Conjunction Leadership

Accountability Organizational culture Organizational leadership


Key Point: Dave Mowat, the CEO of ATB Financial, has a 99 percent approval rating on Glassdoor. This is the No.1 Glassdoor rating of any CEO amongst large companies. Apple’s Tim Cook is sixth on the same rating list, just to give you a sense for how great Dave is. I’ve learned a lot working for him. However, the most unique thing I’ve gleaned from Dave is his commitment to what he calls “conjunction leadership.” This is not any old conjunction. It’s Dave’s belief in the power of “AND,” that’s made me pause and think “Wow.” Why? Because he believes that “AND” does a number of things:

  1. It adds balance by giving two sides of a coin towards achieving progress.
  1. It opens up possibilities (As opposed to the conjunction “BUT”).
  1. It supports the principle of paradox, which Dave believes is vital for keeping organizations and people authentic.

Let me give you a few examples. We have 10 values we call our “ATBs.” They include the following two that embrace conjunction leadership. Notice the “AND” in each tenet: 


“Recognize that we are good at what we do but we are fortunate to be in the position we are – fortunate to have customers who trust us with their money and their futures. We are not better or smarter than them. We’re simply here because we believe banking can change people’s lives for the better. That’s our job.”


“Banking is about trust. Listen to customers, know what makes them happy, understand we live in a diverse province with lots of different views, and find every opportunity to show customers you trust them. Same with team members. Show team members you respect and trust them and be worthy of their trust in you. You’ll be amazed at how simple things can become. Connect with team members across the organization and find people you care about. When you make a commitment, meet or exceed it.”

When Dave talks about the power of paradox, he fosters the teeter-totter ability of being both complex AND simple, sophisticated AND basic, global AND local, just to name a few. He expects his leaders to be as comfortable in cowboy boots as they are in designer shoes. He wants us to be able to embrace tech or finance speak with the best minds in the world, while being able to translate this “foreign language” into accessible concepts without talking down to anybody. He wants us to be global thought leaders and yet to always honor our local roots. 

Character Moves:

  1. Learn from the best by embracing the power of AND. It is mostly about balance rather than addition. This conjunction can feel tiresome when it always piles on. However, it frees us up when it informs us about what to do and how to think. 
  1. You now have been introduced to two basic principles about “conjunction leadership,” if you’re a long time blog reader. The first is to STAY LEFT of YOUR “BUT” (introduced in a previous blog), AND now the second is to EMBRACE the POWER of AND. Do both. 

AND in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: Somehow by living in Los Angeles I’ve learned a few improv skills through association. Everybody knows the first rule of improv is always responding to a proposed situation with, “yes, AND.” That’s how to keep a performance on stage flowing properly. Without it, the premise can’t smoothly evolve, and rhythm stops. When you think about it, improv and leadership may not be too different.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis