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Transcript: Leaders need to set a clear direction, says CN’s Mongeau

Claude Mongeau, CEO of Canadian National Railway.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to Claude Mongeau who is the CEO of CN.

Good afternoon, Claude.

CLAUDE MONGEAU – Good afternoon, Karl.

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KARL MOORE – You have been involved in three big transformations. What have you learned about leading big transformation? What advice could you share?

CLAUDE MONGEAU – Well, setting clear direction is essential. If you don't set clear direction it is very tough to achieve any meaningful business transformation – but it is not sufficient. You've got to find a way to get the team engaged behind your direction and so it's a combination of vision and execution. Execution in a business like the railroad industry is a lot about creating a common purpose, a culture of performance, to drive results beyond what the command and control systems of management would normally give you.

KARL MOORE – So, do you think leadership is different today then 20 years ago as you were starting out?

CLAUDE MONGEAU – I think it is actually. Leadership, like everything else in life is changing. Leadership today can be much faster then before because the communication tools are much more powerful. Leadership has to be more multifaceted; we live in a world that is more complex. So leadership is like everything else – it is moving at warp speed and it is evolving with the times.

KARL MOORE – How do you have a game face, but remain authentic – that we actually know Claude and like him as a human being? Do you see that as a bit of a tension?

CLAUDE MONGEAU – It's demanding, there is no question. You have to be genuine, you have to follow your own values, you have to really live in the moment so if it is manufactured, it could be your game face but it's probably not going to be effective and it's very burdensome to you as an individual. So I tend to be genuine, I tend to be focused on the opportunity to touch and coach and provide meaning to the people that I interact with, whether they are at CN or outside, and the only part that is demanding is that you never have time for yourself, you are always in that mode, and that is what I mean that you have to have your game face on.

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