Struggling to demonstrate your value as a board member? Develop your readiness for a crisis.

By Kristi Honey

 

On May 21, 2022, a devastating tornado touched down in the Township of Uxbridge in Ontario, with wind speeds capable of downing trees, toppling power lines, and tearing roofs off buildings. Within minutes, the Township’s Emergency Operations Centre was activated, putting into effect plans that we had practiced only weeks previously. All our emergency preparedness work allowed the municipality’s senior staff and council to mobilize at a moment’s notice. Everyone knew their roles, and our approach to communications was aligned with our practiced plans.

We are fortunate that we rarely have to face an emergency at an organizational level. But when it happens, the most effective responses are from organizations whose senior leadership and board have planned for the crisis, providing a clear understanding of the organization’s role and each individual role within the emergency response. 

As a board member, being asked to step up in an emergency and put your plans and preparations into effect can be a fulfilling part of your journey on a board, one that allows you to develop and demonstrate leadership. But before a crisis happens, there’s also an opportunity to develop and demonstrate your value as a board member, through a commitment to readiness — knowing your role in the event of an emergency, understanding the organization’s enterprise risks and response plans, and going the extra mile to help optimize both.

As an experienced board chair, I’ve spent years figuring out that extra mile. My goal now is to help other women compress the learning curve (from getting on a board to succeeding once there). If you want to better understand how you can practice good governance to optimize your and your organization’s readiness for a crisis — and quickly demonstrate your value to the board — read on for my best advice. 

Know your board, know your role.

First, take the time to understand your board, and your role as a board member. You should have clarity on your board’s model is it an advisory board, an elected board (or council), a not for profit, or a corporate board? Also, what governance model has been adopted is it a traditional, hybrid, or policy-based governance board? 

To learn this, thoroughly read the board’s by-laws, committee structures and mandates, and the boardroom rules of order.  Be sure you are familiar with the board’s Directors & Officers (D&Os) insurance and indemnification agreements, to limit your personal liability. Knowing your role is essential to good governance. If you lack governance experience, seek formal education such as the Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) Director’s Education Program, and Women Get On Board.

At the Township of Uxbridge, our council orientation is essential to onboarding new members.  Further, our council is governed by the Municipal Act. Ongoing annual training is essential to ensuring our council members understand their roles and the segregation of duties between staff and the mayor and council during regular operations, and how authorities change when we declare a state of emergency.

Understand your organization and its approach in a crisis.

Success in your board journey requires a solid understanding of your role and the organization. Do you know the organization’s vision, mission, and values? Have you read their annual report and strategic plan? Do you understand the organization’s financial position? Are you current on competition and industry drivers that need to be addressed in the strategic plan? These are all essential to your onboarding journey.  

To become an effective contributor, be sure you go beyond the basics and seek to understand the organization’s:

  • Enterprise Risk Management Framework & Ongoing Monitoring:  Review the board work plan and be sure it includes enterprise risk assessments and reporting to the board. Understand what committee is responsible for ongoing monitoring and board reporting. As a board, are you clear on what risks the organization has mitigated, outsourced, insured, or accepted? What level of risks are reported to the board, and what triggers a requirement for board reporting when incidents occur?
  • Crisis Communications: Who can speak on behalf of the board (hint: the Chair!)? Does the organization have a communications plan with pre-written responses approved by legal counsel or insurer to address foreseeable controversies or crises? Who is monitoring what is being reported about your organization on various forms of media?  Are tools in place to monitor the sentiment of your brand? How and when are these regularly reported to the board?
  • Crisis & Disaster Preparedness Scenarios and Tabletop Exercises: Ensure role clarity ahead of a crisis. Does your organization conduct scenarios or tabletop exercises for emergency preparedness, if so, what role can the board play to support readiness? Be clear on your role in a crisis or emergency (if any). A board should contemplate issues that might come to the board for decisions ahead of an emergency, and have contemplated ramifications (legal or insurance, reputational risk, communications) ahead of an emergency. You don’t want the first conversation on critical issues — such as the board’s position on paying ransomware — to be during a crisis. Good planning, including scenarios and tabletop exercises that involve the board, ensure better focus during a real event. 

