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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Do The Right Thing: Political Staff At Their Best

"It is critical that folks wake up and see their provincial government acting in accordance to their own values and views."
   - Laura Miller
The desired effect of this CBC article is to try and pull a gotcha headline out of a disaster that has negatively impacted the lives of many up in Elliot Lake.  The subtext that people will latch on to, as they always do, is "gasp! Political staff were weighing consequences of actions and worrying about messaging when lives were on the line!  The horror!"
That's how news, or at least news stories work - stir up controversy and get tongues wagging.  The Opposition will no doubt seize on this as an opportunity to portray Dalton McGuinty and his inner team as, what, political or something.
Sure, that's good headlines, but it's missing the point.  What this story really represents is an inside look at how the right decisions get made by people who care.
Think it through - the Premier and his team, based on the assessment of experts, were looking to respond to a crisis in an appropriate manner.  The experts had cause; the mall was a death trap to any who might try to enter.  Did the involved staff stop there and start finding ways to justify inaction and find some way to attack Opposition Parties to avoid responsibility or change the channel? 


First thing they did was listen, not just to the experts but the people and the press - and even to the local MPP, who is an Opposition Member.  It's not a bad thing to be concerned about the reaction of the people.  Parliament is supposed to be their voice, after all; government is supposed to serve in their best interests.  To the people, hope and care for the wounded came first.  There were people willing to risk their lives, soldier-like, to ensure that nobody was left behind.
Colin Powell, an expert on leadership if ever there was one, tells us "Don't be afraid to challenge the pros, even in their own backyard."  That's what these Liberal staff did; that's the advice they gave to the Premier and the Premier responded to.  The experts aren't leaders - they are advisers.  When it comes to making tough calls, there are more factors than just cold hard facts to consider; there's the social-emotional piece, which cannot be underestimated.  These staff, this Premier and local MPP Mike Mantha understood that leadership is about hope; so long as hope remains, whatever the risks, there is room for action.
They made a tough decision - put the lives of others at risk to save people who may not even still be alive.  It was the right one.  Then, they had to communicate it.  This led to another series of reactions to be proud of.  Laura Miller focused on the values of the people - not "get the fucking Indians out of the park" or communicating that "a political truth is different", but what mattered to the people who put the McGuinty government in office.  Scratch that - people who put an Opposition MPP in office.  That didn't matter to the Premier's team - the will of the people, regardless of who they've awarded politically, came first.  There's nothing dodgy about communication - it, too, is an essential component of leadership.  Leaders inform, inspire and guide, which is what happened here.  The people's will prevailed, despite the best technical advice of the experts.  The Premier, supported by an outstanding, committed staff, delivered.
Yes, this is a gritty look inside how political decisions are made and yes, a cynic can easily find ways to portray this chain as a negative.  Put the partisan and pundit interests aside, though, this is a fantastic example of how political decisions can and should work.  The experts were listened to and considered.  The Opposition was listened to and respectfully kept in the loop.  The people were listened to and their values shaped the decision made.  I am proud to know many of the staffers who were involved - people of integrity first, political savvy second who err on the side of doing what is right, not what is politically convenient.  These folk embody the concept that ethics matter.
Last thing - you can judge a leader by the company they keep.  The quality and commitment to values of these backroom staff who are paid to serve their bosses, not the people, speaks to the ethics of the man they serve.  They are of the highest quality, indeed. 

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