On Leadership and Life with Dalton McGuinty

On Leadership and Life with Dalton McGuinty

Posted on November 25 by Kyle
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Is there anyone who had an impact on you as a leader, or who influenced your leadership style?

Well, my father was a politician. I’m 50 percent mother and 50 percent father in terms of the approach I bring to politics. My dad was a guy of strong conviction and principle, really set in his ways, but my mom on the other hand, was really good with people. I always liked to think my dad taught me what to do and my mom taught me how.


You're brother David is also a politician (they even share the same riding). So do you discuss politics at the dinner table? 

I think we got to a point where we’re probably spending even less time talking about politics than we used to. It’s so dominant in our lives that any respite from it is welcome by the family.


What do you think is the most important part of a party in order to run a government: mission, values, or vision?

Values. All three are important but values is your compass. What’s going to guide you as you are inspired by your vision or as you pursue your mission? It’s going to have to be your values. One of the things I say to young people is don’t expect to fund your values in politics. There’s too much expediency there. Make sure you know what you believe in and feel strongly about what you feel is right before going into politics. People are going to want to see that in your eyes. So to me, values first, yeah.


If you were going to give advice to a political newcomer, how would you recommend handling making unpopular decisions? Obviously, you can’t please everyone.

You can’t please everyone. So I would distinguish between reputation and character. Reputation is who you think I am and character is who I really am. And you’ve got to protect your character. I’ll give you one example. I brought the HST to Ontario. At the time when I first raised that it was very unpopular and the opposition were having a field day with it. Many in the media were also radically opposed to it. But I did that because I thought it was the right thing to do. That’s how you protect your character, by the way, you stand in front of a mirror, you take a poll, and you ask yourself, “Do I honestly believe this is the right thing for us to do?” Not easy, not expedient, not convenient, but the right thing to do.


This brought us to a anecdotal story about communication.

I’ve never been moose hunting. But people who go moose hunting tell me it works like this in Ontario...

First thing you gotta do is you've got to apply for a moose tag which is essentially a license that authorizes you to go out there and shoot a moose. If you’re lucky, you get the tag. Then you get your buddies together and you load up your car and you drive 500 miles up north and you trek all your stuff out of the trunk of your car deep into the woods. You sit up there and pray that the moose comes by, and then you hope it’s the right kind of a moose. If you’re lucky, it’s the right kind of moose, and you shoot the moose. And that is when the work begins.

It’s the same thing. When I was in government I'd work really hard to develop a policy, I’d struggle with it and get the very best advice I could. Then I’d say “Okay this is it, this is the decision." I thought my work was done. I learned the hard way. It was just beginning. You’ve got to take the time to explain to people what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.  


How do you maintain this optimism after a lifetime in politics? 

I never got out of the mindset I came in with, which is that it’s a real privilege to serve. I think the best leaders have always understood that they are there at the service of the organization or the people. After all, I hit the jackpot. I was born in Canada to parents who love me. It doesn’t get any better than that.


On a note off politics and leadership,  are you a regular reader?

As premier I would always read, every night, and I already read poetry. That was my escape. Partly because my dad was a English proff.
I’m a big fan of the romantics. So that's Shelley, Keats, Byron, Pope, Wordsworth. A big fan of them.