Be sure the Board Chair is familiar with the skills and experience you can contribute at the committee or board level, and particularly what expertise the organization may want to rely upon during an emergency or crisis.

During our Township of Uxbridge weather emergency, I was able to pull in key capabilities of our councillors to help us respond. We have a comprehensive emergency response plan, pre-written crisis communications, and had recently (only two weeks before) conducted additional refresher training. This ensured we could focus on what was most important in our response. We were able to work with the local paper, the COSMOS, to have an early edition printed and distributed to over 8000 homes to get critical information into the hands of our residents at a time when the local radio station was down, and many of our residents were entirely without power, internet, or phone systems.

Prioritize relationship building.

Demonstrating you’ve arrived at the boardroom table well prepared — understanding the organization, your role, good governance principles, and of course, that you have thoroughly read the agenda materials and actively listen, will help you build credibility with your boardroom peers quickly. 

I have had the opportunity to mentor several new directors during my tenure as chair of multiple boards. While it does involve an investment of time, it builds relationships and creates a safe space for new directors to ask questions, seek guidance, and find their voice faster at the table. It accelerates their inclusion and ability to fully contribute to the team. 

Relationships are at the heart of our ability to contribute effectively, particularly in times of crisis:

  • Build relationships with the Chair, other board members, and senior management.  
  • Seek clarity on the organization’s key vendors on contract for emergency preparedness.  Does the organization have contracts with the expertise required under a number of foreseeable scenarios such as legal, insurance, negotiators, public relations and crisis management teams? 
  • Make sure the board knows your area of expertise and how they can lean on you to support board goals or in an emergency (cyber security, legal, human resources, public relations, government lobbying).
  • Seek a mentor and offer to be a mentor in an area where you have expertise. 

Relationship building means taking the time to learn, socialize and network together. Take the time to arrive early to board and committee meetings — getting to genuinely know your boardroom peers makes a difference. Attend the social events. Attend the optional learning or educational sessions, and facility tours. Let people know who you are and what expertise you can offer.  

Knowing your board, your role, and your organization is essential to onboarding to a new board.  Building relationships ahead of an emergency or crisis dramatically improves an organization’s ability to respond. In fact, aside from our extensive emergency planning, our rapport was the only thing that truly mattered when the Township of Uxbridge put a call out during our community’s most dire hours of need. The tremendous response ensured no loss of life, the safety and security of all, and a community united.

 

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey is the Chief Administrator for the Township of Uxbridge and a governor on the Trent University Board. She is the former Chairperson of the Durham College Board of Governors and College Employers Council Board. Kristi built and sold several tech start-ups, and is a globally recognized cyber security, risk management, and governance expert. Kristi is a champion for human rights, the environment, and the economic empowerment of women and communities.

Five tips to position yourself for a board seat — from the chairperson of two boards.

Kristi Honey

By Kristi Honey

As chairperson of two boards, I’m often asked: “How do I get started in governance?”

When I get questions from ambitious women about how to position their profile and professional brand, and see more success in their professional lives, “giving” is often my answer. It pays dividends to give back to the community and those around you, and provides a way to build your professional circle and brand. I suggest people examine their own communities for opportunities first. In today’s virtual age, there are still numerous ways to contribute, while also building your own portfolio.

I had to learn this myself too.

In my 20’s, when I had my own tech startup businesses, I quickly learned the more I gave without expectation, the more meaningful connections, and opportunities I received. When I attended events and met people, I spent time listening and getting to know them, versus waiting for a pause to get in my own elevator speech. By taking an altruist mindset — genuinely concerning myself with the happiness and welfare of others — I noticed that others genuinely wanted to partner on opportunities, work together, and support one another in purposeful ways in return.

By establishing long-term and sincere relationships, I was able to be introduced to new people and grow my network. This led to opportunities to get involved with local groups, such as Girls Inc. of Durham, the Optimist Club of Brooklin, and Whitby Chamber members. By volunteering my time and expertise locally, I developed a reputation for myself. I became known for my bright, positive, and giving nature.

After my first meeting, I shared with a friend, “I want to be the Chair of the Board one day.” She laughed and said, “You’re not an old white man.” It was all she had ever seen.

