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“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 – A stone-faced ‘I’m aware of it, and it is under control’ is much more reassuring than ‘OMG’

I had a brown ceramic Easter egg in my Mayor’s office (1996-2014Saanich) to remind me about my ‘no surprises’ rule. 

Visitors would ask about it and I’d just say it was a bit of décor but for me, it was a great deal more.

When I assume a leadership role in governance of a public or private sector organization, I go through the briefings and hear all that senior management want me to know.  As it starts to wind up, I do work in a few rules that I like to have in place – one of them is ‘no surprises.’

If something has gone wrong, I want management to tell me.  In fact, if something is going wrong, or they think something might go wrong, I want management to tell me.  Under no circumstances do I want to be ‘out of the loop’ about an issue, incident, or something much worse that is within my oversight.

Most often there is nothing for me to do – and in fact, doing something might even be inappropriate but I still need to know … in case there is. 

I will choose to filter, not have it done for me.  By always getting a ‘heads-up’, I am never surprised by a third party – a member of the Board or Council, a member of the public or a media source – asking me ‘did you know’ or ‘what are you going to do.’  A stone-faced ‘I’m aware of it and it is under control’ is much more reassuring than ‘OMG.’

I find you have to prove yourself with management for the briefings to be timely and fulsome – you simply need to prove you can be trusted with confidential information.  A Mayor who repeats a briefing may be loved by a reporter, but won’t get a full briefing next time. 

I’ve heard about terrible human resources behavior, the possibility that a project will be delayed, public health worries and police briefings; some soon became public knowledge, and others I will ‘take to the grave.’ 

Once trust is established, the ‘no surprises’ rule works and can be a benefit to myself and to management. You see, it is not that something goes wrong, it is what you and your team do about it. 

Best I can tell, employees are people and people make mistakes – and best I can tell, ‘Murphy’s Law’ is a full-time employee. 

In the world of policing, a tragedy can be within the next phone call.  So, the ‘heads-up’ must not look back but must look ahead: what is management doing and is there a role for me in governance and oversight.  At the very least, it is about accountability: tell me what you are doing about it; tell me how you are progressing; and tell me when it is resolved.

And that brown ceramic Easter egg – well it is part of the no surprises rule – it always reminded me … that ‘shit happens.’

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.

Check out Frank Leonard’s website for information on Local Government and Consulting


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