The Vancouver Club
Thank you very much for that generous introduction, Colleen – I’d love to meet that guy! We often hear speakers say that they stand between you and dinner so they’d better be brief – but luckily, we have already had dinner so the sky’s the limit! As you know, academics can talk, but don’t worry, I will give you a passing grade just for showing up – as long as you don’t give me a ticket!
Seriously though, I want to thank you for inviting me to address this august group of senior leaders at this annual event that has been going on for 61 years. To put that into perspective, 61 years is more than one third of the time that Canada has been a country – not bad going! Speaking of history, I note that the VPD was founded in 1886, just 19 years after Confederation – I can only assume that for those first two decades Vancouver was a pretty lawless place!
At first blush it may seem that leading a university does not quite line up with the leadership in the senior roles of law enforcement. I hope to show you today though, that there is a significant overlap in the concept of ‘servant leadership’, which I will come to later.
But first, I want to tell you a little bit about UBC because it is often our nearest neighbours who know the least about us. As I am sure you do know, we have two main campuses – the original campus at Point Grey and our second main campus in Kelowna.
I like to think of UBC as one of the three jewels of the Canadian university system, vying with the University of Toronto and McGill University in Montreal, depending on the subject area and the ranking. But there is one key difference: both Toronto and McGill are around 200 years old and represent a venerable legacy as the founding institutions of what was then called Upper Canada and Lower Canada respectively.
UBC, on the other hand, has just passed its first century in 2015 and I am only its fifteenth president – so we really are the new kids on the block! More than any other Canadian university UBC embodies the spirit of the future – our campuses are gleaming and state-of-the-art centres of learning and research, set amongst some of the most beautiful landscapes in Canada.
UBC is British Columbia’s flagship university with the only faculties of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy in the province, and the largest school of education. We also have the Sauder School of Business and of course the Allard School of Law. With close to 70,000 students, UBC is by far the largest university in the province and is one of BC’s biggest public employers.
We have 370,000 alumni in 148 countries around the globe, including, I am sure, many of you in this room. Could I have a show of hands of UBC alumni? And those of you with family members who are UBC students or alumni? Well, that pretty much covers everyone!
In terms of rankings UBC came 34th in the most recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings – there are an estimated 25,000 universities in the world so at #34 we’re not doing too badly! In its short history, UBC can count 8 Nobel Laureates, 3 Canadian prime ministers – John Turner, Kim Campbell and Justin Trudeau – 71 Rhodes Scholars and 63 Olympic medallists!
So now you have more than enough UBC factoids for your next dinner party!
There is a commonality between the VPD and UBC that you may not know about, and that is in the shape of our beloved Thunderbird! For UBC, our Thunderbirds are the best varsity teams that ever walked on this planet. Period. But in fact, the Thunderbird name goes much deeper than that. During the half-time break at the 1948 UBC homecoming football game, a significant ceremony took place before 5,000 fans. It was on this occasion that the kwicksutaineuk/ah-kwa-mish first nation people and Chief William Scow officially sanctioned UBC’s use of the name “Thunderbird” for our campus teams and facilities. From this moment on UBC had full permission to use the Thunderbird name, consent granted by those very people for whom the Thunderbird played such an important role in traditional folklore and culture.
Similarly, the VPD has adopted the Thunderbird as a ‘majestic supernatural creature, a guardian spirit acting on behalf of those weaker, symbolizing strength, principle and courage’. As Musqueam Coast Salish artist Susan Point, who created the VPD Thunderbird artwork said:
“Thunderbird, living high in the mountains, was the most powerful of all spirits. When the thunderbird flaps his wings, thunder crashes and lightning flashes from his eyes. The thunderbird is a protective figure, representing protection for the members of the Vancouver Police Force, and the protection that they offer to the citizens of Vancouver. The crescent behind the ear represents a watchful eye.”
And not to belabour the point, UBC’s colours are blue & gold which just happen to be the colours on the VPD crest! I could go on and on (but rest assured, I won’t!)
But as you know, healthy organisations must translate their outward symbols into their internal DNA. I note that among your core values as expressed in your ICARE program are Integrity, Accountability and Respect, values which too, are very close to the heart of UBC.
You are familiar, I am sure, with the analogy of a large organisation being like an oil tanker that takes a long time to change direction – if it manages it at all. As with most analogies, there is a grain of truth in this, in that our organisations are large entities that have grown more and more complex over time. We often hear about the heavy burden of leading multi-layered institutions through difficult times – the times are always difficult – and we talk about the leadership skills required to motivate teams, develop talent and shape the culture of our organisations.
Invaluable though all of these things are – and they are – my own North Star is best summed up by what I call ‘Servant Leadership’ which, to me, embraces all of these values. So let me expand a little on what I mean by ‘servant leadership’.
I believe that leadership has to start from a position of humility and respect. There are all kinds of people we work with as leaders, but servant leadership doesn’t mean that you don’t, at times, have to make tough decisions – however, the foundation of our interaction with people must be one of mutual respect. In my experience, people respond to openness and sense of ‘fellow-feeling’ rather than a vertical top-down approach.
Universities in particular can quickly fall victim to the ‘saviour complex’ – the idea that we exist to ‘empower others’ or that our role as universities is to ‘sort things out’. It is far more productive to approach the experiences of others with a spirit of humility and a willingness to listen and learn. If we keep in mind that to lead is to serve, it transforms the way we regard those in our sphere. Since its inception in 1915 UBC’s motto in Latin has been “Tuum Est” which means ‘it is yours’: UBC is not our university, it is yours. We are here to serve you.
Today’s VPD motto is ‘Beyond the Call’. For me, that is the very embodiment of servant leadership. As in many things in life, it is the extra mile that makes all the difference. The extra word. The extra effort. In the same vein, many police forces use variations of the words ‘protect’ and ‘serve’ in their mottos. The ‘protect’ refers to what you do and the ‘serve’ part is about how you do it. One part of the concept would be incomplete without the other – in other words, to protect is to serve. Similarly, to go ‘Beyond the Call’ represents a spirit of service that lies behind everything you do, and goes much further than the limited role of protection. Which is why I hope you will agree that the concept of ‘servant-leadership’ is a valuable guide for all of our endeavours. The good news about all of this is that the spirit of service creates a virtuous circle. As the great American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself. Serve and thou shall be served.”
Thank you all for your serving our city and keeping us safe – and thanks for listening!