What makes a real leader, after all?

Not a single man or woman who rises to a position of durable, successful leadership ever asks the question: “Now that I’ve grabbed the brass ring, swung myself up the monkey bars of professional attainment, how shall I spend the rest of my halcyon days in well-deserved leisure?”

Contrary to some popular opinion, real leaders in business and politics – indeed, in any field of endeavour – are not smug, complacent creatures of self-created luxury, sipping from drams of pearls that have been bathed in vats of champagne.

Neither are they trust-fund babies or heirs of family wealth, always searching for the path of least possible resistance that leads to a private island or fully-fuelled jet or a red carpet promenade – there to be seen with the likes of healthy living Tsaristas, such as Hollywood luminary Gwyneth Paltrow.

They are, far more likely, those you see on your way to work, frantically talking to themselves and whistling past graveyards.

They are neurotic, suspicious of “downtime,” contemptuous of “vacations,” oblivious to the swelling size of their bank accounts.

In short, leaders are made, not born. More accurately, leaders make themselves as they make their own luck.

Atlantic Canada is full of people like this, and always has been. From K.C. Irving to Frank Sobey, from Harrison and Wallace McCain to R.B. Cameron and Roy Jodrey, from Harry Steele and John Risley to Max Aitken and Samuel Cunard, the entrepreneurial battlefield in this region has been dominated by the rough and tumbled, not the pampered or entitled.

And thank God it has.

For, without these peckish, unsatisfied and distinctly ineligible candidates for entry to the so-called “polite societies” of Halifax, Fredericton or even St. John’s, no city, no town, no village in the Atlantic provinces would enjoy the ostensibly public institutions it currently does.

Universities and colleges? Forget about them. Libraries and community centres? Likewise. Art galleries, hospitals and special health care facilities? Pure fiction – the stuff of legends told to the elderly en route to their untimely graves.


A man or woman who rises to a position of durable, successful leadership only asks one question: “What’s next?”

What is the next step, the next competitive leap, the next main chance? The past is the graveyard at which they whistle. The undiscovered country of opportunity also terrifies them; still, they are drawn to it.

And when you talk to them, especially those of this East Coast ilk, they will tell you a version of this: “I started out wanting to be a teacher, but something always got in my way. I spent all my time coming up with computer applications for online learning. I was curious to see how far I could push it. But, you know, deep down this whole thing still scares me. As for retirement, I don’t even know what the word means.”

There is a certain comfort in knowing that hardscrabble, innovative, entrepreneurial instincts in this region (the ones that seeded every other in this country) remain alive and kicking.

The late management guru Peter Drucker once said, “Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.” He also said, in a 2004 interview with Forbes: “Successful leaders ask, ‘What needs to be done?’ Then they ask, ‘Of those things that would make a difference, which are right for me?’ They are not afraid of strength in others. Andrew Carnegie wanted to put on his gravestone, ‘Here lies a man who knew how to put into his service more able men than he was himself.’”

As the complacent and comfortably endowed – the heirs to old money and new preoccupations – continue to widen the gap between those who “have” and those who “have less”, it will always fall to the makers and doers – the true entrepreneurs – to make winners of us all.

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