Looking for leaders

I read an article recently about a Canadian business leader who was asked for his fondest memory from university. In response, he waxed on about some interfaculty football game. He then lamented the demise of the scholar-athlete and how relevant that role once was. Yes, I thought, but wasn’t that just another form of elitism, kind of a junior Rhodes Scholar?

Little wonder there seem to be fewer such scholar-athletes these days. There never were very many. When I went to Western, there were about 5,000 undergrads, among whom only a few dozen might have qualified as scholar-athletes. There’s about the same quantity of those people today because the number of players or teams hasn’t grown. However, the number of undergrads at Western has grown, to about 25,000, so the elite proportion is smaller than ever.

Time was when those who fought in the Second World War dominated the executive suite. In the 1970s and early 1980s, CIBC was headed by former paratrooper Russ Harrison, Bank of Montreal’s Bill Mulholland had fought in the Philippines, and Rowlie Frazee of the Royal led infantry in the Italian campaign. The next elite to rule was the aforementioned scholar-athlete. If you hadn’t played for the McGill Redmen, the Varsity Blues, or the Harvard hockey team you were cast aside because you couldn’t possibly understand the way the world worked.

Trouble is that such a narrow-minded view of business barred women from the executive suite. They were told to take up golf or learn locker-room jargon so they could keep up with the teamwork jock-talk of their male colleagues. Fortunately, we can no longer count on wars or sports to create leaders either in real life or metaphorically. We have to locate our leaders from a larger pool of people, one that includes women and the racial diversity that is Canada.

Anyway, I don’t think you can make a leader. Sure, maybe you can learn a few leadership skills along the way, but the best leaders are born, just like the best singers come equipped with the best pipes. The Julliard or the Rotman School can only do so much.

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