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Why more policy experts should do a stint in government: Think-tank veteran Charles Lammam makes the case

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Podcast & Video

Today’s episode of Hub Dialogues features Charles Lammam, a think-tank veteran and former senior policy advisor in the Ontario government. He breaks down why so few external policy experts go into government and politics, what he learned from his own experience at the centre of government policymaking, and what advice he has for those thinking about making the jump.

You can listen to this episode of Hub Dialogues on Acast, Amazon, Apple, Google, Spotify, or YouTube. A transcript of the episode is available below.

SEAN SPEER: Welcome to Hub Dialogues. I’m your host Sean Speer, editor-at-large at The Hub. I’m honored to be joined today by Charles Lammam, who’s a think-tank veteran and former senior economic advisor to the successive finance ministers in Ontario’s Ford government. He’s one of the most interesting and insightful policy thinkers that I know. I suppose, in the name of full disclosure: he’s also a good friend of mine. His son, Christian, was the ring bearer at my wedding. I’ve asked Charles to join me today for a free-flowing conversation about a range of topics.

In particular, I wanted to get his perspective on the experience of going from the think tank world into politics, including what, in hindsight, he wished he had known as a think tank scholar about government policy-making, what surprised him about politics, and why so few people go back and forth between these two worlds. Charles, thanks for joining us at Hub Dialogues.

CHARLES LAMMAM: Thank you, Sean, for having me on the podcast. It’s a real privilege to be with you. As you know, I’m a long-time listener, first-time caller, and a big fan of what you and the team are doing at The Hub. It’s really important work and I hope you keep it up. Thanks for having me.

SEAN SPEER: Let’s start with my point about how it’s uncommon in Canada to see policy scholars go from think tanks or universities into politics. This stands in contrast with the United States where it’s highly common for policy experts to move back and forth in these different worlds, depending on which party is in power. I think, for instance, of Glenn Hubbard at Columbia University who served in the Bush administration, or Jason Furman at Harvard who served in the Obama administration, though there are countless other examples. Why do you think this is less common in Canada? What explains the uniqueness of your experience?

CHARLES LAMMAM: I think it’s a good question, Sean. I’m not sure that the issue in Canada is that it’s less common. I don’t want to name names, but I do see policy scholars making the switch. I think in my view, the issue seems to be that Canadians are less open about it or less willing to promote their efforts in government, particularly if that role is a political one. I think this speaks more to Canada’s moderate impulse and more of an unwillingness to state a political or ideological bias. When it comes to think-tank scholars, in particular, I think some of that unwillingness has its roots in the prohibition on nonprofits with charitable status to engage in political activity.

I think this imposes a fear among many think-tank scholars to take political positions or to get politically involved because they worry about losing charitable status and the tax receipts that come with it. I know that might be changing in the future, and you’ll know more about that than I do. I think the restrictions on not-for-profits have probably reduced the incentive for think-tank scholars to make the move. This is speculative, but I also think that scholars in Canada worry about the political labels that they would get reducing their credibility.

Either way, whether we see this movement a lot in Canada or not, I do think governments would benefit from seeing more switching from both academics and think-tank scholars. I think it would be good for public policy, and I think it would be good for the individuals themselves. You could think of a secondment, for instance, having significant benefits to the nation. You get more experienced political staff that have experience on the ideation and analysis front, which I think is currently lacking in government, at least from my experience.

We have a lot of smart and very ambitious political staff in government, but the challenge oftentimes is that they lack the experience in public policy to drive meaningful change from the inside.

As a result of that, you get policies that tend to be driven by a combination of stakeholders, the civil service, sometimes partisanship, or people’s impulses. I think having scholars do secondments in the civil service, as well, would be beneficial. Sometimes while the civil service is fantastic and highly qualified, they know their files and processes very well, they may not be willing to stick their neck out because of the institutional environment that they work in. So you get less policy entrepreneurship and innovation. I think getting more people to make that switch both on the political and civil service side could have great benefits for the country.

Of course, the people themselves will benefit from the exposure in government, so I do think it should happen more often, putting aside whether, in fact, empirically, it does or not.

