The Issue of Leadership
From various sources of media as well as the moccasin telegraph we hear of the many Aboriginal communities today that have issues with their leadership, how they operate and the support they get from the community. This is not something new; however with the use of Social Media this is becoming more apparent. This has a very significant impact on what happens within the community and how they are able to move forward in improving the community. So why is it so difficult to eliminate the differences and build a strong leadership team that represents and leads the community?
The structure of leadership that you see in most businesses is similar yet quite different than what we see within the communities. In a business you will have a President or CEO in charge of the operation with a support group of vice presidents and senior managers responsible for specific areas of the business. In the community, you have a Chief and a number of Counsellors who have been elected to represent the community. However, in business, the CEO’s are hired and will stay in place as long as the business is doing well, they don’t do something that jeopardizes the company or they decide to move on to something better that they have earned based on their good performance. In the community, the Chief is elected based on the will of the people of the community at that moment in time and is often elected for only two years – regardless of how good he or she is. So this is our first issue – continuity and performance. The CEO is hired based on his education, experience and past performance and, if he does a good job, can stay on for many years and improve the organization in the process. The Chief is hired in an election hopefully based on his education, experience and past performance but not necessarily so. If he does a good job he may or may not be re-elected after a few years.
Then we have the supporting cast. In business, the CEO will be surrounded by people who have been in place for a number of years and know their areas extensively. The new CEO may bring in a few of his own select team members to give him support and consistency in his methods of operation but they will still be good qualified people known for their expertise. The Chief will be surrounded by a number of Counsellors who, like the Chief, have been elected by the community. Unfortunately, like the Chief, they will not necessarily be elected based on their past performance or expertise in what is required to do the job. So in business, you have a group of people who have been put in place based on their knowledge and experience and they remain based on their performance. In the community, a group of people are elected and may or may not be suitable for the job at hand. But whether they perform well or poorly, they remain until the next election and then they may stay even if they have performed poorly or may be replaced even though they have performed very well. And this affects how the community is lead and whether things get better or worse within the community.
Another significant issue affecting the community is responsibility and accountability. The major difference between business and the community is that the business usually has a Board of Directors overseeing the CEO while the Chief and Counsellors are the top line of leadership in the community. The Board’s job is to provide some protection and direction for the CEO. They provide guidance to the CEO but they also hold the CEO accountable. After the direction is established for the organization in conjunction with the CEO, the Board then evaluates how well the CEO is doing in directing the management team towards achieving the goals. If the CEO is doing poorly, the Board will hold him accountable or maybe even remove him from his position.
The Board does not manage the operation of business, that’s the CEO’s responsibility. But they do hold him to that responsibility and make him accountable for the organization’s good or bad performance. Given that the Board does not have day to day responsibilities, they are not employees of the business but rather act as overseers of the business. They may only meet for a few hours each month but they provide that essential service of acting as a resource for feedback and direction for the CEO. Unfortunately the communities do not have anything similar for the Chief and Counsellors so they are doubly hurt by changing their leadership on a regular basis and not having a consistent group above them to help with the direction of the community as well as holding them accountable for their results.
David Wynne is the President of R.D. Wynne Consulting Ltd. specializing in Human Resources and governance and is a founding member of CAHRMA.