RMC Saint-Jean End of Year Ceremony 2010

DND photo Mr Christian Jacques

RMC Saint-Jean End of Year Ceremony 2010

When I think of Royal Military College Saint-Jean…

by Chantal Beauvais

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Colonel Maillet, Lieutenant-General Maisonneuve, distinguished guests, faculty members, family and friends, and graduates of Royal Military College Saint-Jean:

It was with great pride and humility that I accepted General Maisonneuve’s invitation to speak to you today, on the occasion of your graduation from the College. First off, I have a deep admiration for the work that is done at the College. I had the opportunity to meet the people who work here and see their great commitment to the education that RMCSJ provides. I felt their pride in belonging to this noble institution and their desire to help you reach your full potential—not just as students, but also as men and women whose human potential is worth developing.


When I think about RMCSJ, the word ‘leadership’ immediately comes to mind. There probably exist thousands of definitions of the word ‘leadership.’ When I was in the Royal Canadian Air Cadets many years ago, we learned the definition provided by General Dextraze: “Leadership is the art of influencing others to do willingly what is required in order to achieve an aim or goal.” When I was a young cadet, aspiring to go up through the ranks, I naively thought that this was a very simple task. After all, all the leader has to do is explain what needs to be done and people will do it. However, as I was given to experience leadership roles over the years, I have come to the conclusion that leadership is anything but easy to implement! General Dextraze’s definition of leadership is certainly clear and evident. But, as Hegel the philosopher would say, this definition needs to be ‘unpacked’ to appreciate the full extent of to what it  actually refers.

For General Dextraze’s definition to work, a certain number of prerequisites must be present. Today, I would like to share with you three of those prerequisites—knowing, know-how and ‘soft skills’—which seem to me, at first glance, to be invisible in the definition. Paradoxically, however, they make it possible to fully understand the concept of leadership. Over the years, for me, these themes have become values that play an increasingly significant role in my personal and professional journey. Because of my position as rector of a post-secondary academic institution, they have also become matters of great concern.

Aerial View of RMC Saint-Jean

DND photo Ms Marie-Claude Leblanc

Aerial View of RMC Saint-Jean


What is knowing? To what does “knowing” refer? As a philosopher, I must defer to the greatest master of all time, Plato, to broach this notion. To understand what it means to know, we must also understand what it means not to know. It is important to distinguish between truth and falsehood, knowledge and opinion, durable idea and form without substance. Regardless of what is your chosen discipline, I am sure that your studies here have helped you acquire the ability to think critically about the multitude of information circulating in the marketplace of ideas. Real leaders are able to keep a critical distance not only from what others claim to know, but also—indeed, especially—from what they themselves claim to know. Do I always know what I claim to know? Does my knowledge rest on a solid foundation, or does that foundation merely appear solid? Have I ever touted statements as knowledge when they were actually just opinions? These questions are important because they focus our attention upon the leader’s moral responsibility not to mislead others. To answer those questions, we must have enough humility to accept that most of the time, we don’t know. As Socrates said, “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” That is a sign of great leadership. All leaders must throw themselves into the quest for knowledge. The human mind needs to be nourished by ideas in order to develop, and it is able to judge the value of those ideas and create new worlds, as does an architect working with the finest of materials. A real leader is master of his or her own mind and knows that out of the millions of ideas circulating in the world, a very small number are eloquent and great ideas that are worth being entertained in the long term. That is what true study is all about: the long contemplation of fundamental questions leading to patience and serenity before the complexities of life.