Through my experience of being recognized and awarded the Durham College Alumni of Distinction award in 2008, I knew that I wanted to be on their board of governors. This would allow me to give back to a local institution that has a tremendous impact on the community and economy where I both live and work.

I applied for the Durham College Board of Governors in 2009 and was invited to an interview. As a busy wife, mother, and entrepreneur, I hadn’t spent the necessary time learning good board governance or understanding governance models, and naturally when these questions were asked, I wasn’t able to answer them fully. That was a learning experience for me — I knew I needed to sharpen my skills in this area, and gain board experience.

Over the next several years, I stayed in touch with the President of Durham College who I had met in 2008. I sent hand-written annual holiday cards and connected when we attended the same events — whether virtually or in person. In 2014, I applied again, and this time I attended the interview fully prepared. I had also pre-established relationships with others on the board and had gained the necessary experience and governance expertise.

By 2015, I was appointed to the board. After my first meeting, I shared with a friend, “I want to be the Chair of the Board one day.” She laughed and said, “You’re not an old white man.” It was all she had ever seen. Four years later, I was nominated and then elected by my fellow peer governors as Vice-Chair and in 2021, I became the Chair of the Board.

Last Fall I was appointed as the Chairperson of the Board for the College Employer Council, the governing body that oversees collective bargaining for the 24 colleges in Ontario, which includes all Ontario College Board Chairs and Presidents. Chairing a board of more than 50 people virtually is a new challenge, and I am taking the same principles of finding ways to connect with and support others, while listening and learning.

Here are my top five tips to help you position yourself to get a seat around today’s boardroom table:

1. Build your profile, establish your brand, keep focus.

  • Mindfully and purposefully identify your passion. In today’s world, time is our most valuable commodity — especially while balancing home and career responsibilities. We can’t be passionate about everything. Focus on what lights you up and has meaning to you.
  • Ensure your online and in-person persona align. When you post on social media or are asked to participate in speaking engagements, be purposeful and ensure it relates back to your passion, the industry you are targeting, or your key priorities/messages.  If you aren’t asked to speak, volunteer! Step out of your comfort zone and ask to be on panels within your community or workplace.

2. Grow your network by supporting others.

  • Find ways to help and support others (ask if you need to). Helping others is one of the best ways to establish connections, meet new people, and create a good, reliable reputation for yourself. 
  • Be intentional by introducing yourself to others and attend virtual or in-person events where there are key attendees you want to meet. In virtual spaces, just as in real life, you don’t need to dominate chat rooms — instead have a meaningful presence, listen actively, and support others (think quality over quantity).
  • Identify key contacts by learning who the influencers are on the board(s) you are targeting. If you are able, find out what they are passionate about and use this knowledge when you meet them to engage in conversations of interest to them. If you are able, find and share common interests.

3. Get involved in your community.

  • Volunteer your time and expertise, particularly to organizations that align to your passion, and where key influencers will be in attendance.
  • Attend local virtual and in-person events and be visible in your own authentic way. You don’t have to be the person that “works the room” to be visible. Meet the people at your table, in break-out virtual rooms, and establish one or two meaningful connections. Find out what others are passionate about and seek ways to help or support them first without any expectation in return.
  • Stay connected by mailing personal thank you or holiday cards when you’ve worked with someone in the community, or you’ve received assistance or support from others. If you hear of another’s accomplishments, send a hand-written congratulations card to recognize them.  I mail 2-3 hand-written cards weekly to staff, colleagues, community members and sometimes to people I’ve never met who impress me. Pro-tip: keep a list of who and when you send cards and card’s sentiment to ensure you aren’t sending multiple cards to the same person (whoops, I’ve done it!).

4. Invest in your own learning.

  • Take courses or self-study good governance, learn the different governance models (for example, working, traditional, hybrid, policy (Carver)), and be ready to answer questions on good governance during board interviews. 
  • Attend public board meetings and/or read the previous agendas and meeting minutes, particularly if there is a board you’d like to learn more about or apply to.
  • Always read the organization’s strategic plan and priorities, annual report, and most recent news articles.
  • Engage a recruiter and join a forum or community, such as Women of Influence, Women Get on Board, Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD), or Next Gen Board Leaders.

