Sunday, February 25, 2007

Baird's Progress on the Environment Watch

Since the Tories named John Baird as their new Environment Minister, the environment issue has taken off. In two short months, we’ve been visited in a flourish by Al Gore and Sir Nicholas Stern, former chief economist of the World Bank. Both are passionate, as is David Suzuki and many other scientists, about the dangers of global warming. They have ignited a firestorm of interest.

In the midst of this whirlwind, how has Baird held up as a “newbie” leader and manager? I’ll use the three most important early actions of new managers described by Linda Hill of Harvard University (see my January 7, 2007 blog).

First, how has John Baird demonstrated character, that is, the intention to do the right thing?

He has kept a really low profile and deferred to his boss, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But worse, he made a faux pas by implying that Al Gore had praised the Tory government about its environment actions. During the Question Period of the House of Commons in early February, Baird said:

“I can quote someone speaking about Canada’s environmental role in the world, ‘Canada is once again providing leadership in the world, fighting above its weight class and showing moral authority to the rest of the world. That’s what Canada is known for.’ Do you know who said that yesterday, Mr. Speaker? Al Gore.”

Whoops! It was taken out of context (Gore was referring more to general support across parties and regions in Canada, not the Tories’ policies, per se). It earned a quick rebuke from Gore. For a newbie, it’s dangerous to get a swelled head too fast. Humility works better when you are tentatively a new member of the global warming issue team.

How has Baird demonstrated competence, knowing how to do the right thing?

The only message I’ve noticed from both Baird and Harper is that it’s impossible for Canada to meet the Kyoto Accord agreements for carbon dioxide emissions. While that appears to be true, they speak little of making an effort nevertheless. Instead, they worry about the cost to the economy in the short term with no underlying data rationale and fail to raise the moral consequences of inaction. They choose also to make light of a serious agreement that, in principle, has merit at the least to focus attention on a global priority.

The scientist in me says that the right thing is to accept we’ve got a problem and to get on with showing leadership through action. No excuses or foot dragging.

How has Baird demonstrated influence or the ability to deliver and execute the right thing?

Baird is nowhere to be seen. Rather than build on all the hard work to date by many people from multiple disciplines and governments, Baird and company are intent on their own “homegrown” plan. It’s not smart to not leverage others’ smart thinking. It’s not smart not to balance the long term with the short term. It’s not smart to be slow and have no or few quick wins.

Put another way, John Baird has been drowned out by the chorus of concerns from people with more credibility. His boss has garnered more attention by deftly insinuating the Conservatives into the “green” agenda. However, he and his party are still on the defensive and in catch up mode. Ordinary Canadians are much farther along the action curve than the Federal Tories.

In summary, John Baird has had a tough couple of months as a new leader and manager. Coming out of the starting gate, he has either stumbled or kept himself at arm’s length from the action. He tried to hitch a ride with Gore and others who long ago earned respect for their role in raising awareness on the environment. He wasn’t allowed on the horse. His boss has largely been the face of the environment. Baird has been in the background.

John might do better by asking his boss for a revised mentoring plan that included him.

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