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Knowledge

Faculty Focus: Gerard Seijts interviews leaders to learn how they learn

  • Communications
  • |
  • Nov 1, 2013

Eileen Mercier compares it to “catching a falling knife”.

Arkadi Kuhlmann warns of a “blackboard that can’t be erased”.

George Cope reminds us that no individual is bigger than the team.

No matter how their lessons differ, the one thing good leaders have in common is they all learned to lead.

Ivey Professor Gerard Seijts explored how more than 30 leaders, including Mercier, Chair of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; Kuhlmann, HBA '71, MBA '72, Founder & CEO of ZenBanx Inc.; Cope, HBA ’84, President and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada; former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin; and Olympic athlete Cassie Campbell learned to lead. He shared their insights on effective leadership in his new book, Good Leaders Learn: Lessons from Lifetimes of Leadership  (Routlege, November 2013).

Good Leaders Learn is a follow to Leadership on Trial: A Manifesto for Leadership, a book which Seijts co-authored with Jeffrey Gandz, Mary Crossan and Carol Stephenson on leadership learnings from the financial crisis. Leadership on Trial ended with a call to action and Good Leaders Learn reveals how some of those actions are carried out by people that fit Seijts’ criteria of “good leaders”.

“Good leadership is purpose-driven. Good leadership is also effective leadership in the sense that we deliver on the goals that we have set to achieve. Good leadership is ethical leadership. I also believe good leadership must feel good, both for the leader and his or her followers,” said Seijts, who is also Executive Director of the  Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership . “I picked the leaders profiled in the book because they met one of these criteria.”

Consisting mostly of question-and-answer format interviews with the leaders, the book also includes Seijts’ takeaways from the interviews and he identifies 10 pathways to good leadership. One of those is “stretching,” where leaders step out of their comfort zones or, as Mercier puts it, “catch a falling knife”.

“If we never fail as a leader, we never develop. We never get insights into our competencies and character as well as the commitment to the role of leadership,” said Seijts. “If you are skiing and you never fall, you are probably not going fast enough. It is really about putting your leadership on the line.”

He also identifies 15 themes, such as Cope’s notion that great leaders are always built on great teams.

And while you’d think Seijts would have heard it all since he has been studying and teaching leadership for years, he reveals that some of the leaders’ comments surprised him.

For instance, N.R. Narayana Murthy the billionaire co-founder of software giant Infosys told Seijts he cleans the toilets in his house most evenings to remind himself that no task is insignificant for making a family, community or organization better.

Seijts also said Kuhlmann’s comments regarding the blackboard that can’t be erased is something no leader should forget.

“There is no such thing as a time out for leaders. I think most leaders have difficulty understanding that you are on 24/7,” said Seijts. “This may be challenging, but, in today’s age that is a reality.”

In addition to the book, Seijts is heading a special Global Ivey Day event based on the book where leaders from diverse industries will share the places, experiences and people that inspired them to lead. The event is November 14 in Toronto and includes insights from Rahul Bhardwaj, President & CEO, Toronto Community Foundation; Charles Brindamour, CEO, Intact Financial Corporation; Jon Hantho, MBA ’89, President & CEO, Maxxam Analytics International Corp.; and Barbara Stymiest, HBA ’78, Chair of the Board, BlackBerry. For more information, see Ivey Idea Forum.