Trickle-Down Leadership: Lessons on business influence from the highest levels of leadership in Canada

Canada’s Chamber of Commerce CEO & President: Perrin Beatty
Perrin Beatty had an illustrious career in both politics and business. First elected to the House of Commons in 1971, Beatty served in seven different portfolios as Minister under three different Prime Ministers. After his 21-year period in politics, he pivoted to consulting in communications for private sector boards in 1994. Mr. Beatty joined the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in 2007, after serving as the CEO at Canadian Manufacturers & Exports (CME).3

Business owners are feeling the pressure. Between labor shortages and the tumultuous Canadian economy, Saskatchewan entrepreneurs need a solution to ride out the waves of the current climate. Some would say businesses need something more than just a greater profit margin—they need a driving leader.

To understand dynamic leadership, hosts of the Bald Leadership Podcast—Saskatchewan natives Collin Pullar and Kavis Reed—sat down with Canada’s Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer Perrin Beatty. As it turns out, leadership qualities that make a competent government leader are identical to those needed for small/medium business owners today.

Empathy: the bedrock

What is the apex quality a leader should have to succeed with their staff and clients? Beatty and other government leaders think it is empathy or character. “He [Ed Fast, B.C. Member of Parliament] said to me, ‘the single most important element in choosing a leader or choosing an elective representative is character.’ And he is, I believe, absolutely correct on that.” When it comes to the rubber meeting the road, Beatty views empathy as a path to helping staff feel “invested in the mission [of the business] and their job.”

To be able to connect with those who work for you, or potential candidates, is arguably the most needed quality in economic times like these. A recent survey from the Bank of Canada found that 43 per cent of small-to-medium businesses see labour shortages as a top concern for the first quarter of 2023.1 Without true connection with current and potential staff, businesses could crumble for failing to retain their corporate backbone: staff.

Empathizing with current staff and having the capacity to deal with major company issues thoughtfully is the turnkey solution to personnel retention. Beatty observes that staff desire to, “feel that my organization that I’m working for understands my needs, cares about me, is interested in my professional development as well.” Empathy is the main driver to foster such an environment.

Knowing your place

Often leadership can be viewed as a “one-person army” rather than a team effort. For smaller businesses with only a few staff, this feeling of the CEO or owner as the cornerstone of the organization is exacerbated.

Leadership at the highest levels of government should be understood as a form of stewardship—business is no different. “When you are entrusted with an office, you’re the steward of those responsibilities,” Beatty points out. Rather than focusing on how to make your personal achievements shine or profits grow, profound leaders understand the transient nature of their influence.

Keeping in mind that their position will not last forever will allow for smoother succession planning and business growth in the long term. Indeed, a 2022 report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses found that 76 per cent of business owners plan to leave their business in the next decade.2 Leaders that take advantage of Beatty’s advice are poised to successfully transition their business into the next generation.

Business owners not passing over their business to next-of-kin could view corporate stewardship as an unnecessary step. This is not the case. The most respected leaders in these positions view their future selves as the beneficiary of their roles. How would one-week, six-month, or five-year “you” successfully address the responsibilities you held? The answer to that reveals your leadership trajectory.

Finding your betters

Leadership can be seen as a corporate food chain. The person at the top should be the most qualified, the most experienced, and the best on the team. Right? Wrong—according to veteran leaders. “Your starting point should be [to] choose people that are smarter than you are,” Beatty recalls from a conversation. “So very often leaders are afraid of being seen not to have all of the answers and of not being the smartest person in the room.” Beatty presents that if businesses are to thrive in an economic downturn, their leaders should view their teams as assets, not competitors.

More than a building

Success for business owners in Saskatchewan is not viewed simply from a ledger. Over his 25-plus years in business and more serving the public in government, Beatty found, “It’s not the physical surroundings of the facilities that you have, it is the quality of leadership and how the team performs that makes a difference.”  With businesses over western Canada feeling their backs up against a wall, Beatty’s advice on leadership gleaned from his rich experiences ring true now more than ever. 

1Business Outlook Survey – First Quarter of 2023, Vol. 20.1, Bank of Canada, Business Leaders’ Pulse, bankofcanada.ca/2023/04/business-outlook-survey-first-quarter-of-2023/#chart2
2Succession Tsunami: preparing for a decade of small business transitions in Canada, Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, Laure Ann Bosmal, Marvin Cruz, and Corinne Pohlmann,20336445.fs1.hubspotusercontent-na1.net/hubfs/20336445/research/reports/2022-10-EN-Succession-Tsunami-Preparing-for-a-decade-of-small-business-transitions-in-Canada.pdf
3Honorable Perrin Beatty, PC, OC, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, chamber.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Perrin_Beatty_Biography.pdf