Bespoken is excited to announce our newest exclusive speaker, The Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean.
Below is an excerpt from our interview with the former Governor General.
During my term as Governor General, as I criss-crossed Canada, I was able to connect with the energy of Canadian youth. What I realized is how much and how often young people are using the arts as tools for social change, for building solutions, and for tackling social issues that affect them. I saw a lot of young people—sometimes in difficult situations—who were disenfranchised, vulnerable, challenged by circumstances; but who would actually use the arts to create a space for dialogue.
How can leaders be more effective?
Humility is key; accepting that you don't have all the answers. As a leader, once you accept that, you are much more open to listening and to connecting. You know, we hear this a lot: there's a disconnect between decision-makers, lawmakers, and the people and things happening on the ground. I think—and it's something that I always spoke about with politicians—be aware that you can learn from what is happening around you; what citizens themselves are putting in place, their initiatives, their solutions. Because they are actually challenged and confronted by a lot of struggles, but at the same time, they are part of the solution. They come with solutions. I see that with the youth in Canada doing that all the time.
Sometimes when we had opportunities to connect lawmakers and ministers with youth on issues of justice, housing, health education, work, employment, I saw these ministers taking notes because these young people go straight to the issue. They don't go around it, and at the same time, they're not just complaining. They're not saying, “Oh, this doesn't work,” they're coming with solutions—very creative, innovative solutions, and good practices, without being asked. Leadership is about listening.
Leadership is also about inclusiveness. It's about making space for more dialogue, and taking time—not just during an electoral campaign. It's about cultivating that connection with people and creating a relationship of trust. Once there's an erosion of trust, leadership is also in a state of erosion. How can you have a vision and share a vision if it's not also embedded in what people are doing every day?
An early passion for social justice
This is the story of my life. It started at a very young age, with my parents teaching me one thing: indifference cannot be an option. Never. You have to be aware of what's happening around you. You need to have a point of view, even if it's painful. You need to see it, you need to understand what's happening, because you can make a difference. Imagine as a child, that being said to you every day. All my cousins were in a bubble of innocence. I have never experienced that—I have never been in the bubble of innocence. I have never been indifferent. I needed to understand everything. I had a point of view and I wanted to take action. I can remember, as a child, making that decision.