SEAN SPEER: Prior to taking a job in the Ontario government, you had spent more than a decade in the think tank world and published a number of influential studies. Why did you want to take the leap from the world of policy ideation to policy development and implementation? What motivated you, Charles, to cross this rubicon?

CHARLES LAMMAM: I had considered making the jump at various points in my career. Advice from friends like you and others, made me think that a stint in government would make me a better policy professional. When the stars lined up, I decided to take the plunge. We had recently moved, at the time, back in 2018, to Toronto from Vancouver. There was a reform-minded government that had just come into power at Queen’s Park. I was a bit late to the game. The government was in power for almost six months when I joined, and that was a lesson in and of itself.

I would say that a lot of the government’s mandate had already been set by the time that I joined, through a combination of things like its election platform and the mandate letters for individual ministers. For someone who wanted to make an impact, in hindsight, I think those things matter a lot in terms of someone’s ability to affect change. Nonetheless, I was offered a position to lead policy for Minister Christine Elliot, who was then the minister charged with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care in Ontario. A year later, I made the transition to the Ministry of Finance to lead the government’s policy and budget work from the minister’s office.

SEAN SPEER: While you certainly have a clear set of policy preferences, you had no partisan experience, and I don’t think of you as a partisan person. What was it like for a policy wonk to step into a partisan environment?

CHARLES LAMMAM: Sean, one of the things that struck me most about my move into government was how nonpartisan or how weakly partisan many of the participants were. Of course, you have some of the diehard partisans, but I felt like they were more of the exception than the norm in my experience. Most political staff and ministers tended to be pretty middle of the road. I don’t know if this is the norm, or if it was circumstantial, or perhaps my experience was driven by the fact that the PCs hadn’t formed the government for 15 years. This was the first time they were in government for some time.

It could be a reflection of the party leader. It could be the disposition of those who were elected to the provincial parliament. I don’t have a clear answer, but one thing as I think back on my experience is that the level of partisanship was perhaps lower than I had expected.

SEAN SPEER: Yes, just in parenthesis, one wonders too, Charles, how much of that reflected the unique set of circumstances during your time in government, including, of course, the pandemic, which trumped ideology in partisanship in some ways.

You ultimately spent roughly three years in the government, including, as you mentioned, serving two finance ministers in a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Let me ask you a two-part question. First, what did you come to understand about government and public policy that you previously didn’t as an external policy scholar? Two, what do you think that think tanks need to understand about government policy-making in order to make a greater impact on the policy landscape?

CHARLES LAMMAM: Oh, that’s a really good question. Obviously, I learned a lot during my time, and I was fortunate to hold senior roles at the Ministry of Health and at the Ministry of Finance with a lot of engagement with the premier and his staff. I would say that because of those roles, I was afforded a front-row seat to major developments and decisions. Of course, I can’t disclose anything confidential, but I think what I learned the most during my time in the government was how the machinery of government works, and how decisions get made, both small and large ones. Just, when you’re an outsider, there’s so much that happens within government that you just either are unaware of or you don’t really appreciate.

I’ve gained a greater appreciation of just the regular processes of getting a policy implemented, how it has to go through various decision-making bodies, the Treasury Board, the Cabinet table, et cetera. Those are some pretty important lessons. To your second question about what do I think think tanks need to understand to have a greater impact, my sense would be that you attract more bees with honey. What I mean by that is that oftentimes when you’re on the outside critiquing a government, I think it’s probably a better strategy to understand the challenges that governments are confronting on the inside and to try to give a bit more benefit of the doubt to the issues that governments are confronting.

Now, I would use Bill Morneau as an example. Of course, recently, he’s come out talking about the importance of things like competitiveness and driving business investment, things that he was mostly silent on when he was finance minister, and he’s received a lot of criticism for that. I think giving him the benefit of the doubt and understanding, perhaps, when he was the minister of finance, there were significant pressures perhaps coming from the prime minister’s office or from the senate generally, about what to prioritize. Sometimes the minister charged with the file may deprioritize or have to prioritize other things.

