Calgary Herald

Gray: Be bold, and aim for singles, not home runs

By Jim Gray, Calgary Herald December 8, 2012


Photograph by: From Merlin Archive, Handout

Editor’s note: The following is an edited excerpt of a speech delivered by Jim Gray at the Magnificent Men! Leadership Speaker Series on Nov. 30 for the Canadian Centre for Male Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse (cc4ms).

Recently, I was asked to share the lessons I have learned while building successful organizations in both the private and public sector at the Magnificent Men! Leadership Speaker Series organized by cc4ms. Here are some thoughts after 40 years of either leading or participating in corporate and public initiatives.

Once the social and economic benefits of a project have been thoroughly researched, the first test of a new idea or program is highly personal. You must ask yourself: Is this something I’m wholeheartedly prepared to invest my limited time and resources in? If the answer is yes, then commit.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth — that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s couplets:

“Whatever you can do: or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Also, burn your bridges so, as Winston Churchill thundered, “Retreat is not an option!”

Don’t wait until you have studied every option. Start. Start talking about your idea and moving it forward. This is how we achieved having a YMCA in the new south Calgary hospital. We lofted the idea and then worked out the details. Our plan to have the facility built was based on Steady, Fire, AIM! The full facility is now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, available both to patients and staff — a first for Canada. It wouldn’t have been built if we’d spent a year or two studying it before we committed to making it happen.

Locate champions and advocates. Do so by looking for support from unusual people and places. They often provide the best ideas and strongest partnerships. When we were organizing against the spread of VLTs and to improve the plight of the homeless, one of the biggest benefits and reasons for our success is that a wide variety of people came forward. New ideas were presented; fresh approaches were developed. We all learned from each other and moved the project forward.

Accept that there will be failures, but persevere. When John Masters and I were first starting to build Canadian Hunter and looking for funds in 1973, we were turned down 17 times before Noranda said yes and we became one of Canada’s largest natural gas producers. The non-investors did not benefit from Canadian Hunter’s growth, nor its sale in 2001 for $3.1 billion.

Every time we drilled a dry hole, and there were many, I always sought out the geologist and engineer to encourage them to keep trying to find the gusher. Nothing I have ever experienced, no teams I have been on have ever succeeded in the total absence of failure — it simply doesn’t happen.

Go for singles rather than home runs. The singles add up and give you more opportunities to celebrate along the way. These smaller victories provide an opportunity for leaders to give credit for the successes to others and assume the responsibility for failure.

I believe in always considering the possibilities rather than the impossibilities. In most situations, attitude is more important than the facts. Grit, curiosity and optimism can and does generate successful outcomes.

It is no accident that if we enjoy what we’re doing, it generally leads to success. Enjoy what you do or don’t do it. Always, always ask for advice and receive it graciously. It honours people to be asked — people are generous with advice.

Plan and execute hard-driving, short campaigns with lots of reporting meetings — perhaps one a week or at least two per month to keep everyone engaged and involved. Otherwise, you run the risk of ennui taking hold and killing the project.

Hone your message. Keep it simple. Make it easy for everyone to want to be involved.


“Whatever you can do: or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Jim Gray, O.C., A.O.E; co-founder, Canadian Hunter; co-founder & chair, Calgary Academy; Chairman-Energy, Brookfield Asset Management Inc.; director emeritus, Canadian National Railway; honorary chair, Canada West Foundation; honorary life director, Calgary YMCA.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald