Great Stories, Leadership, Vision

The Canadian Conspiracy

In 1985 a mockumentary starring pretty much the entire cast of SCTV was produced called The Canadian Conspiracy. It tells the story of a covert operation by Canadians to destroy American culture by placing invading Canadians in prominent places in the entertainment industry. If you’re a fan of Christopher Guest’s type of movies you’d probably enjoy it. I think I may be witnessing a less nefarious and more productive growth of Canadian influence in the nonprofit sector these days. I can think of several multinational charities and ministries in which global influence is being strongly shaped by Canadian leaders. It seems that Canadians often have a set of characteristics that may be timely for working across nations and cultures. 1. Canadians understand Americans. It’s simply true that the United States is the most globally influential nation. No one relates to America like Canada. Living so close, like younger siblings or quieter neighbours (note the use of the proper “u” in that word), we have the ability to translate culturally in a way that is needed for the powerful Americans to best communicate with other cultures. Certainly there are many from the US who have phenomenal cultural sensitivity, but the very melting pot ideal in their narrative and the sheer mass of their influence make it desperately hard for any American to comprehend their power and the impact of their place at the head of the global table. It may take leaders from Canada to help open communication and expose the assumptions that impede open interaction. 2. Canadians are humble. While there are many exceptions, the stereotype of the self-effacing and apologetic Canadian does have some basis in reality. Spreading a mere 35 million people across the second largest national land mass in the world may be part of the reason we don’t exaggerate our own importance. Regardless of the reason, the habit of Canadians to elevate their organization and their team above themselves is one that is strategically advantageous in an interconnected world. 3. Canadians are welcome. For years young American travelers have known that sewing a maple leaf flag on their backpacks makes it easier to get rides and make friends around the world. While some say it may be fading, the global reputation of Canadians is generally positive. We have few enemies and are not seen as any kind of threat. That bias of trust gives us access to information, opportunity, and relationships more easily and efficiently than many others. 4. Canadians are explorers. Our historical narrative is more based on discovery than conquest (though we certainly have plenty of shameful episodes). Our identity was forged more cooperatively than combatively overall and our heroes are more likely to have brought people and ideas together to find new possibilities than to have overcome great opposition. 5. Canadians are funny. As the movie noted, a hugely disproportionate part of the comedy industry in the United States is made up of Canadians. We enjoy laughing at ourselves and poking fun at others, but generally without being mean-spirited. Canadian humour is about coming together, not excluding. Looking back at this list, I have to admit that I know leaders from several countries who may qualify as “Canadians”. That’s a good thing, because these qualities are increasingly important in organizations that seek to work in multiple contexts and cultures. It is no longer working to impose models and practices from one dominant head office, typically in the US. We need to be skilled in exposing the unhealthy effects of power imbalances and working beyond them for a greater purpose. So, to all you Canadians and “Canadians” out there… Way to go, eh!