Having a bit more understanding of those dynamics so that when you’re perhaps criticizing what governments are doing, you’re doing so maybe in a more diplomatic way, and understanding the real constraints that they face politically. I think that would be one of the most important things think tanks should account for when they’re selecting the issues that they write about, but also in terms of their tone and how they engage governments, sitting governments in particular.

SEAN SPEER: Yes, that’s great advice. A bit more empathy wouldn’t hurt many aspects of Canadian society including the world of public policy. I think this is a good example. Let me ask one final question on this set of issues, and then we’ll move on to some other topics that I want to put to you today.

Do you have any advice for policy people who want to go into government and politics in order to bring expression to their ideas and values but don’t want to get swept up into the hyper-partisanship that can cause one to lose him or herself? How, in other words, Charles, can someone keep their head and stay true to themselves in such a high-paced, high-stakes, us-versus-them environment?

CHARLES LAMMAM: I think, first off, they should do it. I can speak from my own experience, Sean, in that my three years in government were invaluable. They made me a better policy professional, and I think a more complete and credible one. If folks have the desire and opportunity to do a stint in government, I think they absolutely should do it. Sometimes it can be thankless work, long hours in a very challenging environment, but if you’re given that opportunity, I think you should jump on it. It’s almost like a masterclass in public policy. Particularly if you’re working on the political side, you get a peak into a window that you otherwise wouldn’t get, you understand how the sausage is made, you understand the real constraints that governments face, and you’re better able to position your own ideas in a way that can resonate more strongly and have greater impact.

I think they should do it. Now, how do you do it without getting yourself lost? I think if you’re coming from it as a policy scholar, you can always put a limit, a time limit in terms of how long you want to serve so that you’re not becoming a lifer, so to speak. I think the bigger point is that if you have the opportunity, if the stars align, absolutely take it, you’ll be a better professional for it.

SEAN SPEER: Charles, I said that was my last question about your time in government and politics. I’m going to transition now to some of the work that you’ve produced as a think tank scholar. Maybe one way to transition is to contrast the way that policy scholars or experts sometimes think about issues and possible policy solutions on one hand, and the context in which policy development and implementation occurs within government. Do you want to maybe unpack, I think, an insight that you have about some of the different contexts in which policy is thought about and conceived?

CHARLES LAMMAM: Yes. I think, Sean, that there’s a tendency among think tank scholars, among academics, and this is not a criticism, it’s just they think of first-best solutions when they’re proposing policy recommendations. I think my experience taught me quite a bit that sometimes the second-best or third-best solution is okay. The real world is messy. Oftentimes, there could be impediments that preclude one from moving forward with the first-best solution.

There could be limits on the state’s ability, the government’s ability to administer some of the ideas. Oftentimes, you end up in this gray area where it may not be the best solution, the first idea that’s elegant on paper, but you get close to it. I think that’s a lesson is really important, and those are small wins, and they’re oftentimes hard for people on the outside to appreciate. If you’re moving the goalpost in that direction, I think it’s something that should be praised a bit more than what it is. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for second and third-best solutions in the real world.

SEAN SPEER: I mentioned as a think tank scholar, you’ve published dozens of studies. One of the most influential, in fact, one that brought you to my attention before we even knew each other was a November 2012 paper on the state of social mobility in Canada. Let’s start with the basic facts, and then I’ll ask some political economy questions. What was the study about, Charles, and what were its key findings?

CHARLES LAMMAM: The study we did, Sean, was circa the Occupy Movement back in 2011, after the great financial recession. That was a time when people were really concerned about issues related to inequality, in part driven by some of the government responses at the time. Inequality was a salient topic. One of the things that me and my colleagues were thinking about was that inequality is important, but that’s part of the story. We don’t want to live in a world or in a society where the people that are at the very top of the income ladder are there and they’re there in perpetuity.

Likewise, or in contrast, people at the bottom stay there forever. If we lived in that kind of a society, there would be cause for concern, and there’s some societies out there that are like that. You’re born into an income group and you basically stay there regardless of your efforts. Places like Brazil and Peru. In Canada, we don’t have that type of society. The point of our work was to show that in Canada, in one’s life, they start, typically, in an income group, but they can rise up over time, and people in the very top income groups can fall into lower income groups.

