Courage, My Word
I discovered The Tragically Hip in 1989, the same time many other Canadians did. I was just 21 years old, in my third year of university and searching for my identity.
Their debut full length album “Up To Here” was one of my first compact discs purchased. Me and my two roommates listened constantly to this fantastic new record. The sound was as different to me as those who were blown away when Nirvana first bust onto the scene many years later. The Hip followed that up with stellar after stellar album as the years progressed with 13 studio releases over 30 years all told. I’ve been blessed to see them multiple times in concert.
The Tragically Hip is true Canadiana incarnate. This band is as famous at home as any band in the world. The Hip had their own style without the pop sensibilities required for huge commercial success. The albums I enjoyed most took me the longest to warm up to. It could be we treasure them so much in part because they never achieved superstardom across the globe. They were great and we had them all to ourselves.
Canada has been blessed with many cultural legends named Gordon: Howe, Lightfoot, Pinsent, etc. So much so, we pray to the hockey Gords. But Gordon Downie, The Hip lead singer stands alone as equal parts lyrical poet, flamboyant showman, social advocate and by all accounts a great bahd. Gord passed away October 17, 2017 from glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer.
The Hip’s tour last summer with Gord in celebration of the band’s journey and their most recent release, “Man Machine Poem”. The final concert televised across the nation was raw and emotional. Watch the documentary Long Time Running for an inkling of just how much Gord and The Hip mean to Canada.
Downie put the last of his energy into his Secret Path legacy project. The Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund supports reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Chanie Wenjack was a young aboriginal boy who died trying to escape a residential school.
Thank you, Gord, for your courage and for being an amazing part of the soundtrack of my life.
“Courage, my word, it couldn’t come, it doesn’t matter
Courage, it couldn’t come at a worse time”
Good leadership takes courage these days. It takes courage to face and overcome adversity, to see opportunities where others see only risks, to zig when all others would have you zag, to put yourself in uncomfortable and vulnerable positions while others seek comfort and safety.
“There’s no simple explanation
For anything important any of us do
And the human tragedy
Consists in the necessity
Of living with the consequences
Under pressure, under pressure”
Aristotle said, “Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.” Courage can’t exist without fear. There is fear of the unknown and fear of our own shortcomings and failings.
The pressure of being a leader in today’s business environment is enormous. The company always needs instant results. Challenges surface from every corner. Urgency is relentless. Any action is better than no action. There is little chance to be slow, methodical and deliberate. Time is the enemy.
There’s a passage in Hugh MacLennan’s 1959 book “The Watch That Ends the Night” (to which The Hip song “Courage” is based) where the lead character, George Stewart, is asked why he didn’t propose to his lost love while he had the chance. Stewart replies: “No prospects, too much pride. The depression. But mostly, not enough courage.” For George, courage didn’t come when it was needed; it came only when it was too late.
Those leaders who strive to punch above mediocrity must have the courage to act differently in the face of uncertainty and discomfort. All leaders who do what everyone else would do have organizations guaranteed to regress to the mean.
Leaders should develop a chronic sense of unease. They must overcome their pride. They must have the difficult conversations. They must stay true to their convictions. They must learn and apply the best practices that add value better than their competition. They must harness their people’s limitless energy and innovation to be more effective and more efficient than their peers. They must judiciously apply their courage in the right amount at the right time because blind courage is just foolish.
Above all, they must show the virtuous way. All other ways are different degrees of viciousness. As leader your people need you to show the way. Find a way to make time to take the best action, or inaction.
“Quickly, follow the unknown, with something familiar
Quickly, something familiar
Courage, my word, it didn’t come it doesn’t matter”
Here’s to the courageous who embrace the unknown, face their fears and seek to understand what they don’t know and what they need to know. Here’s to the courageous that seek the knowledge, build their competencies and apply them through others for the betterment of themselves and for their organization.
Courage, it does matter and it couldn’t come at a better time.
Founder, Managing Director
Scio Asset Management