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Book Review: Straight Talk on Leadership

Straight Talk on Leadership Book coverStraight Talk on Leadership

Solving Canada’s Business Crisis

Book by R. Douglas Williamson

Review by Yvonne Rodney

From page one of this book, it’s clear that Douglas Williamson is very mad. Like a passionately caring parent who sees the things he worked hard to establish not being leveraged by the next generation, he feels the same about leadership or lack thereof in Canada. The long and short of his argument is this: Canada will be left behind on the world stage unless our leadership makes a radical shift in how they do business.

The 352-page hardcover tome seems daunting at first glance. However, Williamson has broken down his ideas into short, easily digested chapters, sections and summaries. Using bad and good case scenarios, practical wisdom and information culled from a plethora of thought leaders, Williamson makes a strong, sometimes strident case that Canada’s complacency, “niceness” and risk-averseness will lead to our country being left behind. And he does not mince his words, ergo the title, Straight Talk on Leadership.

Williamson insists that transformational leadership – script-less, making it up as we go, flying by the seat of our pants, but informed by a rich experience repertoire is what is needed to turn things around for Canada and Canadian businesses. After setting the stage for his treatise in Part I of the book, he lays out in Part II, “Meeting the future today,” the different kinds of intelligence a transformational leader must possess in order to lead effectively, and he illustrates how they work throughout the rest of the book. These are contextual intelligence, strategic intelligence, emotional intelligence, innovative intelligence, ambiguity intelligence, talent intelligence and collaborative intelligence.

The transformational leader must discard the map-book style of leadership – basing decisions on how things were done in the past – and instead grab hold of a compass, ignoring short-term thinking mentalities and knee-jerk reactions, to steer “a confident and steady course to the future…”

Straight Talk on Leadership, while making a solid case for transformational leadership, then goes a step further. No leadership can be effective without inspired followership. Williamson claims that most leaders are not giving their followers anything exciting or bold to follow. They claim that people are their most valuable assets, but need to see followers instead as “investors.”

The transformational leader must learn the human culture of his/her organization down to the DNA level, battle stagnation, and realistically face what’s happening in their organization in order to build the high-performing work culture needed to get Canada back on the map. To do this we could learn a lot, he says, from the long-standing work Canada has done in producing “high-performance hockey players capable of competing on the international stage.” He cites Magna International and WestJet Airlines as two examples of Canadian organizations that have approached the organizational culture dynamic from unique perspectives.

Williamson also put high stock in a leader’s credibility and sees it as a gift the followers give the leader that can be capitalized on when times get tough. Williamson states that Canadian business leaders must “declare outright war on the things that diminish credibility… setting high standards and not being afraid to hold everyone accountable.”

In the final chapter of the book, Williamson lays out a six-step transformational action plan for Canada’s future:

  1. Raise the awareness level
  2. Build the guiding coalition
  3. Look at the future through fresh eyes
  4. Commit to bold leadership
  5. Engage the Canadian people
  6. Make brave choices


He sees Canada’s track record of honour, peace and good relations with many nations, our fairness and reasonableness as a people, as strengths we can build on. However, in true Williamson style, he inserts the caveat… “But they will not matter if we fail in rising to the challenge at hand and don’t have the courage, the resolve and the intelligence to carve a new path, in a new world, with new ideas and a new set of national priorities. Canada can, if we put our minds to it.”

Straight Talk on Leadership can be overwhelming when one considers all the intelligences Williamson insists a leader must possess. It was at a presentation at the Cannexus National Career Development Conference this past January that he offered a perspective that was easier for me to wrap my head around: Like a jazz musician, the transformational leader improvises, imagines and inspires. S/he is prepared to throw out the score, pick up the beat and go with the flow, making sense out of the craziness around – not trying to get a perfect solution but a “roughly right” one.

Transformative business leadership, transformative governmental leadership, inspired followership – these are the things that will turn Canada around.

Straight Talk on Leadership will get under your skin – one way or another.

Yvonne Rodney, author, speaker and playwright, is president of Inner Change Consulting, providing career consultation for individuals and organizations. She also offers coaching on personal development and spiritual growth.

R. Douglas Williamson is President & CEO of The Beacon Group, a company that provides leadership development, executive coaching, strategic planning and performance management services.



Catherine Ducharme is a bilingual communications specialist based in Toronto. She has been the Content and Communications Co-ordinator for the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC) since April 2012 and administers, an online community for career development professionals in Canada. She is also the editor of Careering magazine, the curator for the CareerWise newsletter and she leads francophone outreach at CERIC. Prior to joining CERIC, Catherine worked abroad for nearly two years and worked as a project manager for Quebec’s sector council for the community sector (CSMO-ÉSAC). She is also a translator.

1 Comment

  1. May 11, 2016, 12:30 pm   / 

    Hello Catherine! Interesting review. Do you feel that Williamson’s critique is spot-on or does the passion get in the way of helpfulness? Also, do you feel the critique and the solutions offered applies to the non-profit sector as much or in the same way as to the for-profit sector?

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