The study that we did was one that followed a group of Canadians over the course of some time period to see and check in on them at various points in time to see how their income changed. What we found in that study was quite remarkable that over the course of an individual’s life, about nine of every 10 Canadians that started off in the bottom income group, which is the lowest 20 percent, ended up moving into a higher income group in very short order. Sometimes in five years, and certainly over the course of 20 years. Over two decades, we found that they didn’t just move up from the bottom to the second lowest, but in many cases, about 1/4 of them moved up into the very highest income group.

We thought this was a really important finding because it showed that over the course of one’s life, there’s a lot of income mobility so that you contrast that with the conversation or debate at the time that was really fixated on inequality, and it showed, I thought, a very positive story about the Canadian dream being alive. People in Canada are not shackled to the income group that they start in, and in fact, we have a lot of mobility over the course of one’s life. Even when you compare generational mobility, how one does compare to their parents, in Canada, fortunately, the connection between the two is weak, which means that if you’re born into a low-income family, you have the opportunity, and the data bears this out, to move up into higher income groups and to do better than your parents. 

SEAN SPEER: You mentioned, Charles, that you released the study in the face of new and emerging political attention to income inequality. It seems to me that as an issue, the salience of inequality has persisted. I think, for instance, of Bernie Sanders’s political fecundity in the democratic party in 2016, and then again in 2020. Here in Canada, the Liberal Party came to power in 2015 in part by advancing a message of inequality, including a proposal to raise taxes on Canada’s highest earners. Why do you think inequality has become such a major issue over the past decade or so? Is it justified in your view?

CHARLES LAMMAM: I think what stoked this issue in Canada and the U.S., and certainly, the Occupy Movements and the response from governments to the financial crisis, folks saw that these, in some cases, fairly profitable financial institutions were getting bailed out. It created a kind of social fixture that prompted people to protest. It’s a real catalyst, but I think when you look at the data over time, you get a bit of a different picture. It’s funny that inequality in the 2000s is higher in Canada than what it was in the ’70s, but since the 2000s, inequality, measured in different ways, has either flatlined or declined.

The issue of inequality growing, it just doesn’t align with the data. I think in the U.S., that’s a bit different. There’s this, we’re conflating insights from what was occurring in the U.S. and importing them into Canada. I think, for whatever reason, governments have been able to use that talking point to drive a certain agenda and a certain narrative, but again, if you look at the inequality data in Canada, it’s falling over the last 20 years, which is interesting on its own, but separate from what’s happening with inequality. We also have a fairly robust set of institutions in Canada that allow people to improve their lot in life.

That is something that I think we should celebrate. It doesn’t mean that the work is done. We should think about how do we foster more mobility over one’s life, and how do we foster more mobility across generations. I think there are a lot of things that we can do to improve things. Again, the reality is we’re not the U.S. where they have high levels of inequality and relatively lower levels of mobility. I would say this, Sean, part of me struggles. When you look at the outcomes in Canada, I think one of the reasons we have greater mobility, both intergenerationally and over one’s life, has to do with the income ladder being shorter than it is in places like the U.S.

Now, I worry about things like, how do we make Canada a more productive place, how do we become more innovative and entrepreneurial? Because we need more of that to drive jobs, and incomes, and tax revenues for governments in the future. I think there’s a tendency for those opportunities to not be as great in Canada, as they are, say, in the U.S. When we have a shorter ladder, and less income inequality, and more mobility, is that really something that we want? Or do we want to start thinking about ways to extend that ladder so that if people are really good at what they do, they’re getting rewarded for it, and we’re providing the incentives for people to move up, and stay in Canada, and reap the benefits of their efforts?

Now, as long as we have that mobility that we talked about, where we’re maintaining that mobility, a longer ladder, I don’t think should be a major source of concern. In fact, I think it could be a benefit when it comes to encouraging things like more innovation and entrepreneurship.

