Opening of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College (Edmonton, Alberta)
Edmonton, Alberta, Tuesday, June 6, 2017
I acknowledge that we are gathering today on Treaty 6 territory, traditional lands of First Nations and Metis people.
What a privilege to be here for the opening of this impressive college named in honour of Peter Lougheed.
Peter was a dear friend, a great Albertan and a great Canadian. He served this province and this country with extraordinary dedication and skill for many years. He was deeply committed to the public good, and his record of achievements will long be remembered.
It’s very apt to open this college in his name. Peter understood, as all leaders must, that leadership is a profound responsibility.
And he also understood that a fundamental element of good leadership lies in recognizing your total dependence upon those you work with and those you lead.
Similarly, they’re dependent upon you. They depend on your judgement, dedication, skill and trust. They depend upon your honour. They also depend on you to create an environment where they can thrive—where they can do their work to the best of their talents, and a little bit beyond.
This may sound intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. To a great leader, it’s inspiring and comforting. In truth, a leader is never alone, but rather is part of a team, where the word “we” is far more important than the word “me.”
Me to we—first person singular to first person plural. It’s one of the most profound lessons of leadership, and one this college will certainly expose students to in myriad ways.
Let me single out one story about Peter Lougheed’s vision and leadership from which I have drawn certain lessons.
The story takes place not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall. One day, while I was serving as principal of McGill, I received a call from Peter, who at the time was head of the Mikhael Gorbachev Foundation in Canada.
Having set in motion dramatic changes in what is now the former Soviet Union, Mr. Gorbachev was now out of power. He was in Canada on a speaking tour and would be in Montréal one week hence, Peter informed me.
Being passionately committed to learning and to the next generation, Peter had asked Mr. Gorbachev to make himself available while in Montréal to participate in a seminar at McGill and to meet students there. We took up Peter’s offer and organized a panel, to consist of Pierre Trudeau, philosopher Charles Taylor and Mr. Gorbachev.
At McGill, we were of course thrilled to participate. We wanted as many people as possible to have the chance to hear this extraordinary seminar. One idea we had was to rent the Montreal Forum, former home of the Canadiens, which would allow for 18 000 students to join the seminar!
Organizers, however, said it couldn’t be done. They thought it would take away from the fundraising dinner at the Ritz Carleton later that evening, and it was to be a seminar in a seminar room. So we developed a new game plan. Each time the organizing committee had objections, I simply said, “Peter’s in agreement,” and I said so without even checking with him!
This is what I mean, by the way, by being totally dependent upon those you lead!
My point is this: Peter trusted us to organize the event, and that trust was sacred to us. We rose to the occasion, and what ensued was the most magnificent discussion imaginable in the largest conference hall at McGill. We called it A Seminar With President Gorbachev and held it in the arts building. It was filled beyond capacity, and the seminar was broadcast in surrounding classrooms and other French and English colleges and high schools across Montréal, thus reaching thousands of students.
I learned many important lessons during that one experience working with Peter—too many to share here. But one of the most important is that element of trust. It’s so critical, to trust and to be trustworthy. As leaders, this will be one of your great challenges, because we live in a time in which trust is eroding in many spheres.
No doubt that will be a rich subject of discussion at this leadership college. And that is as it should be, because leadership is nothing if not a complex, multi‑faceted subject.
I wish you the very best with it.