Know the extent of your power; advice for new leaders
Lifestyles 55 issues in the news
Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the news

Our elected representatives, at all levels of government, seem to have lost the ability to exercise power in our province. Instead of giving direction, they take direction from unelected, tenured bureaucrats who have no vested interest in change. If you have a nice cushy, well-paid, no-dismissal position, why on earth would you want to disturb the status quo?

So, a new councillor or member or minister gets elected and the first thing our non-electeds do is put the new guy in his place. Hey, it’s not just in politics, I see it happening all the time in organizations: the new president of the non-profit gets a briefing his first day, passing down the law about how communication and decision making take place in the organization, and the power, according to them, is not with the elected president or chair or whatever. The real boss, you are told, is the CEO, the paid guy and you better not mess with his jurisdiction. (By the way that logic is carried right down into the bowels of the organization and everyone knows what comes out of bowels!)

And because there is truth in the need to respect boundaries between the two, the newly elected usually accepts this as the word of law and the balance of power slips neatly back to the paid guy as he wants it to. Of course, if anything goes wrong, it is the fault of the elected “leader”.

Problem is, nothing ever changes or gets done this way. The electorate chose you to govern, but nothing is happening. Frustration builds. Why aren’t these people fixing things???

Here’s a hint for all you who have taken on recent leadership roles. Your job is to lead. And you do have a stick. It’s called dismissal. Yes, you can wield that power and you don’t have to do it often to get the message out. Union agreement? All that means is that the dismissed might get a nice settlement – because he is probably going to need it as who else would want the insubordinate fool? 

Speak softly and carry a big stick, said Theodore Roosevelt of foreign policy. It is good advice at any time. Give direction clearly and pleasantly. Follow up to make sure your orders are carried out. (Delegate, don’t abdicate, as my friend Ian says). If your direction has not been carried out, demand to know how the solution will be found. Don’t accept excuses. It the persons charged with the mission can’t carry it out, get someone who can. Don’t hesitate to use the stick. You won’t have to use it often. 

Failure to follow this advice is a failure to govern, whether you are in politics or simply the chairman of the local whatever. 

No communication in a world of communication devices

What has happened to the art of communication? We now seem to live in a world of communication avoidance, even though we are surrounded by devices to aid in that very activity.

For a while we blamed millennials who, if they don’t know the answer or just don’t feel like answering a question, they well, just don’t. It is as if your phone call, email, text, direct Facebook or Twitter message never happened. Now this habit has extended itself to others.

Not answering a message is not only discourteous, it is downright rude, but worse, this art of non-communication creates all sorts of serious problems in our interconnected world. What do you do in an emergency? Who can you rely on to answer that call? There are many circumstances where non communication has unpleasant or even dire consequences.

In business, not communicating externally has become an excuse for non-action. If they don’t hear about an issue, it doesn’t exist. Got a problem? Talk to a computer that responds only to a finite set of possibilities. Some still publish phone numbers, but the answering lineup can be hours or never. Most folks just give up and vow to never use that product, business again. 

Within business or other workplaces, communication avoidance can have unplanned effects: harmful mistakes are made and go uncorrected, individual relationships are destroyed due to feelings of anger and hurt at being ignored, business opportunities are lost, problems that could easily have been resolved with quick communication build up and become overwhelmingly negative.

“I didn’t get the message,” is the usual excuse. But why didn’t you get the message? Because you didn’t check your messages? Or because, as sometimes happens to me with emails, you get too many messages and the important ones get lost in the shuffle as you delete SPAM? Or you forget how may message possibilities there are and don’t check your phone as well as you computer?

Because that is one of the problems: communication overload, so we just turn it all off.

Nevertheless, there are some occupations where returning the message is vital to your future. That includes politics. When you are elected, not retuning calls is the kiss of death. You may think you have that vote in your pocket, but one unreturned phone call can leave a bitter taste that will not be forgotten. And it is not just that one vote you are risking – it is the votes of all his family and friends. I heard it yesterday: “I talked to so-and-so. He said he’d help me. Now he won’t return my calls. I used to think he was a pretty good guy, now forget him!” There were four people at the table listening to these comments and that’s four potential lost votes added to the votes of all the others this fellow has told this tale to.

However, in politics, it is more serious than lost votes for an individual. When the practice becomes habitual, the party in power can start counting down the days. You and I might know that perhaps so-and-so never got the message in the first place, but not everyone is in the know like we are. 

Constituents become angry. They begin blaming the guy at the top.

Yes, non communication can bring down individual politicians at every level of government. It is especially harmful, though to those closer to home in civic and provincial politics.

So, a bit of advice to those in office right now: take the time to educate your staff under threat of dismissal if they don’t pass on messages – not just to the chief of staff or executive assistant, but to the member him or herself. It just takes a few moments of verbal communication and a list of messages with numbers, or email addresses, to let the member decide how to respond. It is so worth it!

And or those of you trying to communicate with an elected official? Call their constituency office if it is provincial or federal – or their home if nothing else works. At the civic level, go stand outside their office door since so few people have listed numbers anymore. You have a right to be heard – and listened to.

Communication is what sets people above dumb animals, they say. It’s time we started acting like people again.