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‘My five-decade leadership journey’: Professor Charles Pascal reflects on his new book

By Perry King



Professor Charles Pascal has led a fruitful decades-long career in education, policy and leadership and mentorship.

A former college president and Ontario deputy minister, Pascal is currently a Professor of Applied Psychology and Human Development at OISE. To this day, he advises organizations and governments in Canada and around the globe and mentors the next generation of leaders. He is also a long-time fan of baseball – and used to coach baseball, including the University of Toronto baseball team for 12 years.

It is with that in mind that he wrote Leading From The Inside Out: Hard-Earned Lessons from Education, Government and ... Baseball, a reflection and exploration of the topic of leadership.

Pascal spoke with OISE News about the ins and outs of his new book.

This is quite the read, Professor! Why did you choose to write a book about this topic at this moment in time?

At its core, the book is informed by a strong need to share what I have learned about leadership with both current and next gen change-makers.  At this stage of my five-decade leadership journey, it feels like a responsibility, even an obligation, to both put these lessons out “there” but continue my own learning from the feedback I receive from readers. 

What kind of impact do you hope the book will have?

I want the book to be an organic trigger for deep, broad and practical discussions about the leadership we need. For example, I am going to offer pro-bono virtual “institutes for leading and learning” for groups of 15 leaders that I will facilitate. The idea is for a series of three to five webinars for various leaders to share their ideas and issues along with application of the lessons I describe in the book. I hope to offer these for groups of people who work together or diverse groups of leaders who will sign up to learn together in support of their leadership development. 

How did you write it? How did you want to explore leadership in this book?

In the waning days of 1981, when I was leaving OISE to assume a college presidency, the late Dave Hunt, one of OISE’s superstar colleagues, gave me a book on journaling with a note that said ‘You are one of the few professors who is going to actually apply theory to practice. Use this book as a guide to your daily learning about how to be a better leader.’

Simply put, that is the genesis for my daily habit of reflective practice that I started then and continue today. The book’s title From the Inside Out is intended to convey the need to be clearer about our core values and associated behaviours as the springboard for how we deal with our “outside worlds” of family, community and work. In other words, we need to lead from within. The lessons and stories embedded in the book are a result.

As you built your narrative and reflected on the writing, how did it deepen your own insights? Did you open new questions of inquiry?

The process of writing the book generated an opportunity to go even deeper about what I have learned and being authentic about what I could have and should have done better. It also afforded me the chance to relive and reveal stories I shared with a great deal of interesting leaders. Readers might be surprised at the melange of folks I have been fortunate to work with and/or learn from.

I want to talk about baseball with you, in the context of leadership. Why mention baseball at all? How did you fall in love with the game?

Since I was 12, it was apparent to me that I enjoyed the chance to make a difference through sports. I was a catcher on the baseball team and a quarterback on the football team. Baseball and academics turned out to be a way to afford university. My grandparents lived upstairs and my grampa was a former semi-pro catcher. We were close and I turned out to be a pretty good ballplayer. It is a well-known adage that sports and the arts imitate life and vice versa.

Throughout my life, sports, especially baseball, has been a prism through which I have looked at, and directly experienced, social injustice, in particular racism. Look at the pro sports teams that were late to integrate and they reflect their communities – in Boston, for example.

In the third grade, I was a bored kid that had regularly been sent home for mischief. Miss Pond learned of my love of baseball and allowed me to do all of my subject work using the game as my framework. For example, I did a paper on how best to choose a bat. You need to choose one that is heavy enough to impact on the ball but not so heavy that you can’t move the bat through the “plane” quickly (i.e. batspeed).

So, in the third grade, I learned the physics formula for explaining how best to choose the right bat: F(orce)=.50 M(ass) x .50 A(cceleration)! The book is riddled with baseball analogies that connect with leadership lessons. Miss Pond understood the need to adapt to the individual differences of those she led.

As a baseball player, coach and writer, how do you think your notions about leadership were challenged and changed?

The passage of time hasn’t changed my basic values regarding leadership. But because of my daily reflections, I continue to observe new examples and stories that illustrate the things that have mattered to me for decades, with new lessons arising or old ones reshaped.

For example, I continue to try to be a more effective ally when it comes to racism in all of its ugly forms. Just look at how the major pro sports have handled BLM! Basketball gets a gold star because of leaders like Commissioner Adam Silver, Raptors President Masai Ujiri and superstar Lebron James. Hockey, football and baseball are, sorry, too little too late, too superficial. And I continue to ensure I have people in my life who can take my understanding deeper.

Even though I have been on a journey of about 25 years to truly understand the deleterious consequences of the Residential schools, I continue to have Indigenous mentors to guide me.  So, the basics regarding my core values about leadership have been consistent. How to learn apply them more effectively is an ongoing challenge.

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