Rob Ford; leadership guru

Rob Ford, 1969-2016

I wrote a post nominating Rob Ford as a guru during the height of the wreckage he wrought at Toronto City Hall. Rob Ford’s leadership offers all kinds of lessons, so that post still applies, and I repost it now in his memory. Perhaps it applies south of the Canadian border as well, to another constituency of angry, alienated voters.

photo credit: City of Toronto website

photo credit: City of Toronto website

I nominate Toronto Rob Ford as guru of the year.

No, seriously. Buffoonery aside – and that’s a huge aside – his ability to keep voters willing to vote for him defies credibility. It’s what I find most astonishing – his self-imposed implosion and dizzying public unraveling hasn’t deterred his Ford Nation from believing in him. That means he has something to teach.

Had Mr. Ford behaved and been competent, no one outside Toronto would know his name. Now he’s stratospheric famous, enjoying status as a late night joke and top ten list attraction. How does he foster such devotion? Are other politicians paying attention? 

Clearly it isn’t his charisma and charm attracting such loyal and loving constituents. Then what, I ask, accounts for it? 

Rob Ford’s simple rules for finding and fostering love and faithfulness.

What I uncovered from Mr. Ford’s musing are life rules to follow for conflict management and living joyously. Surprise – it turns out Mr. Ford’s good, bad and ugly behavior all conceal useful lessons. It’s a shame Mr. Ford subverted these to the Dark Side:

The Good

1. Respond to people, such as return phone calls 

When his loyal fans and constituents explain clinging to his failed leadership, their refrain goes: “He called me back.”

2. Get involved in small problems people care about

Sure, people seek to save the world, but it’s problems on our doorstep that relegate the world’s problems to second billing. When asked about their loyalty, Mr. Ford’s constituents said: “He had an interest in my problem and tried to help me.”

3. Show up

He had an important title and lots of staff, but when he got a call from a constituent, Mr. Ford rang the doorbell. Those who plan to vote for him in his re-election bid maintain: “I needed a solution and he came to my house to discuss it with me.”

4. Have a clear message

Without more evidence, devotees believe he’s great because Mr. Ford says he’s wonderful and does his job well: “I don’t want to toot my own horn here but I’m the best mayor this city has ever had.” (from NewsTalk 1010, November 3, 2013).

The Bad

5. Pay attention

When Toronto City Council held a vote on honoring Canada’s Olympic athletes and the late Nelson Mandela there was only one vote against – Rob Ford. Upon noticing he was on the wrong side of no-brainer issues, he requested a revote to rectify what he claimed was a mistake. Consensus appears to be he voted ‘no’ because he wasn’t paying attention. People have compassion so long as we’re trying our best. Ford’s theory is that if experts urge you to get fit, eat better, pay attention, and be honourable, he’ll purse his lips, curl his tongue, expel a burst of air, and go ‘pthut.

6. Strive for a goal and then share successes and failures

We know 90% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken before January ends, but we make them anyway. We cheer for milestones along the way, and, most important, we tolerate slippage if we believe the person is striving to achieve the goal. We forgive failure if there’s a perception of effort.

The Truly Ugly

7. Be consistent

Toronto still functions despite the gong show at City Hall, but each exhausting eruption of bad behaviour and expiatory explanation drains its energy. The ups and downs keep everyone off balance.

8. Keep expectations reasonable

Communicate boundaries as well as openness, because people react badly when their expectations are disappointed.

9. Apologize as soon as you’re sincere

If Decker apologized to me so insincerely, one of us would sleep in the guest room. No one except die-hards in Ford Nation believes Mr. Ford’s delayed, vague and hollow apologies. Sincerity matters as much as the words.

10.  Hone good judgment

The questionable company he keeps can’t be justified with noble theory such as, ‘I don’t throw my friends under the bus.’ What’s being judged is that those people are his friends in the first place.


RIP Mr. Ford


How did national elections descend into a reality TV show?

If cancer reinforced any lesson, it’s that fear is paralyzing. This troubled world needs leaders, not fear-mongers. I expect shenanigans from the Kardashians. None of their clan expects to emerge as elected leader of a democratic nation. Maybe democracy is now courtesy of “reality TV” producers Jeff Probst, Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell. Why else would election candidates resemble contestants on Survivor and Big Brother?

I envision a panel of Jeff, Ryan and Simon, seated behind desks, as a candidate enters the audition room and pivots to face the judges.

Jeff opens. “Tell us what’s unique about you that we should pick you to compete in an election.”

The candidate: “Well, Jeff, I’m average, middle class, very wealthy and know every important person on the planet. So I completely understand the challenges ordinary people face in their little lives. I’m committed to helping them overcome those challenges.”

Ryan says to the camera: “Beautiful answer, love it.” He turns to the candidate. “Tell us what kind of experience qualifies you as a contestant – er, I mean, candidate, in our game, uh, I mean our election?”

The candidate: “Great question, Ryan. I’m a true player; competitive, argumentative, no pushover, can’t be persuaded to change my mind, don’t see other’s perspectives, and I win at all costs. I don’t let others finish a sentence. People will root for me because I’m ruthless and good-looking. You should select people like me. No one would watch or vote for unattractive people.”

Simon leans far back: “So, if you see people arguing, I take it you’d look for strategic ways to make their situations worse and your situation better.”

The candidate: “Of course I would.”

Hmm, this candidate must have been selected to appear in the election debates.

Here’s my message to candidates: Jeff, Ryan, and Simon aren’t your judges, voters or pollsters. Ditch the divisive fear, and expensive promises no one expects you to keep. Show leadership to solve the planet’s many problems instead.