Now, on to know-how…When we think of know-how, we immediately think about artisans, those who fabricate objects with their hands. I think about my father who could imagine and build anything to which he set his mind. We have all had the pleasurable experience of using an object that was perfectly designed, whether a motorcycle, a shoe, or a musical instrument. We also know how frustrated we become when the object we are using is flawed: the Ross rifle used by Canadian troops during the First World War, a badly designed chair, an iPhone application that freezes all the time. Everyone in this room knows Descartes for his most famous quote: “I think therefore I am.” Descartes no doubt had a great preoccupation for theoretical knowledge, but what is less known is that he had an equal preoccupation for what was then called ‘human passions.’ This expression probably reminds us of a title of a ‘soap’ or novel, but it refers to the notion of self-control, or acting properly. Descartes insists that: “[...] to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is to rightly apply it.” Knowing is insufficient in itself. Leaders need to be able to rightly apply their minds to situations and problems. They need to be able to understand how things work, and to find creative solutions to problems. But the greatest achievement in the area of know-how is becoming the artisans of our own existence, i.e. working toward becoming a fully developed human being. As leaders, you will come to realize that your richest resource is your own humanity. You need to understand what will make you a better human being, and practice this art throughout your life. Contrary to other species, we spend a good portion of our lives finding out what we are supposed to be as human beings, and experimenting through trial and error. The highest achievement in humanity that leaders should aim at is the attainment of ethical wisdom. This kind of wisdom results from the constant integration of theoretical knowledge and practical knowledge. It is also called having good judgment, and it would be a mistake to take it for granted. At some level, we have all experienced failures in judgment. Hopefully, we learn from our mistakes. But as leaders, we have a responsibility to think about the impact of our actions on close ones, our organizations, and society at large. Just as leaders need to take a critical distance with ideas, they are the best critics of their own actions. They know that their own human existence is calling them to increasingly higher standards. Hence, leaders always look for opportunities to learn to do better.

Soft skills

I have talked about knowing, where leaders come to know that they don’t know and are forced to become humble, and know-how, where leaders continually work on developing their own humanity and developing good judgment. Now, a few words with respect to ‘soft skills.’ A leader must know how to have relationships with others, and that requires emotional intelligence. That type of intelligence helps leaders help others realize their own potential. As a leader, it is impossible to influence others without cultivating an attitude of compassion. However, compassion is not spinelessness—true compassion is founded upon integrity. A real leader leads others to success. We can listen to others and come to understand the obstacles preventing them from succeeding but still push them to the new heights they are capable of reaching. To help others surpass themselves, we must be able to see them more clearly than they can see themselves. We must be able to picture others in the future. In other words, we must have vision. This ability to envision what others can become and to guide them to see that vision themselves is a sign of authentic leadership.

Back to General Dextraze

Influencing human beings requires an authentic knowledge of the human condition. It also requires an ability to know what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Finally, it requires the ability to create a setting where people actually achieve themselves in achieving the goals. All of these skills are acquired through education.

The only way to achieve these skills is through education. To be more precise, it is the very aim of education. If you allow me a last reference to Plato: The aim of education is to form leaders who will build a just society.

You have just completed an important step in your academic journey, and I wanted to pay formal tribute to you by showing you the great importance of what you have just accomplished. It took courage and perseverance for you to obtain your diploma. And you have every reason to be proud today. For that, you deserve all of our admiration. I also wanted to show you that the road does not end here—true education is a lifelong task. Never stop wanting to learn more about yourself, others and the world around you. You will become better people and make others better people. Lastly, I wanted to share with you that if you are called upon to become leaders, you have had and will have the immense privilege of being supported by leaders throughout your journey. Your teachers, parents and friends are an integral part of your success. Never forget to recognize what you owe to the masters and wise people who have crossed your path. Now, it is your turn to become what they were for you.

I have shared with you some of the precious things that life has taught me so far in my own educational journey. I now wish you every success possible for the next phase of your educational journey. Be proud, and make your community proud! More than ever, our world needs your leadership.

Chantal Beauvais, B Ph, MA, Ph D, is the rector of Saint Paul University, Ottawa. Extensively schooled in philosophy, she is the first rector of the university who is not an Oblate. Even more significantly, she is the first rector who is neither a priest nor a religious official, and she is the first female rector of the university.

RMC Saint-Jean Crest

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RMC Saint-Jean Crest