It’s not hard to imagine being the leader of a hockey team, a book club, or the leader of an office party committee, but what about being the leader of the Province?
That’s a lot of responsibility, and a lot of people who are looking to you to be their leader.
To get some insight into what it takes to head up a province we sat down with three former Premiers: Ujjal Dosanjh, Rita Johnston, and Bill Vander Zalm.
LISTEN: CKNW Leadership series: Sitting in the premier’s chair
So just what qualities does a person need in order to convince other people to follow them, that they’re a good leader?
“You need a sense of fairness, an ability to listen to all points of view, and then – and this is important – to be able to make a decision,” he says.
“I think that’s very important, that you need to be open to different point of view, to discussion around the cabinet table or in the community. And then, finally, to be able to make a decision, no matter how difficult the issue is,” he says.
But it’s not just about being able to act, you’ve also got to be able to build bridges, says Johnston.
“One of the things that you really have to be able to handle is [making] sure that you can get along with your colleagues. And that you have the support of the colleagues that you have to work with. That, to me, is really important. If you haven’t got that, you’re not going to go anywhere,” she says.
Having the ability to make decisions, and get along with co-workers seems like an easy set of principles.
But, in the role of Premier, you’re leading people who didn’t vote for you. They share different opinions on the economy, education, child care, and transit services.
So, how do you make decisions knowing that a percentage of a population is not going to agree with your plan? Do you make that decision based on what you as a particular party leader thinks is best? Or, do you think about what’s best for everybody in that sort of context?
“The best leaders would make those kinds of decisions based on what’s good for the Province; what’s good for everyone,” says Dosanjh. “It may not be popular, but what is needed to be done now, and in the future. And I think that doesn’t happen too often in politics, I might say. But really, that is what is required.”
So, you’re not going to make some people in your party happy, you can’t make everyone in the government happy, and you’re definitely not going to make all of B.C. happy.
A stressful position no doubt. But former premier Vander Zalm says despite that, you’ve got to stay focused or you can make mistakes.
“It’s a very difficult area, where you can place trust, so that’s a problem. And secondly, you tend to get so wound up in where you are and what it is you’re doing, that you kind of forget where the people might be at at times. And you worry and fret about things that you needn’t worry about.”
So do people have a good idea of the pressure of the job? Of what the Premier actually does day-to-day?
“No, I don’t think they have any idea,” says Johnston. “Non-elected people can’t possibly understand what it is that the elected people are attempting to achieve.”
Unlike business, politics isn’t one company working towards a common goal. Each party within government has their own ideas, views and policies. And everyone thinks theirs are best. How do you lead in such an environment?
“Leading in politics is quite different from what it might be in business,” says Vander Zalm.
“You need to lead the people that you represent, by communicating regularly and often, and openly. Secondly, I think you need to establish a theme and an agenda for the government, and you stick to it. And the third phase is an almost impossible one: that’s to manage the politicians in the bureaucracy. And that’s extremely difficult, and I’ve yet to find anyone that could do it totally with success. It’s a difficult task.”