This is the first of a series of interviews that Optimum Online will publish under the general title "Leadership in Turbulent Times."
It has become trite to comment on the acceleration of technical change, globalization and other forces that have generated such turbulence over the last decade or two. However, managers are not always as fully aware as they should be that these forces have transformed dramatically both the governance and the leadership of our private, public and civic organizations.
While many have suggested that the new turbulent times have demanded a governance that is distributed and non-centralized, there have been deleterious mental blockages that have perpetuated the belief that only a centralized hierarchical structure can do the job with effectiveness, efficiency and economy. The consequence is that antiquated notions of top-down leadership have remained in good currency.
But this plea for distributed governance - i.e., a non-centralized effective coordination in which resources, information, and power are widely distributed - and for more subtle and oblique leadership required by such a world is bound to be an empty sermon unless one can answer the question that obviously follows: how can one do it?
There are many ways to deal with such a question. One may develop case studies in which the required social technologies are shown to be at work and effective. Another way is to draw on the experience of leaders in different sectors who have lived through these turbulent times and have had to rewrite the leadership manual in a world that called for "distributed leadership," i.e., leadership in a game without a master.
For those interested in the first approach, the Centre on Governance will gladly make available the results of its many studies dealing with a wide range of terrains - from the governance of oceans to the governance of the City of Ottawa, from National Defence to the Red Cross, from Nortel to small high-tech firms, etc. You are all welcome to visit our Web site www.governance.uottawa.ca.
But for those who prefer learning from experience rather than reports, Optimum Online will present a series of interviews with leaders from the private, public and civic sectors about their experiences and the new forms of leadership that they have had to craft as they deal with the new challenges of our turbulent times.
The first of these interviews is with Denis Desautels, the Executive Director of the Centre on Governance, and the Auditor General of Canada from 1991 to 2001.
Denis Desautels is a chartered accountant and operated a private practice for years. Mr. Deshautels was a senior partner in the Montreal Office of Ernst & Young (formerly Clarkson Gordon), and worked closely with many large Canadian corporations. He was a member of the Parizeau Commission, set up to study the future of municipal governments in the province of Québec (1986), as well as an advisor to the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform (1991).