SEAN SPEER: Yes, fascinating insights there, Charles. Let me just make two points for listeners. The first is that research by Francis Fong shows that, in the Canadian context, income inequality is almost solely an urban phenomenon. That is to say that income distribution outside of our major centres is actually clustered around a pretty small band. Given that many of our communities outside of the major centres are also struggling with economic stagnation and outward mobility, et cetera, one can’t help but think that many of those places would actually be prepared to trade-off higher levels of inequality if it meant more jobs, investment, and economic dynamism.

The second point I would just raise quickly because I think there’s so much insight in what you said, is Canada has a higher median income than the United States, but lower per capita GDP. It’s interesting as a conceptual question to ask ourselves which society is better? Which society would you want to live in? To the extent that there are trade-offs between greater income equality, on one hand, but greater dynamism and innovation on the other, how should we think about those trade-offs? A lot of great insight there. Before we move on though, I just want to put to you, you mentioned earlier that while there is a positive story with respect to social mobility and intergenerational mobility, that we shouldn’t be complacent either.

Do you want to maybe just elaborate a bit on what you think policymakers might do to further boost social mobility and intergeneration mobility in Canada?

CHARLES LAMMAM: Yeah no, it’s a great question, it’s tough question. I would actually say, I’ll take maybe a step back, Sean, and say that I haven’t been studying this in recent years, as closely as I was a decade ago, but my sense is that based on the work from Statistics Canada, that social mobility, broadly defined, is still alive in Canada, but it’s decreasing in the last several years. That alone, I think, is reason enough for us to have the conversation about, “What can you do to foster greater mobility?” Look, I think it’s a tough one for many reasons because I think it cuts across a number of areas related to labour mobility. Are there policies in place that keep Canadians in low-opportunity regions? Are there ways to increase opportunities in low-opportunity regions?

There’s a very robust dimension to this conversation, but I would say, ultimately, two things about how to foster more mobility. I think it starts with education. In Canada, we do have a fairly robust public education system. There are some concerns about how we’ve performed in recent years. Some declining scores on international tests are reason for concern, but overall, it’s served Canadians, I think, relatively well, but there’s a lot that can be done to improve educational outcomes. In my view, one of the things that we need to think more about is how can we provide more educational choices for Canadians across the income ladder so that we’re not in a situation where only the upper-income families in Canada can afford these elite schools if they’re dissatisfied with the public school in which they’re located in?

I think we want to figure out policies that encourage people in low-income areas to take advantage of higher-quality education. What does that mean in practical terms? It can mean a whole host of things in terms of vouchers and educational subsidies for lower-income families. I think it could cross regulatory areas. For instance, if we have public school enrollment being solely driven by the neighbourhood in which one lives, you can easily see a problem where, with high housing costs, certain families being relegated to maybe low-quality schools. I think having things like open enrollment that would allow families to cross school catchments would be another kind of policy initiative.

Raj Chetty, the economist, has talked quite eloquently about the importance of diversity, of having families from all socioeconomic statuses mixing together. That could be a driver of more mobility. To put it in short, when it comes to education, I do think that more school choice and allowing low-income families the ability to take advantage of higher-quality education would be helpful. Also, given the relationship where people live, I think housing is an equally important one because high housing costs, and the relationship between public school catchments, there’s a real emphasis for policymakers to figure out options on how we can make housing more affordable in diverse areas for Canadians across the income ladder.

I think that gets into a whole series of discussions about how can we improve housing options, and making them available for Canadians right across the income spectrum. I do think, ultimately, where people are located will help dictate where their kids go to school, and the quality of their schools, and ultimately, education and investments in human capital will drive future mobility.

SEAN SPEER: Let me just say, for listeners who are interested in Charles’s observations about the role of education policy in general, and the issue of educational pluralism in particular, as a key means by which we can pursue higher rates of social mobility, that the week of September 5th, we’ll have an episode of Hub Dialogues with education policy expert Deani Van Pelt precisely on some of the policy reforms that Charles is talking about, to, in effect, ensure that access to a diversity of educational opportunities is extended to all Canadian children as opposed to those with the means to pursue them.

