Well, what do/did you expect?

Any discussion regarding performance has to include both outcomes (e.g. what you accomplished) and conduct (e.g. how you accomplished it). These concepts can exist together in statements like “they won fair and square,” but with the current mayoral race in Toronto, many would encourage to keep them separate.

  • Pro-Forders say: Look what he’s done (e.g. outcomes). So what if he’s not perfect (e.g conduct).
  • Another camp says: I don’t care about his record (e.g. outcomes); his behaviour is unacceptable (e.g. conduct).

A reasonable response would be to balance the two, which is what I believe is at the heart of John Tory’s code of conduct. One truism of the performance evaluation is: “clarify expectations.” In more practical terms, this quickly becomes an exercise in managing expectations. Unfortunately, the result of that, more often than not, is defining the “barely acceptable.”

Enter the “Code of Conduct.”

Such well-intentioned documents set the bar for accountability for future actions. It states: “Here is how I am going to go about my business, and please call me out if I conduct myself otherwise.” But that is where the clarity ends because we are stuck with statements like Tory’s Point #2 “I will show up to work each day to get things done…”

So, John, do you mean that you will show up to work “everyday”? “Every workday” (e.g. you will take vacations and weekends)? Everyday that you show up to work, you will try to get things done (e.g. you could indeed be absent, maybe even absent a lot, but when you are there, you are there to get things done.)?

Note: If the response is to tighten the wording of the “code,” we will undoubtedly get stuck with unreadable legalese!

Transparency, honesty and integrity are far too conceptual to be prescribed on a code of conduct. That said, I think we have every right to expect these traits in leaders, political or not.

My second problem with defining the “barely acceptable” conduct is that inevitably the code is used to counter any critique of performance.  As of April 4, 2014, Rob Ford can factually claim: “I have not been charged with a criminal offence while in office.” The binary distinction of charged or not charged is apparently the expectation here. Does integrity and honesty really come down to “I have not been charged with a crime.”? This is akin to Lance Armstrong’s claim that he had “never failed a drug test,” which, in retrospect, was not the best evaluation of his performance.

Even if a candidate for Toronto’s mayor said: “Trust me, I am going to pay better attention to my conduct than the current mayor has been,” some still won’t care. Unfortunately, the outcomes Toronto will have received by 2018 will remain a mystery past voting day.

When it comes to conduct (e.g. the “how you go about doing it”), leaders should give us much more than “barely acceptable,” so why bother defining it? The effort in defining the “barely acceptable” should be spent on the outcome side. (e.g. If I have not achieved X by 2018, I will not run again.) This will demand leaders accepting responsibility for things beyond their individual control, which might create a necessity for people to work together.

I would love to see more leaders clarify the “barely acceptable” outcomes rather than trying to pin down the specifics of “integrity” and “respect.”