The successful businessman and philanthropist shared some of his thoughts on leadership in an interview, which has been edited and condensed.
Q: What does "leadership" mean to you?
A: You know, I think it has many meanings on many different levels. Part of it is about the ability to inspire people to accomplish a common goal.
Ultimately there are many techniques and many styles of leadership. I often tell people there is such a thing as a born leader, and I've met one in my life.
Ultimately it's about team wins because a leader without followers is just a guy out taking a walk.
Q: You're the president and CEO of a major company. How did you acquire the necessary skills to oversee hundreds of employees?
Through a combination of two things: one is experience, which I gained from other leaders. I actively sought out people who had skills that I recognized I didn't have, and I needed to develop.
The other one is through experiences, which tend to be much more painful and much more expensive – in other words, failure. With the pain of failure comes the recognition of where you're lacking and then it's redoubling your efforts to either improve yourself in those areas, or source out someone else who can execute on the things you're weak on.
Q: Was there a turning point in your life or a moment when you realized you wanted to be a leader?
I played team sports my whole life. I did individual sports as well and I was really, really successful … but they had no meaning to me. They literally didn't resonate at all. When we won as a team, or even lost as a team, it resonated with me more. I recognized then that if I was going to be in business and I wanted to function on a team, there would be times to follow and there would be times to lead. And when those times to lead came, you better be as prepared as you can be, understanding that it's going to be a learning experience.
Q: You are a former U of S Huskies football player, and you've said you view sports as an integral way to develop leadership skills. Why is that?
I think it's all about shared sacrifice. When you play a team sport in particular, you recognize you don't have to get along with everyone. You don't have to like everyone on your team. I'll use football as an example: if there's someone you don't particularly care for and you're blocking [him] and he's running the ball, you don't let somebody tackle him. When he loses, you lose, too. You go sacrifice yourself for the greater good of everyone because everyone wins and loses together. Your "self" is not the most important thing on the team.
I think the ability to prepare diligently, to train diligently and to sacrifice alongside your teammates brings you closer to the group. It earns respect – you're only going to get as much respect as you earn – and they recognize that.
Q: If someone isn't an athlete, how can they work to find opportunities to develop leadership skills in another way?
A: There's a lot of ways. I so admire companies like McDonald's and Pizza Hut (we're a Pizza Hut franchisee) where a lot of people get their first job ever and they learn to function within a team — a small team. You can very quickly see the people leading you, or you see people managing you.
You'll learn to characterize how you want to live or behave by deciding, "You know what, I see that person, and I can do those things. I'd like to be in that position, I aspire to that."
Not everyone aspires to leadership. And thank goodness, or else we'd have a whole world of leaders and no followers and nothing much would get accomplished.
Q: What can a student do to develop leadership skills?
A: Seek out group assignments, seek out collaborative things that you do to can throw yourself into a group and watch the human dynamic of who emerges as a leader. You may not end up being the leader.
There are many things I do in my life where I am not the leader, and I will happily not lead because someone else is better equipped in that area to do it than me. In that case I want to be a good soldier, a good follower. I want to contribute to the team success. There are always places you can find — either in your social settings or in volunteer activities — where you can function on a team to try to accomplish something you think is good for your community, your city, your school or your grades.
Q: You do an incredible amount of service for the U of S and the broader community. What role does philanthropy and volunteering play in leadership? How can they help to build leadership skills?
A: I think community involvement allows you to be exposed to so many things: community needs, community priorities, differing opinions. It's about a breadth of education. It's about an education of human interaction.
I think anyone who gets called a philanthropist does it in his own personal style. Mine is generally being very involved. I like to see the results, not just pay for results. I want to feel like I've got an investment there, and the return on the investment for me is the joy of seeing some accomplishment. It's to feel like perhaps through your efforts and your time and your money, you made a difference.
Many people volunteer, and I think the power of volunteering allows you to work in team environments or group environments that sometimes school doesn't allow you to do. That exposure to other leadership skills — to other people leading you — makes you recognize what you want to do or don't want to do.
Money can buy a lot of things, but it can't buy you time. That's why volunteerism is so critical because you're giving the most valuable resource you have, which is your time.
Q: Do you have one thing that you do every day or a rule you follow that keeps you productive?
A: I've done this every single day of my life for the last 40-some years. It's when I'm brushing my teeth before I go to bed, I look in the mirror, and I ask, "Did you make the most of today? Did you give all the energy you could?" Not, "Were you super productive?" but "Did you give today everything you had, or did you take a day off?" That's my accountability to myself. As a leader, my job is not to motivate people — it is to inspire them.
That's my accountability moment, and I've used it for many years. Usually the answer is pretty good, but there are days when you can't hide from yourself and you should ask yourself the tough question, which is basically – "Did you waste a day of your life?"
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