, faculties, Students and Staff, proud Families and Friends: I begin with respectful acknowledgement of the ‘Songhees, Esquimalt and T’Sooke Peoples of the Coast Salish First Nation in whose traditional territories and waters Royal Roads University is proudly located.
My sincere thanks go to the Board of Governors and to the University Community for the cherished privilege of receiving this honourary degree and a high honour too, to be recognized in association with this year’s other Honourary Degree recipient, the distinguished Artist and ardent Environmentalist Mr. Robert Bateman. I am also most grateful to be part of this signal time of celebration in your lives.
We gather on these historic grounds to salute you as the class of 2010 of proud Graduates of the faculty of Management and the Centre for Applied Leadership and Management. Convocation Addresses often paint a glowing picture of the world awaiting your newly acquired skills and certifications. However, I am here with an admitted burden of decades as my guide, to applaud you while at the same time to remind you that the world you occupy is a far from easy one. To ‘make a positive difference’ in such a world it takes more than academic achievement. As generations before you have done, you are required to also apply all that you possess in mind, heart and character to the opportunities and problems of your own time.
You have been carefully nurtured here at Royal Roads, within these once-opulent surroundings where echoes of the history of post-contact British Columbia and 19th century business and leadership practices are easily brought to mind. With a fortune founded on the legacy of the Hudson’s Bay Company (once the ONLY business in what is now B. C.) the Dunsmuir Empire began with the discovery of Coal at Fort Rupert (near today’s Port Hardy). Later, with holdings across the Island all founded on resource extraction, in addition to becoming a Premier of the emerging Province for two and a half years and Lieutenant Governor for three, James Dunsmuir became a quintessential Leader and Businessman of his time.
Son of Robert Dunsmuir, another former B. C. Premier who built Craigdarroch Castle, James was proud of having reached the pinnacle of authority in politics and business. He was an unapologetic Autocrat who knew what he wanted and got it, often using business ethics that might have made Jay Gatsby blush (although not, I suspect, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers or certain contemporary Bank executives!) Once assured of his wealth, Dunsmuir cashed in his assets in 1910 to begin a life as a country gentleman and tycoon, sailing, traveling and entertaining with his wife Laura as part of the stratified delights of the-then faithful bastion of the British Empire that was Victoria.
By 1940 the Dunsmuir’s were gone and Canada was emerging as an independent Nation. Our Government purchased Hatley Castle as a possible residence for the British Royal Family, should the threatened Nazi Invasion of England have been successful. When that unthinkable eventuality did not occur, Canada’s Armed Forces assumed the site, designating it as one of three National Military Colleges to train generations of Officers in ‘truth, duty and valour’. Through it all Canada continued to change as did the perception and practice of what constituted true leadership. I believe that it is as today’s Royal Roads University, established 15 years ago, that this site has become the dynamic and admired ‘engine for change’ that epitomizes our time. Charged with educating a new cohort of leaders and managers, Royal Roads encourages all its Learners to grasp the essence of your own time by bringing your personal skills of thoughtful, practical, ethical leadership to bear on a world that is beset by massive debt, professional irresponsibility and political instability. With the ‘Great Recession’ not yet fully overcome, our Prime Minister recently said: “Nothing else matters but the economy”. If he is right, then you are perfectly poised to make a historic difference in Canada’s immediate future by stabilizing and strengthening the Institutions that sustain our society!
In such a world, stripped down to its basic economic value, you remain the inheritors of James Dunsmuir’s shining vistas, some of his elegant rooms and the delights of his restored gardens. But you are challenged, as Dunsmuir never was, to use your enhanced leadership skills not just for personal profit, but also to honour, enhance and enrich the society you share.
Global or local, true leadership demands an understanding that unaccountable hierarchies can no longer be allowed to lead. People everywhere are demanding that those affected by any given decision have a right to honest input in making that decision. In Thailand for example, we have recently seen people willing to die for their own perception of democratic decision-making. Yet here at home, only slightly more than half of us chose to vote, while at the same time, demanding ever-greater inclusion and consultation on decisions that affect us. In such circumstances responsible, accountable, inclusive leadership is essential.
I suggest that collaborative decision-making processes, based on mutual trust and respect CAN work to resolve even the most divisive, partisan, polarized or controversial issues. Examples of collaborative Leadership are all around us, from the new government in Great Britain, to the recent and hard-won Canadian Parliamentary accord on how elected representatives will view Afghan detainee information. Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, speaking of his coalition said: „get used to it, this is what the new politics looks like‟ (unquote). That is: Leadership which is respectful and trusting of ‘the other’, while at the same time, being informed, critical and intelligently able to contribute positively to implementation of any resulting decisions.
We have recently observed a nearly unprecedented agreement forged between Canadian Forest Industries and Non-Governmental Environmental Agencies in support of harvest and protection of the Boreal Forest. Every aspect of leadership can be found in that accord, including scientific, social, economic and environmental elements leading to the potential for long-term sustainability of precious and diminishing forest resources.
In my experience such an agreement is a profound contribution to the common good since it is a classic ‘win-win’ for all concerned. Such an historic accord would have been impossible in Mr. Dunsmuir’s day of ‘my way or the highway’ management.
Today where pockets of past hierarchical decision-making processes continue to exist, they are clearly ‘on notice’. In their place, there are coalitions, partnerships and combined decision-making structures emerging across the world. Canada has long been considered a country managed by enlightened compromise. Our concept of shared management, although often portrayed in a pejorative context, has historically been our strength and has buttressed our security for the 143 years of our existence. As a Federation originally based on the organization of the Blackfoot Confederacy, Canada’s historic practice of compromise and accommodation of its great diversity of land, people and cultures has put this country far ahead in a world that is suddenly discovering the utility of such collaboration.
The costs of lack of co-operation can be incalculable. Consider the current crisis in the European Union: created sixty years ago to prevent another World War on European soil. The EU with a massive trillion Euro Sovereign Debt demonstrates a singular failure of Leadership in its quest to become a world power on a planet already burdened with too many failed or failing states. Other global examples of failure of Leadership are not hard to find. Consider the catastrophic failures of business leadership and self-serving ‘buck passing’ as illustrated for all of us by the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. (The same consortium, by the way is currently engaged in preliminary actions surrounding fossil fuel extraction in Canada’s Arctic.)
I believe that each of us chooses our own pathway in life and that our ultimate choice flows from a single life decision. That is: are you a person who values inaction and the status quo? Or are you one who can’t wait to see what lies over the next horizon? If the latter, you believe that only in positive CHANGE can true progress be gained. I urge you to ACTION; knowing that in our whole western pantheon there has never been an INACTION hero!Society needs your capacity to be an inclusive, adaptive and courageous leader. Such a leader should embody a broad and compassionate view of the human condition, an awareness of new paradigms, with an ability to critically examine them and the capacity to make informed decisions to advance our civilization and improve our daily lives.
Whatever your life-choice, you leave Royal Roads equipped with the tools of success and a proud motto in your 'kit-bag'. 'LIVING OUR LEARNING' as expressed in the Salish language, speaks clearly to goals of sustainability, learning and leadership that are all designed to allow you to contribute to a waiting world and perhaps, incidentally to allow you to become the hero of your own life and times! Our hopes and good wishes go with you!