Finding Your Path

A Time for Leadership and a Time to Heal

By Lorne Polger, Senior Managing Director

Lorne PolgerIn 1970, I missed Halloween. I was seven years old at the time and for reasons beyond my control, I was not allowed out that night. Sure, it happened 50 years ago (gulp), but it left an indelible mark on me. Fortunately, I was able to heal.

Why am I writing about a childhood memory? There is a tie to the present.

I grew up in Montreal, Quebec. Beginning in 1963 and culminating in October 1970, a domestic terrorism unit (the “FLQ”) reigned terror on the streets as a means of gaining Quebec’s sovereignty from Canada. In what became known as “the October Crisis”, a long series of domestic terrorist attacks (including more than 200 bombings and dozens of robberies), culminated in the kidnapping of British trade commissioner James Cross and the kidnapping and murder of Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte. Then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (the father of current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau) deployed the Army into the streets of Montreal and invoked the War Measures Act – the only time it was ever applied during peacetime. Think about that now as Americans. A politician was kidnapped and killed to support a political belief.

Police Presence on StreetsThe army was literally in the streets of Montreal. During peacetime. Sound familiar?

So why did I miss Halloween that year? The streets were teeming with troops and we were under curfew. Sorry kids, no candy this year.

As I watched the events at the U.S. Capitol unfold, I recalled those childhood memories.

When I moved to the U.S. in 1978, I was struck by the remarkable level of patriotism here. Did not really matter back then which party you affiliated with, the proud carrying of the red, white, and blue was universal. But you see, I did not fully relate. As is true with a lot of things in Canada, patriotism there was always a bit more subdued. And perhaps especially so in culturally divided Quebec. In some respects, you were either a francophone (French speaker) or an anglophone (English speaker) before you were a Canadian. Of course, most of us spoke both languages, but there was a definite divide based on your heritage. That divide and the feeling of lost identity ultimately led to the October Crisis, to the attempts at sovereignty, and unfortunately, to the flight of many English-led businesses out of the province of Quebec.

What does this Canadian history lesson have to do with current events in the U.S.? Well, there are currently 25,000 national guardsmen in D.C. safeguarding the streets. The capitol is sealed with barbed wire fencing. We held a Presidential inauguration with only a handful of observers, instead of cheering throngs numbering in the tens of thousands. Why? What got us to this point? It’s not a war between cultures or languages. It’s a void in leadership.

What are some of the hallmarks of leadership? Here are a few traits that top my list.

  • Honesty. Positive and virtuous attributes such as integrity, truthfulness, trustworthiness, loyalty, and sincerity.
  • Innovation. The ability to look at a problem and create a solution.
  • Support. Providing encouragement, recognition, and validation to improve.
  • Empathy. Listening more, talking less. Elevating those around you before yourself. Having the humility to be open to the input of others with more experience.
  • Decisiveness. The ability to make difficult decisions. Thinking slowly and acting quickly. Daring to fail. Accepting criticism as easily as applause.
  • Hard Work. Putting your head down to be an effective problem solver.

We continue to muddle through a pandemic of epic proportions. A worldwide humanitarian crisis. We are still not at the finish line. If there ever is a time for effective leadership, this is it. Many are doing that. Some are not. It is a time to show leadership (in business, in government, and personally), to put self-interest and partisanship aside for the greater good. To listen to the experts, to show humility, to think slowly and act quickly. Many successful businesses, including ours, did that during this crisis.

Thankfully and mercifully, it appears that we will ultimately get over the hump, but not without a tragic loss of human life and a fair amount of economic ruin. Our republic was set up with certain guard rails in place, and through this crisis, the guard rails have held. Like him or not, we have a peacemaker and conciliator now in the office of President. The republic will be fine. But we need to strive for greater civility and need to find a better way to incentivize true leaders to run for public office. I have often joked that given the divisiveness of politics today, if nominated for dog catcher of San Diego I would not run, and if I elected, I would not serve.

We need to have a conversation about term limits for our elected officials. The process has evolved to the point where it appears that politicians now spend much of their time in office raising money and running for office, instead of legislating and leading. That doesn’t make sense. We don’t need a three-and-a-half-year election cycle every four years. That doesn’t make sense. We don’t need to spend billions (billions!!) of dollars every two years on elections. It would not hurt us to have new voices and new approaches every six, eight or ten years. The time of lifelong politicians has probably passed. Let us do something about it.

LeadershipRhetoric on both sides needs to be turned way down. Talking to each other instead of at each other is a hallmark of leadership. Let us show it. Take a moment to listen and hear what the other side is saying. Don’t reject it out of hand. Give thought to it. Let us do something about it. Let us hold those accountable who consistently fan the flames, regardless of their political party affiliation.
Encourage thoughtfulness and selflessness. Egos need to be checked at the doors. Encourage pragmatism in government. We need to ask ourselves, what changes and incentives can we create to do a better job? How can we better communicate with each other instead of barking at each other? How can our leaders better govern? How do we heal?

It is time to ask those questions. It is time to have those discussions. It is time to act on the answers. And it is time to heal.

Lorne Polger is Senior Managing Director of Pathfinder Partners. Prior to co-founding Pathfinder in 2006, Lorne was a partner with a leading San Diego law firm, where he headed the Real Estate, Land Use and Environmental Law group. Reach him at

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