At the recent TEC Canada Chair Retreat, Liam Christie received the Robert Nourse Award – the most prestigious Chair award presented by TEC Canada on an annual basis. Named for the founder of Vistage/TEC, the Robert Nourse Award recognizes the achievements of TEC Canada’s top Chairs.
A four-year Calgary Chair, Liam very kindly took some time to share with us the factors that have made him such a successful leader of leaders in the Canadian business community.
Why did you choose to become a Chair? What do you find the most rewarding aspect?
When I finished my telecommunications project in 1999, I didn’t really have a plan to continue. I put my life on “pause” (from fast forward) and took on some part time consulting work. One of my best friends once overheard me say to a buddy that I was semi-retired, to which he said, “Liam, don’t ever confuse retirement with un-employment”. So in fact I was confused and I wasn’t content to be retired and not quite ready to get back into full time work. So when I saw an ad from TEC in March, 2006 in the career section of The Globe and Mail that asked, “Are you a leader of leaders?”, it sparked my curiosity and I went after it with a vengeance. The most rewarding aspect of this work is seeing the growth in other leaders as a result of challenging their thinking with the right questions.
What has been your main strength or focus as a Chair? Has that changed as your groups have evolved over the years?
My strength to get started was having a strong and supportive relationship with my wife. My focus was on the success of myself with high expectations of my members. As the group dynamic has evolved over the years, it’s the moves, adds and changes that bring new life to every meeting. Nothing stays status quo. My focus is to embrace the change, whether it’s been imposed on us, or we have brought it upon ourselves, the issue is it must be tackled head-on.
Which piece of advice/learning have you seen have the most benefit for a number of your members?
The learning that has been most beneficial for members is the realization is that’s it’s OK to say, “I don’t know”. Everyone want to be heard and not just have a pile of solutions dumped on them. The CEOs in my group are just like everyone else. Their behavior is shaped by their beliefs and this environment to challenge one another is the best resource to leverage your intellect and talent to achieve new heights.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Canadian business leaders at the moment?
The biggest challenge facing Canadian business leaders is the state of economic affairs of other countries. It takes great wisdom to acknowledge which variables are not within our realm to control. Letting go of some things and taking greater control of others allows leaders to be the best they can be.
How do you keep work-life balance? How do you spend your ‘life’ time?
Keeping the work-life balance is a constant challenge. I set boundaries for hours of operation to be of service to my TEC305 members and fellow Chairs of the Prairies. Since being a TEC Chair doesn’t feel like “work”, it can occasionally consume too much time. And at that point I have to stop and re-set. I strive to invest time on my physical fitness, and time with Mary. We often enjoy 4 day weekends and can work my schedule into as much as a month away at a time. We enjoy hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. My golf game isn’t great yet I try to play a dozen times each year and I love to pedal my road bike with friends around our gorgeous country side. And of course, time with our two adult children is precious and we do that as often as possible.
What does receiving the Robert Nourse Award mean to you?
Receiving the Robert Nourse award in October 2011, was a tremendous honor that has helped me appreciate what this man accomplished in the late ‘50’s. He created something that is as unique today as it was then. The slogan on the bronze says, “They rise highest who lift as they go”. And sure enough, when like minded people collaborate on an opportunity or problem, great things occur and the bar is raised again and again for all participants.