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The 105th Grey Cup that was played in snow-covered conditions in our nation’s capital is in the books. If you were not in attendance, nor a part of the 4.3 million television viewing audience, suffice it to say the Toronto Argonauts prevailed 27-24 in a soul-crushing game, which was dominated statistically by the Calgary Stampeders.

For the underdog Argos their astonishing victory capped off a ‘revival-of-sorts’ season. Coming off a dismal 5-13 – 2016 season, club ownership installed two proven leaders, in head coach, Mark Trestman and general manager, Jim Popp, late in the off-season. Almost immediately, things began to take shape. Trestman promptly called his quarterback, Ricky Ray, a future Hall-of-Famer who was questioning his future, and expressed his confidence in his quarterback’s leadership abilities.

For the favourite Stamps their shocking defeat for the second consecutive year punctuated the reality that, for one reason or another, they cannot get the job done. The team can’t finish, or as one television broadcaster postulated during the post-game, “It all comes down to execution, and Calgary has a problem finishing the deal.” It was ominously tell-tale when, following the game, head coach Dickenson defended his dismayed quarterback saying, “I don’t know exactly what happened, but the ball didn’t go where he wanted it to go.”

Thomas Edison once said, “Vision without execution is hallucination.” Arguably, in the case of the Stamps quarterback and his errant, game-ending and intercepted throw, his imagination did get the better of him. From a leadership perspective, it’s usually not enough for one person, such as the quarterback, to believe in a story-book finish. Likewise, it’s normally not enough to communicate with conviction to others that when it’s all on the line, ‘you want the ball in your hands.’

Ideas are easy. Execution is everything. And, for it to materialize fully, it takes a team working in unison. Only then can they claim value, and ultimately, victory.

There’s no question that just as a builder needs a blueprint to build a home, every leader needs a clearly defined vision to build their future and the future of their enterprise. Unfortunately, vision is not enough. For there to be quality results, such as sending the 105th Grey Cup into overtime and giving your team the chance to win the game, you need the often-under-valued execution.

A number of years ago, late in a search and selection process for a new College President, I asked the Committee Chair, who was also the Board Chairperson, what was the number one quality he sought in his successful candidate. He replied, without hesitation, execution. This particular Board Chairperson was, at the time, a seasoned President and CEO of a major, multi-national, Western Canadian energy corporation. His corporate survival and growth depended on consistently delivering to the firm’s investors reasonable and ongoing returns comparable to their USA peers.

While in the moment I probed deeper and asked the corporate captain what he saw in the candidates the committee had short-listed. Regrettably, he said, not exactly what we’re looking for. For instance, we saw one who confused their activity with accomplishment. We interviewed another who was especially adept at communicating with conviction, but without much authentic achievement in their past. Another who stumbled when asked about team-building. And, yet, another who dropped the proverbial ball when queried regarding the essence of execution.

Speaking about the art of execution, let’s explore the Coach and General Manager Bill Belichick, of the New England Patriots, is a 5X Super Bowl Champion. Over the past 18 seasons at the helm of New England, it’s become practically inconceivable for him to ‘drop the proverbial ball’ when everything is on the line. Similarly, many would find it hard to imagine the master of execution saying that he didn’t know exactly what happened, or offering that the ball didn’t go where Tom Brady, his quarterback, wanted it to go.

On the door to the Patriots dressing room there’s an imposing notice for all who enter. It says, ‘when you come (in) here, do your job, work hard, be attentive, and put the team first.’ Clearly, not a bad mantra for a collection of talented, highly paid, and ego-centric individuals expected by thousands to execute exceptionally well on a consistent and successful basis.

In an exclusive CNBC interview in April, 2017, Belechick parsed execution for Suzy Kolber and the viewers.

The consummate leader is quoted as saying,

“It all comes down to execution. There’s a sign inside the Patriots dressing room. It’s from Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War. It says, every battle is won before it is fought. It means we’ll be better prepared. You know what you doing and you know what your opponent is likely to do – their strengths and weaknesses. Consequently, when you get into the heat of competition, your adjustments become much easier, more manageable.”

So, in summary, it’s back to the drawing board for the Stampeders, and the Argonauts. It’s back to talent procurement, it’s back to re-setting the collective vision, re-framing the individual roles and responsibilities, and re-imaging the road to greatness, which I might hasten to add, is always under construction.


Dr. Tom Thompson’s unyielding clarity of vision for governance and policy has extended his influence worldwide. He is recognized as one of Canada’s leading authorities in strategic innovation, and his unique fusion of award-winning leadership and transformative knowledge has ignited renewal for enterprises around the world. The author of ‘Governance as Stewardship’, Tom has presented in over 25 countries. He is a recipient of the Gold Medal Award of Excellence from the World Federation of Colleges & Technical Institutes for his governance expertise.

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