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It seems my most common blog topic is the character traits of leaders. I believe this stems from how desperately we need great leaders in our modern society combined with my hope that we will improve our ability to select the best leaders when we have options. I also seem to get nostalgic and reflective every time a great Canadian leader passes away. I wrote about Peter Lougheed six weeks ago. Today I reflect on another great Canadian.

As I drove to work last Friday morning, I listened to CBC’s Metro Morning as guests recalled memories of the late Lincoln Alexander who was Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1985 to 1991. There have been several wonderful tributes to this great Canadian in the days since his passing. On Friday’s radio show, I was struck by three recurring themes as friends and colleagues of Lincoln Alexander remembered him. Over and over again as they told stories about their interactions with him, they described him as generous, empowering and thoughtful. As I listened I realized those characteristics may be the essential traits of the best public leaders.


Please have a listen to the Metro Morning show to hear about the generosity of this man. He essentially loaned his reputation to others by showing his support to younger colleagues who needed encouragement. Generous leaders look out for the interests of the people around them and are ready to give of their time, their resources and their confidence.


Lincoln Alexander wanted to empower the people around him to be the best they could be. He does not appear to have ever been threatened by the success of others. The best leaders want to help their colleagues succeed. It is a fearful and small leader who must control others in an attempt to enhance their own power and image.


The descriptions of Lincoln Alexander all give the sense that he was naturally reflective and responsive. This is a trait I want to see in all leaders. This becomes important when a leader needs to take a second look at an issue and perhaps even change the course on a proposed plan. All good leaders need to demonstrate that they can be thoughtful and accept feedback. A thoughtful leader is always prepared to listen, to consider alternative perspectives and imagine the possibility of a better way.

Lincoln Alexander showed all these attribute and then many more. There is wonderful video footage of the memorial service for Lincoln Alexander. The most moving of the tributes was given by Dr. Alastair Summerlee who is the President of the University of Guelph. Take a few minutes and watch this:

Dr. Summerlee describes Lincoln Alexander as “a man with an enormous heart”. He closed his remarks with this message:  “Lincoln, your love, your dignity, your determination to treat every single human being as the most important person in the world will remain in our hearts and in our minds.” Clearly Lincoln Alexander was the kind of generous, empowering and thoughtful leader that we crave to enjoy in all sectors of society.

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  1. Pingback: Here’s my take on the best leader for Canada’s future | Jane Philpott

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