As the country's main party leaders promise their way toward the Jan. 23 election, many Canadians may pine for signs of the practical leadership and vision found in the business community.
But organizational management experts say running a company and running a country are two very different challenges.
History has demonstrated that few successful business leaders have made a successful leap into politics, says Daniel Muzyka, dean of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
He adds the need for a broader set of objectives, more process and consultation in politics isn't always coincident with business methods. "The fact that you're strong in one domain doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be strong in another," says Muzyka, who also chairs the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Other analysts and business experts agree. Hugh Arnold, a professor of organizational behaviour at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and an organizational consultant, identifies three key leadership requirements for the role of prime minister.
Those leadership requirements are:
* The ability to articulate a vision.
* The ability to lay out a clear picture of what is needed to realize that vision.
* A common touch, or the ability to identify with people's hearts as much as their minds and to create a sense of trust.
Arnold says that among the current crop of party leaders, no one has been able to capture those three elements.
"(Liberal Leader Paul Martin) can articulate a vision ... but where he's been most disappointing and where he's gone off track most is in his inability to say what's going to get us there.
"For (Tory Leader) Stephen Harper it's the mirror image. What Harper has been working hard on is trying to articulate a vision and where I think he's been criticized is that up until the campaign started, the only vision we got from the Conservative party is that 'We're not the Liberals and we're not corrupt.' " The NDP's Jack Layton, meanwhile, has a vision, "but it's a vision a lot of people don't buy into," says Arnold. "He's able to connect with people, but ... most people are wise enough to see the policies he's advocating are not going to get us there."
Arnold says that while generally, different skills are required to succeed in Parliament than in the boardroom, the right CEO can make a difference.
He cites as an example Liberal Industry Minister David Emerson, who in addition to his lengthy political career, has been chief executive of the Western and Pacific Bank of Canada and forest product company Canfor Corp.
"I think trying to be open to and attempt to attract people who've been successful in business isn't a bad idea," adds Arnold. "I think somebody like (EnCana Corp. CEO) Gwyn Morgan, for example, has been fabulously successful in the corporate world."
Morgan, who officially retired from Canada's largest oil and gas producer on Dec. 31, has denied he plans a foray into politics. But the oilpatch executive also believes the right CEO could successfully make the jump.
"It depends on the person and it depends on the passion, and how interested he or she is in the political arena," Morgan said in a recent interview following a speech to the Fraser Institute in Calgary.
He added he has "learned lots of things" as a corporate leader that would serve anyone well in public life. "First of all, dealing with the real issues and not dealing with the symptoms. And also articulating a vision and getting people onside.
"One of the things a good CEO does is articulate the strategy and the vision, and help people understand it and why it's the right one, and then get people coming with them. Right now, we have, 'They are the voters so I will follow them,' and that's not vision."
One woman who has moved from the business world into politics and back again is Jocelyn Burgener, who in the 1990s became an Alberta MLA in Premier Ralph Klein's government.
The current director of public affairs with the Calgary Chamber of Commerce also headed the public affairs department at Canada Safeway before entering provincial politics. Burgener says being able to read a balance sheet or pitch her ideas to caucus helped during her political career.
"There's no question that many of the skills I learned working with the senior leadership team (at Safeway) transferred very well to government," she says.
By their very nature, most CEOs fail to make good political leaders in part because the two worlds deal with different time horizons and deliverables, says another business expert.
"As a CEO, if you want to do something, you tell your people to go out and do it and it gets done, and typically you want it done in a very short timeframe," says Rob Warren, director of the University of Manitoba's I.H. Asper School of Business.
"That doesn't work in government, where if you want something done you need the party to make a policy, you need to get the civil service to enact that policy, then you've got to look at the ramifications across the country."
Warren notes it typically takes a year to get anything done in Ottawa, "and a lot of CEOs get frustrated in that environment."
He adds that a "true" businessperson has never been voted into the prime minister's office. While Paul Martin and Brian Mulroney had business experience, he says, they were career politicians at heart.
"They asked themselves, 'Where can I go and park myself until the time is right for me to step up and be a leader?' " Warren says.
He adds that a politician must excel at building coalitions and putting things in longer timeframes. They also need to understand the "cascade" effect - how a decision will affect people farther down the line.
Many politicians have come from legal backgrounds, he notes. "Lawyers learn how to negotiate, they learn how to come to agreements, they learn how to separate people from the problem, and businesspeople don't tend to do that."
There are certain talents for public life and there are certain talents for business, with "surprisingly" little overlap, agrees Keith Brownsey, a professor of political studies at Mount Royal College in Calgary.
"Remember (former Liberal leader) John Turner, who'd been out of politics for nine years? He came back with extraordinarily high expectations, but couldn't do it anymore. He came from the business world, he came from Bay Street - public life had passed him by.
"Most business leaders are very good at making money," Brownsey adds, "but beyond that they seem to stumble."
He believes the Liberals have demonstrated both vision and consistency over the years, noting that the party balanced the books, has put forward an innovative agenda and focused on issues of productivity.
UBC's Muzyka, however, says he has seen less vision from the Martin government. He says politicians must start to address core issues such as urban crime and problems with global competitiveness and productivity.
"If you're going to be a political leader, you're going to have to deal with some of the more unpleasant issues as well," adds Muzyka.
"We have to deal with competitiveness, productivity and deliverables in government, and not just spending. Anyone can spend. The question is, are we spending effectively, are we investing effectively and in appropriate ways? Or are we trying to satisfy constituencies by dedicating more resources?"
(John Ludwick can be reached at email@example.com)