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Sustaining transformation

Inside Canadian Forces Transformation: Institutional Leadership as a Catalyst for Change
Lieutenant-General (Ret’d) Michael Jeffery
Canadian Defence Academy Press, 2009
149 pages, Free

General Rick Hillier’s label of a “decade of darkness” to describe the state of the Canadian Forces in the 1990s will no doubt remain one of his enduring legacies.

More in doubt is whether General Hillier’s tenure as Chief of the Defence Staff – under both Liberal and Conservative governments – has transformed the first decade of the present millennium into one of “sunshine” for CF personnel.

With Inside Canadian Forces Transformation, retired Lieutenant-General Mike Jeffery gives us a case study of the initial years of Hillier’s attempt to transform the CF. Jeffery, who I consider an agent of transformation as well, focuses on “institutional leadership as a catalyst for change,” with specific reference to Hillier’s tenure.

This slim volume is not a treatise, Jeffery argues, but rather a “snapshot of a process that continues to evolve,” and is intended to act as “a primer on change, to show how institutional leaders achieve real change, the challenges they face and some of the techniques to overcome them.”

Much as Hillier is now sharing his views on leadership beyond military circles, Jeffery’s book has a wider application for any institutional leader, in or out-of-uniform. Indeed, he acknowledges his debt to a civilian treatise, John Kotter’s Leading Change.

The start point for any transformation is the leader’s vision. For non-military readers, Jeffery provides interesting detail about Hillier’s vision and some of the process that fostered it.

One of the first challenges confronting any leader, Hillier included, is creating an environment for change. As this case study makes clear, it requires a strategic plan, which Jeffery discusses in some detail. In fact, his analysis of the leadership ideas and mechanisms required to bring about change should inspire any executive. Equally as important, and as Hillier’s retirement illustrates, leaders must consider “shaping the organization for the long-term” in their transformation process, including the identification of a successor. (The selection of General Walt Natynczyk, Hillier’s former Chief of Transformation, as the next CDS was perhaps the ideal.)

Jeffery’s analysis suggests that a leader cannot do it alone. He or she needs a team, designed to implement transformation based on a vision, which must be sold to those whose status quo is about to be changed, perhaps dramatically. Indeed, the vision may not be the leader’s alone.

But regardless of the consensus developed, this book does provoke the question of whether transformation is dependent on a charismatic leader. Can transformation occur if such a leader is not available?

There is one key issue that doesn’t receive enough attention: transformation requires additional resources. Without new funding – an important consideration in light of the recent federal budget – one must ask whether CF transformation can be sustained.

Jeffery concludes by noting that transformation of the CF is now in a consolidation phase. General Natynczyk, in a recent address to the Conference of Defence Associations, suggested that the CF response to Haiti demonstrated a real life validation of the process to date.

General Hillier, it would appear, has provided the government and Canadians with a transformed instrument for dealing with an uncertain world.

—Reviewed by Major (Ret’d) Roy Thomas, MSC, CD, MA(RMC)

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