Skip to main content

“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

FRANK LEONARD – The lesson I’ve learned is ... ‘Don’t Sell a Bad Idea’

When I was ten years old, I’d order merchandise from the back page of comic books and sell them door-to-door.  In the spring, I’d be selling flower and vegetable seeds, and in the fall, I’d sell Christmas cards. 

In high school, I’d sell myself in student council elections and eventually joined Junior Achievement, a ‘learn-by-doing’ business program.  In fact, I won their national sales contest in 1972 and the $500 scholarship paid for my first-year university tuition, all my books and I still had money left over.

I joined our family tire business at 15 years of age and was selling in the showroom, ‘selling up’, while working in the service bays. As soon as I could drive, I was selling tires ‘on the road’ to gas stations and trucking companies. 

Even though I was only 32 when I decided to run for political office, I was an experienced ‘pitchman’ at all candidates’ meetings and on the door step.  Once in elected office, I soon moved into leadership positions and had opportunities to not only sell myself and my ideas but to put those ideas into action.

Decades later I’m still fortunate to find leadership opportunities and to be in a position where ideas can become reality.  There is just one problem: not all my ideas are good ideas. 

So, with maturity and after some stumbles, I’ve learned to look for ‘skilled contrarians’ as part of my governance and management teams.  Fortunately, some of those contrarians have found me. 

Soon after I was elected Mayor the city manager come into my office, closed the door and asked: ‘Can I talk to Frank?  This was different from the ‘Your Worship’ relationship we had outside that closed door, and he used these opportunities to politely point out what might be flawed about a particular strategy – or more bluntly, how I might be screwing up.  Same goes today on private sector boards where the ‘MVP’ is the director that speaks up and helps us avoid ‘group think.’  If I’m chairing that board, I don’t want to act on my own idea until I’ve heard them speak.

Skilled contrarians are not ‘yah-buts.’ 

Those are the ones that seem to resist all new ideas by starting their sentence with ‘yes but.’  I’ve run into ‘yah-buts’ as I moved into leadership roles in the private and public sector and always work towards the same solution: give them a chance to change careers.

The most dangerous situation is where there isn’t a skilled contrarian – where all your ideas are good ideas.  Being the pitchman that I am, I will sometimes get on a roll and start selling one idea after another.  That’s when the alarm in my head needs to go off – ‘oh no, I’ve been here six weeks and all of my ideas have been wonderful and are being acted on’. 

That’s when you realize that for whatever reason you’re surrounded by groupies.

We all have to live with the consequences of our bad ideas, but many others have to live with some of mine. 

For example, a bare wall faces a back street of a rezoning that I spoke enthusiastically in favour of, and a local government can’t get rid of an advisory committee I thought would be helpful.  I’ve also had bad ideas in the private sector but the marketplace seems to take care of them.

So, the lesson I’ve learned is ... don’t get caught selling a bad idea.’ 

Be self-aware that some of your ideas will be good and some won’t, and then ensure you get trusted input from others – hopefully skilled contrarians – before putting all of them into action.

Frank Leonard served roles as a Councillor and Mayor of Saanich -- and Chair of the Police Board from 1986 to 2014. He chaired the Municipal Finance Authority of BC, was President of the UBCM, and while in business, served as a Director of the BC Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Victoria Chamber of Commerce.


Popular posts from this blog

It seems the call for blood donors is being responded to, however ... “This effort is a marathon, not a sprint” says Canadian Blood Services

A week and a half ago I wrote the commentary ... “ While the national inventory is currently strong, an increase in blood donor cancellations is a warning sign of potential challenges to maintaining a health inventory of blood ” It was written as a result of talk about a potential blood shortage that would occur if people stopped donating due to the COVID-19 virus. It seems the call to Canadians was responded to, however, as I was told this afternoon ... “ T his effort is a marathon, not a sprint ”. As it now stands now, donors are able to attend clinics which are held in Vancouver (2), Victoria, Surrey, and in Kelowna, so I asked if there any plans to re-establish traveling clinics to others communities - for example in Kamloops, Prince George, Prince Rupert, Revelstoke or Cranbrook, and perhaps further north at perhaps Ft. St. John? According to Communications Lead Regional Public Affairs Specialist Marcelo Dominguez, Canadian Blood Services is still on

FEDLSTED -- Rules will have to relax-- the question is how and when

The media has created a fervour over the mathematical models that allegedly help governments predict the future of Coronavirus infections in the general population. Mathematical modelling has limited use and value. We need to understand is that the data available on Coronavirus (COVID-19) infections in Canada is far too small for statistical reliability. The data available for the whole world is useless due to variables in how nations responded to Coronavirus infections. There is no commonality in steps taken to combat virus spread and no similarity in the age demographics of world nations, so the numbers you see on the daily tracking of world infections are not useful in developing a model of infection rates that can be relied on. Mathematical models of the future spread of Coronavirus are better than nothing, but not a whole lot better.  Mathematical models must include assumptions on virus spreads, and various factors involved. As they are used in projections, a small erro

When necessary – and only when necessary – the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program can attach (garnish) wages

Alan Forseth ~~ Kamloops, BC ~~ May 15th Earlier this week (Monday May 13 th ) the BC government announced it would be establishing a new Crown agency to oversee the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program (FMEP).   They indicated that on or before the end of October, the provision of family maintenance services would transition from a contracted service provider, to the newly created Crown agency. Apparently, this was to ensure that family maintenance enforcement services for vulnerable British Columbians continue uninterrupted. Seeing this story, reminded me of a woman ( we’ll call her Mary Brown ) who had email me some time b ack about this very thing, and questions she had about how maintenance enforcement was imposed and enforced. She said to me, “ I’m just curious if you can get any statistics of the homeless men and woman, that have children, that they are paying family maintenance in support of their children”.  “I am not about to sugg


Show more