When Leadership Takes Flight

“When it comes to the topic of successful leadership, the easiest thing to do is to make things complicated.”

That’s the voice of experience from battle-tested administrator David Barrick, who served as municipal manager for Canada’s ninth-largest city during the pandemic. He soon discovered that supervising 6,000 employees and managing an annual operating budget of $750 million rested on one fundamental task: inspiring a team to embrace the mission and follow his example.

This lesson is so basic that it can be found deep in literature, lore and culture. “Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow,” an ancient Chinese proverb teaches.

The lesson echoes through history. Plato was one of the first philosophers to ponder the substance of leadership. He advised, “Good actions give strength to ourselves and inspire good actions in others.”

Despite such a wealth of wisdom from the ages, and thousands of popular books on the topic, many owners, officials and managers still embrace the command-and-control approach to leadership. They tend to believe that leading a team is all about issuing orders; hitting the send button all day with email directives, or posting memos throughout the workspace.

In reality, that does nothing to rally a team to achieving goals and reaching for success in any business or administrative setting.

The concept travels well even outside the realms of business or government. As American writer Willian Arthur Ward observed: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

People often assume that great leaders are born, but some of the best-known figures in history became leaders by thinking like one — acting, learning and adapting like a successful leader. Teddy Roosevelt is one prime example. Sickly and frail as a boy, he literally willed himself to positions of leadership in politics and in battle. He thought, acted and dreamed like the great leader he became.

Extraordinary leaders often study and model the leadership traits they see in others. They learn that successful leaders are optimistic, seeing unlimited opportunities before them. These types of leaders set clear goals and are ambitious, tireless, even relentless in reaching them. They view failure as a chance to learn and regroup, rather than surrender. They have learned how to inspire others and build a team of winners.

“Inspiring a team begins with placing a premium on collaborating with your employees, bringing them into your strategic vision as partners,” says David Barrick, who today serves as Chief Administrative Officer for the Ontario municipality of Thames Centre. “It is also vital in peer-to-peer relationships, as you discover new opportunities for collaboration with people, businesses and organizations in your sector, and beyond.”

By cultivating others, Barrick advises, anyone can create a foundation for leadership in an organization. Good leaders focus on nurturing the people they lead, identifying their strengths and encouraging growth in these traits and talents.

“Once you’ve cultivated, inspired and won the loyalty of your team, they’re ready to follow your vision,” he says. “That’s where the fun begins, and where the magic really happens.”