In the early 20th century, Napoleon Hill studied hundreds of the most effective leaders in the world of business. He noted that among other qualities, they pass on credit for any successes to those working under them, while placing blame for any mistakes squarely on their own shoulders. They also have a keen sense of justice, knowing that this earns them the respect of their followers.
High-level sports can be a merciless test of leadership. John Wooden, one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time, reiterated Hill’s philosophy: “You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.”
In a sense, we’re all leaders.
Those of us who embrace these principles find that although we may experience the occasional setback, we’re continually moving forward in our professional and personal lives.
Those who don’t embrace these principles may find temporary success but it tends to be fleeting.
Perhaps the most striking example of a fall from grace in politics was that of Richard Nixon. The American president declared to the world in 1973, “I am not a crook.”
Less than a year later, it became clearly obvious that Nixon was indeed involved in criminal activity. He was forced to resign from office.
Watching a recent British Columbia leadership debate, I was saddened to see that our political leaders continue to demonstrate very little of the character that true leadership requires.
When the issue of education was brought up, for example, Premier Christy Clark pointed out that B.C. has one of the finest educational systems in the world.
Clark didn’t even hint, however, that this is due to the hard work and professionalism of the people who are employed by her government. Ministry of Education staff members have done an amazing job collaborating with educators throughout the province to create a curriculum that’s vibrant and vital to our youth. School administrators, teachers and support staff have continued to put our children first, despite funding that repeatedly fails to keep up with the growing demands of the system, and despite wages that have fallen far behind those in other Canadian provinces.
In November 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Clark, and the B.C. government, had been breaking the law since 2002 in their negotiations with B.C. teachers. The violations were so blatant that the highest court in the land took only 20 minutes to deliberate on this decision.
The leadership debate became mournful when Clark was asked point-blank by the leader of another political party to apologize to the teachers and children of her province. She refused.
Does this government really reflect the soul of its people? Do we really think it’s okay to take credit for the work of others and refuse responsibility for our own mistakes?
If it does, then I need to do a much better job as a person, as a teacher and as a leader in every capacity of my life.
I also need to be politically active, to challenge elected leaders to be true to their responsibility, and to support citizen movements that are consistent with my beliefs.
And when the time comes to vote, I need to remember the words of John Quincy Adams, a man who was pivotal in ending slavery in the United States: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost.”
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.