What leading teams has taught me

With a breadth of marketing and strategy expertise, Virginia is known for building and scaling high-performing customer-focused teams. A Business Strategist and Marketing Partner at ELIM5, a Toronto-based digital media company, she’s a valued member of the Women of Influence Advisory Board and an American Marketing Association mentor.

 

 

by Virginia Brailey

 

 


 

 

 

Leads are through the roof. Our customers love us. We doubled our revenue. Some of the best moments in my career have been successes resulting from the work and collaboration of teams I have had the privilege to build, scale and lead. There is no denying how great it feels when things fall into place and results surpass expectations. 

My most rewarding experiences, however, have actually been during the tough times. Years ago, I was leading marketing and strategy at a mid-sized organization facing growing competition, shrinking margins and integration challenges from recent acquisitions. The company’s sales were down, we couldn’t seem to get the new products delivered on time and employees were tired from putting in long hours. We needed to transform our product lines and our company in the face of disruption and figure out our new North Star. The President had built a strong leadership team — lots of skill and grit and collaboration — and was adept at helping us manage increasingly demanding shareholder expectations, but we were also stretched. 

Stress was getting to the team, and we were starting to see some bad behaviour. As part of the strategic planning program, I suggested engaging our employees to get their input and to help operationalize the strategy. In the end, it was not just their great input, but also their attitude that helped us gain support from our board to get the additional investment we needed to transform our business. Ultimately, the company doubled its revenue. 

It is not the moment of achievement that stays with me, but rather the willingness of the employees to pitch in to help develop the aspirational goals as well as the programs that put the strategy in motion. It sounds so simple and straightforward now — involve your team in setting out and achieving the destiny of your company — but it was not easy to chart the course and keep the revenue coming in at the same time. There were things I learned during this time that I won’t soon forget. 

Leadership is an obligation

You owe it to the company you work for and all of those you are leading to hold yourself to a higher standard of behaviour and accountability. Leadership is no easy task, and you need the resolve to successfully lead others — not just during the easy times, but the make-or-break moments and times of disruption, as well. I encourage anyone interested in learning more about leadership as an obligation to read Vince Molinaro’s book, The Leadership Contract

Stay true to yourself during tough times. 

There are always going to be tough situations — how you respond is what matters most. Stick to your core values, and if you find yourself in a negative situation where taking a stand is not possible, you can leave the room and keep your integrity intact. I think, however, leaders have an obligation to not only steer the ship in the right direction but also call out bad behaviour. That usually means staying in the room when it is really tough to do so. 

Believe in the good in people, seek to understand. 

No one goes to work wanting to do a bad job. As a team leader, you owe it to your employees to set them up for success, with the right structure and programs to facilitate teamwork and inclusion. I have generally found that people act inappropriately or underperform because of complicated corporate structures or difficulties in their personal and work lives. This doesn’t excuse the bad behaviour, but being open to understanding the context can help you to resolve it. 

To me, there is really nothing like that moment when a team comes together to chart a new course, venture into new territory and challenge to improve the outcome. A lot goes into setting up teams for success and I am thankful for the lessons I have learned myself, for all those who share their learnings so willingly, and for all the amazing teams and team leaders I have had the privilege of working with.

 

A new view of boys being boys

As Senior Vice President, Global Engagement for Women of Influence, Jan Frolic has the privilege of connecting with people who are doing the work to advance women and are looking to do more. Passionate about inclusion, she’s also the founder of boypro-ject, offering in-school curriculum to encourage youth to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity.

 

 

by Jan Frolic

 

 

I was just recovering from a year-long depression over Trump becoming President when I found myself at my desk, being turned inside-out, watching Christine Blasey Ford testify in the Brett Kavanaugh hearing. I listened intently as she began to turn her life into a circus for the greater good of humanity. I was concentrating on her tortured face when my 16-year-old son approached me, holding out his phone with some image on the screen, and asked me point-blank: “Why is this me?”  

I could feel it and see it in his eyes — a cross between sadness and hurt and anger. What he was showing me was Shannon Downey’s cross-stitched rendition of “boys will be boys,” with the final “boys” stricken out and replaced by held accountable for their fucking actions.  This craft has gone viral twice, once with Trump and again with Kavanaugh.  

I had no answer for my son. No good answer, at least. Part of me was cheering on the inside, but my heart also felt like it was stopping and I couldn’t breathe because I hurt so much. And I was scared. 

I have a passion for advancing women, and advocating for girls — and the deepest desire to help my boys navigate this world safely and respectfully, and to be good humans. I want them to be successful in their own right. I want them to be champions of women and considerate of their female friends, but I want them to thrive in their masculinity as well. 

But what does that mean? What is masculinity? I was still listening to Christine Blasey Ford’s stoic account of sexual assault in the background. My brain was on overload, empathetic tears streaming — and at the same time, I’m trying to understand how suddenly my son feels like he is being held accountable for Kavanaugh’s actions.

How, as a society, have we created a narrative where boys are blamed for men like Kavanaugh and Trump?

Over the next few days, I researched online and listened harder to parents talking to their sons. I quickly realized just how often we use the word “boy” in a positive manner. We don’t. We call our boys “young men” and we call our baby sons “my little man.” In doing so, we bypass their childhood, their right to being boys, and make them adults long before their time. Not only do we strip them of their childhood titles, but we also use those same titles to demean and insult men, with reprimands of “boys will be boys,” or the negative connotations of the “old boys’ club.”  

We infantilize our men and adultize our boys. Men do it. Women do it. And we are teaching our children to do it. We are breeding a misunderstanding and distrust of the masculine. It is harmful for both boys and girls — and consequently, men and women. 

So how do we support girls, advance women, and have healthy boys who will grow into men who are naturally empathetic, equitable and happy? How do we create sustainable change, with gender equality at every level? 

Answering these questions was the origin of boypro-ject. It’s about starting at the beginning. Teaching our children a new language and a new way of interacting. Creating new paths to understanding each other early.   

My partner, Jennifer Johnson, and I are equally devoted to inclusion and equity and we have created an organization that builds out an inclusive in-school curriculum to encourage young people to be authentic in their unique expression of personal identity. Our signature program is called Captains & Poets, which helps all genders understand modern masculinity. We are focusing on lifting the limitations we have all placed on masculinity. There is a Captain and a Poet in each of us as human beings, and our lessons are designed to recognize and access these archetypes in ourselves and to give permission for our peers to access both of these within themselves.   

With the right support, we believe the next generation will be in a unique position to bring forward a new form of masculine identity — one that is authentic and inclusive, that will organically create equitable home, work and social environments.