The program design incorporates cognitive and experiential development through three interwoven learning approaches.


We take experienced senior managers out of their hectic offices for a day and a half per month and place them in the neutral space of Odell House, a historic restored 19th-century residence, ideally suited for informal discussion (under the “Chatham House rule” intended to encourage direct and candid conversation and ensure confidentiality).

The Program design incorporates cognitive and experiential development through three interwoven learning approaches:

  • Senior practitioners and thought leaders in conversation with participants in which personal contact and frank conversations build awareness and expand tacit knowledge. (see Annex A [PDF, 856 KB] for examples from the past few years);
  • Participants in conversations with each other where practical insights from hard-won experience  in executive leadership are shared, and;
  • Participants in a process of continuous self-reflection that integrates knowledge, consolidates understanding, and deepens and expands self-awareness.

Throughout the program, a variety of learning methods are used;

  • Readings and reflection on a broad range of topics to expose participants to relevant subject matter and new sources of information;
  • Dialogue and debate as participants learn from senior practitioners, thought leaders and each other;
  • Experience with the art and practice of effective communication to build confidence in presentation, briefing and discussion at senior levels;
  • Carefully targeted travel and first-hand contact with people, cultures and institutions that play an essential role in the world around us;
  • Exploration of case studies prepared by participants based on personal career experience and focused on the management issues raised in the Program; and
  • Deepening of an individual “leadership practice” (that set of knowledge, experience, ethos and energy that defines them as leaders) through coaching and structured self-reflection.

Perhaps the most important design feature of the Program is sharing the journey with fellow travellers. The group dynamics within each cohort contribute enormously to the overall impact. The different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives, which participants bring, as well as the diverse organizations from which they come, and their varied management styles and experience within the public service and elsewhere, become critical sources of mutual learning and support.

Participants gain an invaluable enduring professional asset in the life-long bonds of trust and friendship forged with first-rate colleagues from across the breadth of the system, which will continue long after their graduation to enrich their careers. Odell House supports this through an active Alumni Program.

Program format

The Program runs for about 20 months at Odell House and consists of monthly sessions of a day and a half with occasional longer sessions and three study tours.

A. Orientation and base camp

We have learned that it is important to orient the participants to the Program, so everyone starts from a common foundation. Thus, the Program’s first event is an Orientation session where participants are welcomed, introduced to each other, briefed on the Program and invited to reflect on and work with the concept of a personal leadership practice as a means to assess and track their development.

Because participants come to the Program with different levels of familiarity with the basics of governance and public management in Canada, a four-day “Base Camp” is offered in two 2-day sessions before participants begin the regular Program. These intensive sessions provide an overview of Parliament, Cabinet, the roles and relations between the federal and provincial/territorial governments, the role of the courts, machinery of government, the policy process, legislation and regulations, setting the fiscal plan, determining expenditure budgets, public accounts and accountability.

Staff working on program design

B. Program content

After Orientation and Base Camp, the Program is organized into two consecutive parts, each of which includes at least seven sessions of a day and a half or two days.

Part one: Public sector management and governance

  • We begin with a synthesis of policy intent and sound practice in the fundamental public management areas of people management, financial management, management of information and technology, operational delivery, values and ethics, and accountability.
  • We then broaden our focus to look at governance, including the political context of democratic governance, relations between political figures and senior public servants, the importance of public trust, the impact of the media and social media, the roles of central agencies, federal-provincial/territorial relations, Indigenous governance in Canada and comparisons with governance in provinces, private sector corporations and not-for-profit organizations.

Part two: Canada in the world and sound use of evidence

  • This part probes the world and Canada’s place in it. We explore, in turn, the state of affairs and trends in North America, conditions in Asia, Europe and Latin America, and such multilateral themes as trade, defence, global security, and international development. We focus on deepening awareness of the world, but also on the related roles and opportunities for Canada.
  • We also examine the nature of evidence and the practice of risk management in formulating policy and applying legislation, including the interplay of policy analysis, research, public opinion, and political leadership. Applications in the fields of science and regulation, economic and social policy and intelligence are explored.

Throughout the two parts, we keep returning to the crosscutting theme of leadership. Successful leadership has a critical emotional and interpersonal dimension, and we offer coaching, which assists participants to concentrate on areas for improvement. Two opportunities to participate in group coaching in a residential setting will be offered.

C. Study tours

Complementing our sessions at Odell House are three one-week (plus travel time) study tours. The first study tour is a visit to London and another European capital to explore governance and public management practices and the civil service in the UK and another European country. The second takes us to Washington and New York City (or another major American city) to focus on global issues and institutions, such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, and to visit world-leading think tanks and centres of expertise. The third will be to Vancouver and one or two other Canadian cities such as Victoria, Calgary, Whitehorse or Yellowknife. One or two regular sessions may be held in locations such as Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo or Montreal to facilitate access to exceptional presenters.

D. Wrap up

The program concludes with two final sessions designed to review and consolidate the learnings of the Program, from all parts of the Program, including the coaching, and reflections on the participants’ developing leadership practices.

Leadership practice

Our thinking is that no one model of leadership is inherently better than another, that effective leaders draw on many sources of strength, and that preparation for greater responsibility necessarily includes developing abilities across a broad front.

The Program emphasizes participants’ personal development as leaders. We use what we call the “Leadership Practice Framework” to organize this aspect of our work. Over the arc of a career, leaders acquire varied experience, develop knowledge and skills, and deepen their belief in public service. In time, this repertoire comes to define their identity as a leader. It shapes their character and becomes their style, and it determines how they lead and manage. We call this a “leadership practice.” It is a personal, professional asset that is unique to an individual leader. We provide both structured and informal opportunities for participants to grow their practice so that it can support them in positions of greater responsibility.

Our Leadership Practice Framework has four dimensions: experience, competence, ethos and energy. Each of these has a number of different elements, and the complete framework consists of 16 different ways to describe someone’s unique approach to leadership. The frame is flexible and dynamic, and one of the first tasks for participants is to validate or adjust it. When a good fit is established, participants are asked to use the framework and assess their progress at the start, middle and end of the Program. Participants are encouraged to seek validation from trusted observers for their self-assessments, and Program staff provide confidential feedback. In this way, we can see where development is happening, provide assurance that the Program is achieving its desired results, and confirm that leadership capacity is being enhanced.