Whether one is training troops to storm Vimy Ridge, co-ordinating vaccinations in Ontario during a global pandemic or running a large construction company, the attributes of a good leader are the same.
This was the message from retired general Rick Hillier when he gave the keynote address for the Canadian Construction Association’s annual conference, which kicked off March 23.
Hillier most recently used his leadership skills to co-ordinate Ontario’s vaccine rollout.
“I used every leadership tool and lever I had to pull together the disparate pieces of the Ontario health care system to bring it into one coherent operation for Ontario’s vaccine program,” said Hillier. “We want to get our society back to something resembling the normal we left a year ago. For your profession, and Canada, the opportunity is going to be massive. You have an opportunity to expand, grow and build a better Canada.”
Hillier stressed that good leaders give people the confidence they will be successful in whatever they do. This is done by inspiring them and equipping them with what they need. Good leaders also give credit when things go well and take responsibility when things don’t. He cited Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, and Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, as examples of leaders that inspire confidence.
While serving as Defence Staff chief Hillier learned that one of the best leadership tools is relationship building. He spent several months touring every base ship and airfield he could to meet and chat with as many of Canada’s roughly 100,000 soldiers as possible. He was able to see about 80,000 and even met with thousands of their family members.
“I listened more than I talked. I explained what we were trying to achieve, what their role was, what my role was and then we would discuss,” said Hillier. “This was probably the most powerful thing I did. I established a relationship.”
He described these meetings as his “job interview” to convince Canadian soldiers they should follow him.
Hillier explained a leader’s actions, words and values must all align.
“If any of those is off sync you lose credibility instantly,” said Hillier. “And it’s only a matter of time before they find some other leader, organization or mission they want to be a part of.”
When it comes to managing people, Hillier advised that those who bring negativity in the workplace need to be identified and removed immediately.
Those who are natural leaders should also be identified so they can be nurtured and taught the values you want them to follow so they can step up when the time comes.
Hillier warned if they aren’t taught your values, they will step up with their own.
“Attitudes of people shape behaviour and behaviour shapes culture,” said Hillier.
Finally, Hillier explained that nobody is more powerful than a team. He said leaders build people into teams and establish a common purpose.
“That can be building a house, a community, a country,” he said. “When you have that common purpose and share it with people in a variety of ways you help build your team. And you shape that team with the values you believe in.”
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