Reflections on Leadership

A few significant events occurred recently that got me thinking about the importance of strong and responsible leadership and mentorship, and the effect it has on employees and on people’s lives.

I began my career as a lawyer. While still in law school, I applied for a summer position in one of Canada’s preeminent law firms. That’s where I met a man who gave me my first big break. He was the type of person who could look around himself, see the potential in others and nurture it. Sadly, I came to that realization while attending his funeral a few days ago. Moreover, in that moment it dawned on me that I had him to thank, in large part, for the type of leader I have become. Working with people, coaching them and giving them opportunities to shine is what being a good business person and leader is all about. He was that type of person. Sitting in that church pew surrounded by so many people he positively affected during his lifetime was motivating to me. I only hope that I can be that type of leader to the good people that work at VIA Rail.

Around the same time, an interview I gave was published as part of a series of articles in the Financial Post on the theme of “Lessons in Leadership: Reflections from Canadian CEOs”. It was an opportunity for me to once again consider my approach to leadership and in many ways share the style, tone and manner of the leadership lessons I had learned through the years, starting with that first law student job. Under the title “Why VIA Rail’s boss feels ‘getting his hands dirty’ is important”, I share those lessons. To be frank, I’ve never considered the way I work as “getting my hands dirty”. But I did learn early, and through great examples, that leaders need to earn the respect of their teams. To me, that means being an integral part of the team and pitching in, no matter what the task.

Ironically, the day of that funeral was also my own birthday. And so, as I returned to work, I was surrounded by my VIA Rail colleagues, who are also people I admire and enjoy working with. I recognized my great fortune in leading VIA Rail’s astounding team. Being the leader of that team is indeed a great honour. It is my duty to make sure, as my deceased mentor and others after him did for me, that the potential of those around me is encouraged, recognized, nurtured and rewarded. It is an awesome responsibility, and one to which I dedicate myself, in his memory.

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