Charles, it’s fair to say that in the more than a decade and a half that you’ve been involved in the world of public policy, there’s been a backsliding on taxes, deficits, and debt, and the role of markets in allocating scarce resources in the economy. In effect, a backsliding from the types of market reforms that really took shape in the last couple of decades of the 20th Century. Now, I don’t blame you personally for these reversals, but I’d be interested in your views on why you think they’ve been occurring. What’s the underlying story here?

CHARLES LAMMAM: Sean, I’m a bit torn on your description of the state of affairs. On the one hand, I can agree with you, but on the other, I don’t know if the evidence is that clear. If you look at, globally, measures of economic freedom, which are effectively trying to measure the role of markets, they show that, globally, we’re seeing more economic freedom over time, certainly over the last 20 years. Maybe there’s a situation where within parts of the developed world like Canada, like the U.S., there’s some backsliding, but overall, globally, we’re seeing more economic freedom.

We’re seeing more people being pushed out of very destitute levels of poverty. That’s something that I think it’s positive and would suggest that the role of markets is still strong.

On the other hand, let’s look at Canada because maybe there’s a story that you can tell that goes a different way, but in my view there, I think it’s still not clear. We’ve unambiguously seen a larger role of government in our economy in Canada, demonstrated by total levels of government spending as a share of GDP in the past several years. What I think is really interesting is that we haven’t seen a concurrent increase in the overall taxes that people pay for the spending.

That’s driven this wedge. I don’t want to speak about a particular government, but overall, we’re seeing more deficits, and certainly, a growth in government debt. Now, why is that happening? I think there are a couple of reasons. Part of it is a rational response. During this period of growth in government, the wedge or the debt that’s been accumulated is essentially on a low level of interest. We see historically low levels of interest, which have, in effect, provided an incentive for governments to spend more than what they bring in on taxes because the money is relatively cheap to borrow.

We’ve seen the same thing happen at the individual level. Household debt has increased in the last several years, in part because the cost of borrowing has gone down. At the government level, this fiscal illusion, I think, has allowed people to demand or accept a greater role for government because they’re not seeing the cost, they’re not seeing the concurrent increase in their tax burden. The debt that’s being accumulated isn’t resulting in a significant interest payments. So that, to me, would suggest that there’s something else going on there.

While there’s growth in government, we haven’t completely tossed away a preference for low taxes and markets. I would also say that what’s happened in the last 12 years, 15 years, is also really important. We’ve had two major recessions. First, the financial crisis, which has disrupted a steady state whereby governments in Canada had prioritized deficit reduction and lower taxes. That shock was the first thing that changed the trajectory. In some cases, governments never really recovered from it. Then we have the pandemic, where we saw a doubling in federal spending in one year and a whole series of shocks that hit government budgets.

I think, to me, when we take the longer view, maybe things aren’t as dour as we think. Even that in mind, there’s certainly been some shocks in recent years, in the past 15 years, that have pushed up the role of government. The way I view this, Sean, taking an even bigger step back, is what is the trust level of government right now among citizens? I think I’ve seen some polls on this that suggest that it’s relatively low. Citizens aren’t quick to pass along decision-making power to institutions for a variety of reasons, mainly because of failures, recent major failures.

I don’t think we’re at that inflection point, but I think that to the extent that we’ve seen a movement towards greater intervention, greater deficit, greater taxes, a lot of this can be explained away. If it is a shift, and my sense is that these things are cyclical, and as we see interest rates rise, the penalty on government debt will be felt on government budgets, and I think we’ll start to see a shift away from recent trends.

SEAN SPEER: That’s a thoughtful and nuanced answer, which is a good segue to my next question. We’ve known each other for roughly a decade, Charles, and my sense is that you’ve changed a bit. You’ve mellowed, you’re less dogmatic than you used to be, including on public policy issues. Two-part question: why do you think you’ve become more pragmatic? Second, what issue have you changed your mind on the most?

CHARLES LAMMAM: I think Sean, age is part of that. More experience, more life experience, more work experience has a humbling effect on people. It certainly has on me. I would attribute a lot of my pragmatism to my time in government, and that’s really understanding the things we talked about earlier, that there is a reality to public policymaking that you have to appreciate. Having that experience has really shaped the way I view policy, politics, and economics today.

