GGCLC 2015 ...
When I was invited to apply for a spot on the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, I must admit that my conception of the experience was limited to having read several articles in national periodicals and a few firsthand accounts of the experience from several acquaintances. It certainly seemed to be an excellent opportunity to learn more about our country and expand on my own leadership practice. There also seemed to be elements of the experience that resembled an endurance race, conjuring up ideas in my head of a political version of “tuff mudder”. Having been fortunate enough to be selected (along with 224 others) from a countrywide competition of over 4000 applicants, I experienced this uniquely Canadian leadership challenge this past spring and I can say with confidence, the experience greatly exceeded my expectations.
Beginning in St Johns, Newfoundland, The group first assembled at the Sheraton for 3 days of plenary sessions and lectures by notable Canadians such as Col. Chris Hadfield-Astronaut, Dominic Barton - Global Executive Director for Mckinsey Institute, Heather Monroe-Bloom - Principal of McMaster University and Wab Kinew- First Nations Teacher/Musician/Broadcaster. The theme of the 2015 Conference was Leadership and Innovation. The study tour, which lasted 17 days, spanned the entire country in scope and ended with 3 final days of report preparation and delivery in the nation’s capital. Sixteen teams covered each province and territory with the mission of finding out how Canadians are innovating to keep our country competitive in an increasingly connected and globalized world. As we set out to crisscross the country, we were charged with reporting back to His Excellency, The Governor General- David Johnston on where we were winning and how we thought Canada could improve. This was no small task and we knew it.
Our team (Ontario-2) was comprised of many different personalities from all across Canada. This diversity afforded us much opportunity for lively debate and some uniquely Canadian humor. We travelled with a military escort by plane, bus, street car, taxi and by foot – across Southern Ontario. She (Lt. Carrie Topping, DND) was our guide through the maze of speed-date like meetings we would encounter. Toronto was home to many of our stops, however we did venture throughout the golden horseshoe visiting 13 different cities. We attended over 45 different sites throughout the tour that varied widely in terms of their mission and raison d’etre. From corporations to idea labs, hospitals and homeless shelters, universities and community gardens to factories and boardrooms- they all constituted a rich playground for the exchange of ideas, debate and curiosity. Although I now know more about Canada than I did before, I am more curious than I am certain about what I still need to know about my own Canadian life.
When the travel portion of the tour finally came to an end, our team was physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted. We averaged only 5-6 hours of sleep per night for two weeks straight. Sleeping on the bus was not uncommon as we traversed from city to city. Opportunities to call home or “plug-in” to work by remote access were limited to almost nil. Each night after reaching our newest destination, we finished our day by reflecting on our experiences as a group and making notes from the day in preparation for the assembling of our presentation to the GG. Needless to say, we were all far removed from our comfort zones and for those who were ready to learn and examine their own beliefs about what it means to be Canadian – the moment was ripe with opportunity for personal growth. We were regularly encouraged by our two fearless leaders (Greg Wright and Laurel Garven) to explore the differing viewpoints presented and to try and understand the why behind them.Upon arrival in Ottawa we were given only three days to complete our presentation which was based on consensus decision making about content and format. With sixteen very different people, all with unique world views contributing to this effort – the experience looked quite different in many ways to all of us. We were able though to find some very common themes on our journey. The process of working through the assembling of our presentation was at times stressful, but the finished product was something we were all very proud of and confident in its relevance to our mission.
The presentations took place at the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa over a period of two days -in front of an audience of about 300 people. Some groups sang their presentations; some gave theatrical performances and others simply gave a report on what they saw along their journey of discovery. Over the course of two days, each of the groups was given opportunity by the GG himself to defend their position once their report was given. His Excellency’s questions were pointed and went straight to the substance of the issues raised. His inquiries were seeking solutions to the challenges we brought to the fore and it was like no other test I had experienced before. You either knew your material cold and could speak intelligently on the topic you were raising - or you failed on a national stage in front of 225 future leaders of this country. This gave new meaning to the phrase “Stand and deliver” for me. His Excellency was impacted by our presentation such that he sought out our Ontario-2 group on day 2 of presentations to have lunch with us and ask a few more questions about our tour. This was of course a welcome surprise and perceived as somewhat of a reassurance that we hadn't missed the mark in our presentation.
Once it was all over and we had said our goodbyes, still missing home and the calming voice of my lovely wife Jeanne - I still chose to spend one extra day in Ottawa to just reflect upon the experience and really digest what this conference had meant for me on a personal level and better understand what I had learned. I also took the opportunity to connect with a classmate and good friend of mine from grad school and bounced ideas and observations off of him over lunch as we lazed around downtown Ottawa on a sunny but quiet Sunday afternoon. He reminded me of a key question one of our Profs (Dr. Stephen Long) at Royal Roads had repeatedly drummed into our heads during the perilous times of the financial meltdown in 2008 and that is, “So what?". Not so what as in who cares, but so what as in – so what does this mean and what have you learned? It is through this lens that I chose to frame my experience on the GGCLC.
So what did I learn? First and foremost, I learned that Canada is not just a country; it is a dream for many people around the world. As a native born Canadian this thought had rarely ever entered my mind, but it was driven home by the GG himself when he recounted a conversation with a university president from Sweden in his closing speech who stated that, “Millions of people go to bed every night around this world, dreaming about becoming Canadians. Yet, as great of a country as we are here in Sweden, you just don’t hear people saying that about us”. What we represent to the rest of the world as an advanced democracy (in spite of all of our flaws), is the hope that a population of 35 million people from diverse backgrounds, origins and ideas can peacefully and prosperously co-exist and freely pursue our individual dreams. Quite simply, our shared goals and values are what bind us together as a society and it is our differences that make us interesting.
I also learned that we still have a long way to go in our journey as a country. Justice Sinclair’s Truth and Reconciliation Report was delivered to parliament on the week of our arrival in Ottawa and it was sobering to say the least. It made me realize that even though we welcome new Canadians from around the world to our nation daily (and we invite them to bring their cultures with them), we have a history with our own First Nation’s people that deprived them of their own culture and that account is yet to be reconciled. In my view, how we undertake to settle this historical injustice (in this generation) and move forward, will be the seminal test of our greatness as a nation.
In closing, the overarching theme of Innovation and its necessity in modern times showed up at almost every stop we made during the tour. Whether it be advances in medicine, social policy or technological advancement and big data – the message was clear; societies that do not invest in innovation will fall behind those who do. It was clear to all of us that as leaders, it is our role to guide the innovation process in our communities, our homes and our workplaces. This means embracing change in all of its complexity and helping to shape a better future ahead for the next generation of Canadians. Built on a platform of respectful dialogue, the mutual appreciation of our differences – actually brings us closer together as we collectively solve our societal problems and advance our shared Canadian experience.
Finally, I want to thank my GGCLC peers, all of the alumni who volunteered their time and especially my Ontario 2 teammates for their passionate participation and friendship throughout this amazing journey. We learned as much from each other as we did our hosts along the way. I also want to thank my employer Kootenay Savings for sponsoring me to attend this incredible learning adventure and most importantly my wife Jeanne for her unwavering love and support throughout this entire process.I look forward to connecting with our Ontario 2 Team and Conference Alumni over the years to come and giving back to this uniquely Canadian experience as the opportunity may arise.
Kevin JollyThe Jolly Blogger
*Photo taken at Rideau Hall, - Ottawa, Ont. June 4,2015