A true story of how one innovator in government resolved seemingly insurmountable emotionally charged conflicts regarding change, and how you too can lead with heart
One day, back in 2000, I was chatting with Ken Wiesner, about creativity, leadership and change in organizations. At the time, Ken was Chief Operating Officer for the District of Pitt Meadows, a suburb of Vancouver, which was experiencing growing pains due to the needs of a burgeoning urban population that were threatening the traditional agricultural sector.
During our discussion, Ken stopped me in my tracks when he told me, “Whatever the problem, love is the answer.” What? A bureaucrat is saying this? Of course, I wanted to learn more.
Ken Wiesner’s story illuminates timeless wisdom for creative leaders and change-makers:
In real estate, they say that there are three important things – location, location and location. In families, business, and government, the three most important things are relationships, relationships and relationships.
Last winter we had a 27-hour controversial public hearing where both sides were extremely charged and believed that each was right. For the first 12-hour day, I sat there listening and became personally involved and emotionally charged to the point where I thought some of the speakers were out-to-lunch.
During the second, third and fourth nights, I told myself that I should walk my talk.
Whatever the problem, love is the answer. I said this over and over in my mind hundreds, perhaps thousands, of times for the next three days. Magic started to happen.
I listened to each and every speaker regardless of which side of the issue they were on. The effect was miraculous. I felt an inner peace. I could see the good points everyone presented. I could see their good intentions. I quit judging. I did not get emotional or self-righteous. What a fantastic feeling! I had to keep saying over and over again, “Whatever the problem, love is the answer.” Love is the secret to solving problems, building relationships and increasing your power and influence. Is it easy? No. Is it effective? Yes.
I asked Ken what effect he had on the public hearing. He told me that by being calm and at peace, he could be a positive influence in a heated situation. How did Ken’s staff respond to his philosophy on love? Each time I asked the question I’d hear a quiet little chuckle, then a tribute to Ken’s leadership.
Bruce McWilliam, the city planner, told me when Ken arrived at Pitt Meadows about ten years earlier, the municipality was in a state of political turmoil.
Ken introduced business practices to government by breaking down departmental empires and having people focus on customer service. People started looking out for one another instead of working against each other. Each morning they’d have a 15-minute think tank to discuss what’s happening and what’s on people’s minds. Sharing in this way has helped people work together and build camaraderie.
Jim Lowry, director of development engineering, told me:
When in a conflict, people would tell each other, “Hey, remember, love is the answer.” They also applied Steven Covey’s habit to “Seek first to understand, before being understood.” Everyone has a point of view and a right to their point of view. Love is the answer to understanding an opposing point of view. Day-to-day trust building and relationship building is more important to get the job done than what is written in any contract. Ken encouraged people to take risks and do what it takes to get the job done. If people aren’t making mistakes, they aren’t getting ahead.
Daryl Birtch, building official and union member, said,
Under Ken’s leadership, people were empowered to be creative and to take on leadership roles no matter what title they hold. There is only one caveat–don’t get sued! Rules for how meetings are conducted– respect and honour ideas; argue issues, not personality– have helped improve relationships, notably in labour relations.
When Ken retired from his job at Pitt Meadows, I had the pleasure of attending his farewell roast. Everyone who took the stage– including the mayor, the chief fireman, and the chief financial officer– said, “Whatever the problem, love is the answer.”