Leadership is a matter of having people look at you and gain confidence, seeing how you react. If you're in control, they're in control. - Tom Landry
As I write this late on Saturday evening, electricity is starting to return to the Island of Newfoundland after a near Island-wide outage today. Regardless of one’s thoughts on energy distribution, redundancy, strategy and the like, I think everyone on the Island owes a debt of gratitude to the men and women of Nalcor and Newfoundland Power who toiled ceaselessly, in lousy and sometimes unsafe conditions, to get electricity restored to the Island.
However, there is an interesting element that becomes more glaring as the Island-wide power outage progresses.
That element is the absence of any public comment or appearance by the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, Premier Kathy Dunderdale, for the duration of the event.
Now one doesn’t expect her to be putting out fires in substations, climbing poles with linesmen, restarting the generators in Holyrood or doing anything else so complex (or potentially dangerous). One assumes that she is in touch with critical leadership team members behind the scenes.
However, in times of crisis, many people want and need to hear from their leader. For some, it brings comfort to hear from their leader even if the leader is not actually out “in the streets” addressing the issues.
But for many, to hear from their leader during a crisis shows that their leader gives a damn about them at all.
It’s all about smart strategy, being sensitive to the people they serve, the leader’s level of intelligence and their knowledge regarding the optics of ignoring the public.
I think that the Premier appears to be lacking in one or more of these.
What do you think?
To Premier Dunderdale, you might as well stay where you are. It doesn’t seem to make a difference at this point whether you have anything to say or not and it appears that you still have a lot to learn about leadership.
And besides, the Province did just fine without you.
In service and servanthood,
Further Musings: As the power outage issues continued into January 6, 2014, I shared additional concerns about the leadership of Premier Dunderdale in my blog post Newfoundland–A Leadership Crisis, Not An Energy One.
Addendum – January 5, 2014
A nervous sounding Premier Dunderdale appeared in front of the media at 12:30pm Newfoundland time on Sunday, making her first comments since the rolling blackout issues started on Thursday and the extensive Island-wide power loss occurred more than 24 hours ago.
Of all the challenges that exist for leaders, there are three critical components that separate self-described leaders from publicly recognized ones:
1. How well a leader responds during a difficult event. The Premier was totally absent and silent for the brunt of the event and so a failing grade as a leader is the best one can offer.
2. How well a leader responds to the experiences of others. Her dismissal of the opinions of others, including some people who actually experienced significant difficulties during the event, as merely “experiencing inconveniences” (without having specific knowledge of what they experienced) shows a lack of courtesy and empathy. Perhaps some better communication skills would help in this area.
3. How well a leader guides and coordinates others towards solutions in the future. It is impossible to predict the future. However, if past performance is any indicator, I would be concerned although for the people of the Province, I would like to be proven wrong. Time will tell.
When asked during the press conference why she didn’t make any public appearances during the event, she said and I quote:
“It wasn’t a crisis.” (Even though Ed Martin, President and CEO of Nalcor Energy, indicated in the same press conference that he considered it a crisis).
“It wasn’t a critical situation.”
I’m sure the thousands of residents who huddled in the dark in extremely cold conditions, some in towns without water also, would beg to differ. Most provincial or state leaders would have considered such an event as a critical situation, especially when it wasn’t known at the time when electricity would be restored. The Premier also cannot offer assurances that it won’t happen again due to aging assets (the latter being a reflection of choices made by the Government).
It is easy to be a leader in good times. True leadership is revealed during difficult times and when defining the future that leaders attempt to create.
When the Premier indicated during the press conference that she was “comfortable in her home” while others were freezing, I was reminded of the apocryphal response attributed to Marie Antoinette when told that the peasants were starving – “Let them eat cake”.
Leadership is a skill possessed by few.
Addendum 2 – January 5, 2014
A little after 9pm Newfoundland time tonight, the Holyrood generating station had an incident that immediately plunged 100,000 customers back into the dark.
While solutions are needed immediately and for the future, the Premier now seems more focused on her television / radio appearance schedule to explain her “side of the story” instead of being a leader in times of difficulty.
Real leaders lead – the rest go into automatic “CYA” mode.
4 hours after the most recent incident occurred, more than 90,000 customers are still in the dark. They don’t want “CYA” – they want to know how their confidence in the system can be restored.
Is the Premier capable of restoring that confidence?
Time will tell but it sure makes a Provincial election almost 2 years out suddenly seem a lot larger and closer.
Meanwhile, the great men and women “out in the trenches” continue to do an amazing job while she hangs out in various media studios.
Politics and fairness don’t always see eye to eye, do they?
Addendum 3 – Premier Dunderdale Resigns – January 21, 2014
The press has announced that Premier Dunderdale will be announcing her resignation on January 22, 2014 and that Tom Marshall will be taking over as Interim Premier. With public opinion significantly against her, this appears to be the only viable option available to her and she is taking it.
I am reminded of this blog post I wrote over three years ago when the previous leader, Premier Danny Williams, stepped down and I warned about the lack of strong leadership candidates to succeed him - Premier Williams and His Legacy.
Whether she was responsible personally for her political demise, she received poor advice or she failed to accept good advice, the world is not kind to leaders who appear to be weak as far as being strategic, tactical, fair, competent or empathetic is concerned.
I wonder whether history will be to Kathy Dunderdale.
As for her departure, it is unknown what is best for the Province – that a leader be burned, learn from the experience and come back better than ever or to go with an untried leader who, as an unknown, could be far better or far worse. That’s why I think “celebration” regarding her departure is both unfair on a personal level and premature.