David Colcleugh

Interviewer: Trajce Nikolov

LISTENING TO David Colcleugh giving a lecture is not different than listening to a motivational life coach give a speech on being passionate and seeking success. The one important difference is that most motivational speakers will leave you with a short-lived burst of energy to be better, while David challenges you to understand all that is possible and just how much the hard work will translate into success. For anyone that knows David's life story, this is not surprising at all. Since finishing his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto in 1962, David has become a household name in the leadership and management, with a long stint at DuPont Canada where he finished his career as the CEO of the organization. Since his retirement from DuPont, David has been using his extensive experience to build-up other companies and give back to the community by teaching his lessons to young and enthusiastic students at the University of Toronto.

Having the amount of success that David has had in his life, it is not a far stretch to assume that you would walk around with an air of confidence and slight arrogance. That cannot be farther from the truth with David. He believes in learning from other people, challenging his own views, and doing everything he can to spark a debate. When we approached him to do this interview with project20, his response was to challenge us on our own questions and did everything he could to provide answers that would be both interesting and useful. I hope you enjoy reading this exchange as much as I enjoyed having it.

TN: It is no secret that you have been an integral part of the success of many organizations, especially that of DuPont Canada. If you had to choose three things that every organization needs in 2017 to be successful, what would those be?

First to have a robust, inclusive leadership development strategy. My experience and the experience of many others is that the more talented leaders in an organization the more successful is the organization. This success is even more enhanced if the development of leaders is done in a disciplined, systemic manner across all the processes, systems and structures in the organization. The second thing would be to encourage an organizational culture that values innovation by boldly experimenting with change and measuring, and rewarding, the success of those experiments by the resultant productivity improvements, quality of the improvements and the service provided to the stakeholders in the organization. And, the third thing would be to place the most important decision-making in the hands of those individuals and organizational teams who have the most know-how and experience in the subject irrespective of their position in the organization hierarchy.

TN: Your book, "Everyone a Leader", is a must-read on how to create high-performing organizations through empowering and utilizing its employees. Do you think that the newest young professionals joining the workforce are better, or worse prepared to take on that leadership mindset?

Young professionals, especially those who have focussed on learning in the fields of science, technology, and engineering (STEM), have competencies that the world is more and more dependent upon. To deal with this, the young STEM professionals need, even more than in the past, to be prepared to develop leadership skills and character attributes to reinforce their STEM functional capabilities and create the successful ethical business results required in this underperforming world.

TN: Going off of that previous question, one of the hottest topics of our time is whether the "energetic and entitled" Millennial generation needs to change to be happy in the workforce, or whether that responsibility falls onto the Organization to adapt to the needs and wants of its newest employees. What are your thoughts on this?

To paraphrase your question: "Do millennials need to change to be happy in the workplace or do organizations need to change to attract millennials?" 

It is my belief that when individuals and organizations are mutually attracted to each other, like any other human interaction, a partnership can be formed. This partnership causes each to assume another identity (i.e. an employee, an employer…). The most successful partnerships are the result of shared values. Too often these partnerships are formed on the basis of needs and wants (i.e., the organization needs an engineer to do a job or the individual needs money to pay the bills). These "needs and wants" or employer/employee partnerships are less robust and are often short lived. In today's world it seems there is much job hopping and terminations for the reasons I am describing, hiring not on shared values, but pragmatic needs and wants on both sides. 

So, you ask what needs to change...specifically because of perceived power, does the individual millennial need to change? I would say, I hope not!! First, I would encourage the millennial to research and understand the values of the organizations that interest them to see if there is enough shared value to pursue the Organization and/or take the high risk of compromising some of their beliefs to get a job. A final word, your characterization of millennials as energetic and entitled, if right, can be recast as ego driven and reactive behaviors. If that is true then these are behaviors, not values, and they do need to change to become more purposeful behaviors to be successful in a high-performance business environment.   

TN: Switching gears, the recent state of the political sphere in the United States has brought with it a new level of public debate and action. One of those debates has been with regards to the age-old question of the Government and its approach towards Business organizations. Removing the political (and polarizing) component out of the question, does your experience show that organizations should be given more freedom, and do these organizations have enough incentive to invest newfound profits into its people and their communities?

Perhaps I surprise you with this, but there are very few government constraints put on business in the USA. Liberty, freedom is the religion in the USA and this applies in the relationship between government and business, for the most part.  In fact, USA businesses export jobs and their investments outside the USA without much regulation. This has resulted in much cash being generated internationally to the level that many businesses are finding great difficulty in knowing what to do with it. They are reluctant to bring it back to the USA because then they will need to pay tax to the government. 

The second part of your question references business profits being dedicated to "people and communities". This is a question of interest to me. The infrastructure (e.g. roads, airports, bridges, and the internet) in the USA is shamefully falling apart.  Fixing this needs to be a shared responsibility between government and business (e.g. privatizing roads and other infrastructure for taxable profit is the future). Much progress can be made here. Leadership is required to make this happen. Young people need to broker this as they become the leaders of tomorrow in the USA … and maybe even in Canada. 

TN: Lastly, if you could go back in time and give 20-year old David some advice, what would you tell him?

20-year old David was extremely self-motivated to work to find ways to influence people to move in positive directions. I found over the years this was hard work but extremely satisfying as I learned to be more effective in those pursuits. There are lots of failures and disappointments too, on the path. The advice I would give this young David would be to be more patient, tolerant and orient his effort from self-satisfaction to more of satisfying the needs of others, especially family.   

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