Clerk’s Remarks at APEX Recognition of Entry to the Executive Ranks Ceremony


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November 8, 2017

Good evening. Let me begin by thanking APEX and everyone who has put this evening together.

My first message is congratulations to all of you on becoming EXs.

This is a moment of real accomplishment and it is important that we take time to celebrate. There are about 260,000 men and women who work in the Public Service of Canada right now. You add that up over the years, it is many Canadians and they do a great job but it is a very small percentage of those that get to executive positions.  These are positions of leadership, of impact and of influence. It is a tremendous personal and professional accomplishment and I would encourage you to savour it and to share it with your family, friends and neighbours. I hope you will enjoy this evening and the fact that you have joined the leadership of the Public Service of Canada.

Once again, congratulations to all of you!

You are taking over the talking stick, the leadership, the mantel, whatever metaphor you choose to use, of a truly great institution. Whatever happens, you are going to go down as the Canada 150 cohort. This year has given us a chance to think about 150 years of service to Canadians as a public service.

We were there before Confederation and on day one. Somebody had to prepare the documents and the briefing notes for Sir John A. Macdonald! We have been there ever since, generation after generation, government after government, as all kinds of things have happened to our country.  We have grown with the country, and the country has grown with us.

I want to remind you, because the jobs can at times feel very challenging and you tend to focus on the challenges of what needs to be fixed and what needs to be worked on. The International Civil Service Effectiveness Index looked at over 30 public services across the planet to determine who the most effective public service was. You can quibble with the methodologies and no doubt people will be competing to take over from each other. Right now, however, the most effective public service on the planet is us!

We also happen to be the one with the highest score on gender parity and I think the two things are related. We also scored highly in the World Bank’s government effectiveness indicator. My successor is possibly in this room, and in fact, the next two or three Clerks are probably here tonight. So I pass to you the challenge as you take on positions of leadership in the next years or decades. Take that record of excellence, that tradition of adapting to history, of making history, and carry it forward for future generations of Canadians. Pass on the very best of our values and traditions and adapt to new ways of working and serving Canadians and their governments. That is the task that is being passed to you.

The good news is, I know that you are up to it. I joined this executive community in 1990, and I am absolutely convinced this is a better public service than the one I joined, and it is better led than when I joined the executive cadre. You are taking on that tradition of leadership and excellence into the next generation. Do not get caught up in false nostalgia of golden eras and the good, old days. I was there and it was not better. It was risk adverse. We have come, with the country, on a journey. We are a more diverse, more inclusive and more nimble public service. We are as good as we have ever been and do not let anybody tell you otherwise.

You also have an obligation to look after yourself and you have to be there for the people that are looking up to you. You will be an example to your team, and you are going to have more impact than you can possibly imagine.  You set the work frame and take decisions - yes, no, we do this, we go left, we go right, etc... You will have to take those decisions. Do not delegate them up to your deputy and do not dither around. You are there to perform executive functions. Do not be afraid to take those decisions.  You will make mistakes. We all do, but I can assure you that you will get better at it with experience. You have people to rely on and reach out to; and you have colleagues and mentors. Always remember that you have support systems. You also have APEX, and the Canada School of Public Service. There are lots of people that want you to do well. Reach out to them. Do not try to do it all yourself.

The tone you set will influence people around you.  Remember that people are watching you. This means that if you project skepticism, slightly cynical humour, and a kind of pessimism that is what your work unit is going to look like in six months. The public service is a chameleon like institution. They will replicate and model your behaviours. Try your best, no matter how hard the days may be, to embody that dogged, relentless, resilient, optimistic kind of leadership that you look to and that you want to project to your teams. Be the kind of boss you wish you had and you will see your organizations follow you. Leaders have followers and you have more impact than you can possibly imagine.

Do not try to do it all yourself. You will burn yourself out. There are more meetings to go to; more emails to read; more documents you wish you got to; more things to worry about than you can possibly cope with in 168 hours in a week. You have to be resilient.  The life of the executive is that feeling of always having more to do and more to worry about. And you should. You should be very attentive and careful, and you should be worried a fair bit of the time.  However, you also have to be there for your family and your community. Physically, you have to look after your health, your resilience, your mental health, whatever terminology you want to use. Look after yourself as an asset and reinvest in yourself. Do whatever works for you, and I know APEX and others have suggestions. At the risk of repeating myself, you have to be there for your teams and you have to be there for yourself. So I suggest that you pay attention to your won health.

This also means that you have to be attentive to your teams as well. You have to have your ears open. You have to have your eyes open. You have to have your heart open to what they are going through. Today, you need an empathetic and listening style of leadership. Try to pick up the vibe and the signals your team is sending you, and listen to them. As a leader, you have to be responsive to your teams. They are going to be struggling as individuals or as groups and they will look to you for that kind of leadership.  Again, I really encourage you to pay attention.

If we are going to make a difference and continue moving forward on mental health, workplace well-being, and in ending harassment and discrimination, creating the kind of work environments that our colleagues deserve, then you have to be the leaders that will get us there.

This is the big challenge for you. It is not the smartphones and the technology or the work or the files. It is leading people. This is a really your big task. For those of you that are more interested in career and progression, we have seen more careers end and flame out and burn out on personnel and people issues than anything else. It is the inability to take decisions, to solve personnel problems and to work with colleagues. The Public Service’s turf and territory and ego are fading into history. It is a Public Service of collaboration and team work and of listening to each other and exchange. These are skills that you can perfect and learn, and there are behaviours and there are values that you have to live and embody.

There is a lot going on out there, but the good news is that when I look at other countries around the world, the country I would want to be living in, is here in Canada. We are at a moment of history, and of opportunity and breakthrough. We are at a moment where people around the world look to us for solutions, examples and inspiration. We are the embodiment of being an open and inclusive society. We are a society that is innovative and that does not leave anybody behind or any voice outside. This is also the kind of public service we are and will continue to be. We will have an opportunity to serve Canadians in the coming years in a way that makes a difference to our teams, our departments, our agencies, our communities, our country, and I truly believe to the world as well.

This is an awesome responsibility and opportunity. I hope you are feeling a combination of nervousness, a little bit of trepidation, but tremendous excitement and a real sense of privilege to be the leaders of the best public service on the planet.

Merci beaucoup. Miigwetch.

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