SEAN SPEER: Let me ask a penultimate question. You’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking about leadership. In your view, is leadership innate, or is it something someone can practice and learn? What do you think most people misunderstand about what makes an effective leader?

CHARLES LAMMAM: I think it’s a combination of both innate qualities and things that you can learn. I think the innate part is that you want to be a leader, and there are certain characteristics that are helpful in becoming a good leader. I think a lot of it is learned as well. When I think of what makes an effective leader, I think about things like having a strong vision for your team, having a clear sense of purpose, knowing where you’re going. I think those are really important in leading a group, leading a team. I do believe that the belief in what you’re trying to do is also critical because sometimes you can have a vision of where you want to go and it may seem to be unrealistic but a sort of unwavering conviction is really crucial.

I could talk about this for hours, but I think things like accountability are crucially important for good leaders. Calling your team out on things, and demonstrating that you’re willing to take responsibility yourself for both the wins and the losses. I think leadership is probably a conversation that we could have separately, but certainly, it’s something that, as a person who is devoted to self-improvement and wanting to be better, I think about leadership a lot, and those are some of the characteristics that drive effective leaders.

I do think that probably one of the biggest points of misunderstanding is that being a leader isn’t about being popular. It’s about a steadfast focus on the end goal and delivering results. I think sometimes people can perceive effective people that are good leaders as being difficult, or inflexible, or rigid. Ultimately, I think you need those qualities to move the dial forward. It doesn’t mean that you don’t account for feedback and all that sort of stuff. Getting help in self-awareness for when you’re in unfamiliar territory or when you need advice, that’s all really important, but I think being an effective leader requires you to make tough decisions that sometimes you might be alone on, but ultimately, you’re successful in getting to where you need to be rather than being the most popular person.

SEAN SPEER: As you know, my wife Katelin and I are having our second child early next year. You have two kids. Christian, who I mentioned earlier, and Josephine, who’s a little artist and a sweet girl. They’re wonderfully adjusted kids and have a special relationship between them. I’m always struck, for instance, by how affirming and positive Christian is to his little sister. As we prepare to shift to man-on-man defence here, what advice do you have?

CHARLES LAMMAM: [chuckles] I’m not a parenting expert, that’s for sure. My first advice is to marry up and have a partner that is better than you. You’ve done that with Katelin, so that’s the first thing that you want to do. In terms of the sibling dynamic, Sean, what I would say is when we approach things, me and my wife, we had a very similar vision in terms of how we wanted our kids to interact with each other. We started basically from when Josephine, my youngest, was born. We tried to make her brother Christian give him a stake in her success and not view this new body in the family as a threat or to not see it as a zero-sum game.

That her success would fuel his success. We try to foster that relationship of looking out for her in a number of ways, and just nurturing her. We would give her a bottle, we’d ask him to hold it. Small things like that because we ultimately wanted our son and daughter to have a relationship that wasn’t one where there was a destructive competition between the two of them. We made a conscious decision at the outset to take steps that we thought would help. It’s always good to show the older one what the benefits of nurturing are.

We talked about being a leader and responsibility, things like that that would encourage the kind of behaviour that we ultimately hoped he would demonstrate. I would say one thing. Maybe this is not appropriate for this podcast, but there was a situation this week, in fact, where both my wife and I were so proud of this dynamic between our kids. They are at a day camp, and they’re in the same class together. They had lunch. Christian had finished his lunch and was like, “Oh, I’m so hungry, Josie.” You know what? She gave him her favourite snack which is fishies, these fish crackers. She gave them up to her brother because she didn’t want him to be hungry.

I know that sounds small, but when you’re seven years old and nine years old, giving up your favorite snack is a big deal. We were obviously very pleased with what happened.

SEAN SPEER: Those are great insights there, Charles, as there’s been great insights throughout this conversation. I promised a free-flowing one, and I think we’ve delivered for Hub listeners. Charles Lammam I want to thank you for joining me today at Hub Dialogues and look forward to having you back on the program soon.

CHARLES LAMMAM: Thank you, Sean. It’s been a pleasure.

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