5. Be a mentor.

  • Be a mentor to support and lift others. Offer growth opportunities for those you mentor, introduce them to your contacts, and grow their network.
  • Recognize exceptional contributions, celebrate the wins of others, and nominate people for awards — without asking or expecting anything in return. 
  • By supporting others, your network will also grow, and you will continue to learn (and because it just feels so good to do!).

Recognize it takes time. Be strategic and patient. Don’t give up. Getting on a board is a journey and through giving and purposeful interactions, you will position yourself for success.

 

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey

Kristi Honey is the Chief Administrator for the Township of Uxbridge and Chairperson of both the Durham College Board of Governors and College Employers Council Board. She has led several startup businesses to their successes and is a champion for education, the environment, and the economic empowerment of women and human rights.

How to know when it’s time to go.

Kimberly B Cummings

By Kimberly B. Cummings

Not every opportunity is a great one. This may be an unpopular opinion that perfectly fits into the “millennial mindset” that many other generations frown upon, but I’m going to say it anyway: You don’t have to stick it out. If you are unhappy, feel like your growth is being stunted, or learn there is a proverbial glass ceiling at your job that does not support your growth, you do not have to stay.

Like Jim Rohn once said, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.” Sometimes, leaving a job can seem like an easy decision. However, I want you to be strategic and allow this to be a conscious decision, not just because you are frustrated, feel underemployed, undervalued, and underappreciated, which are all valid reasons, but because you are consciously choosing to embark on a job search to ultimately find a career for yourself, rather than just another job.

Before some folks tear me to shreds for encouraging you to leave your job, I will share that I believe it’s important to exhaust your options and have a strategic career conversation before leaving. I also do not advocate leaving a job before you have another one lined up unless it’s an extremely dire circumstance or you have six months to a year’s worth of savings and you like playing Russian Roulette. Before submitting your letter of resignation, it’s important to have honest conversations about your career trajectory with your manager or skip leader.

  • Ask for feedback about your performance from your manager or skip leader.
  • Understand the trajectory of your career at your current company.
  • Understand the current climate of your industry and how that would impact a job search at that time.
  • Ensure you have built strategic relationships with mentors and sponsors who can advocate for your next career move, regardless of whether it is internal or external to your current company.

Before making a career move, I stress to my clients that the work needs to begin well before any moves are made. This theory is one of the main reasons that I wanted to write this book! Too often, we try to fast track the next move because we’ve reached a certain place in the current role where we feel we can no longer be happy. If you are already at that place and know it’s time to go, I will not advocate for you to stay.

“You can create a career that rewards you with opportunities, rather than waiting for someone in your current company to tap you on your shoulder and indicate it’s time for you to rise.”

It wasn’t until I was preparing for my fourth professional move that I felt myself make a truly strategic career decision. Earlier I had shared that I was performing well — basically overperforming. I was also in classes to complete my Master of Science in counseling that required an external internship, all while innovating various ideas and strategies that the career-development office was working toward executing. I exceeded my goals, but my manager felt I had untapped potential and could further exceed my goals. It goes without saying that I was pissed. I was angry beyond measure. I had worked so hard that year. I could not understand why I was not being promoted when others in the office received promotions while doing less work and made fewer contributions to the office than I had in the past year.

At that moment, I felt that I had to take control of my career versus waiting to be recognized and provide an opportunity to myself. Women and people of color often wait to be recognized as high performers to be promoted and rise to the next level in an organization. I want you to switch that mode of thinking. You can create a career that rewards you with opportunities, rather than waiting for someone in your current company to tap you on your shoulder and indicate it’s time for you to rise. This is why having this book in your hands is so important. We need tactics in our careers, so we know what to do.

This was the first time I felt like I truly made a strategic move in my career and not just moving because I was unhappy or simply believed my time had come to an end with a certain employer. I was performing at an organization, doing work that I thought was meaningful, and was excited to continue to excel as a leader in the industry. I had to sit back and think, “How can I grow my career in the same field but just not at this organization?”

“It’s essential to understand when it’s time to leave and assemble a career strategy that allows you to be ready at all times.”

It’s essential to understand when it’s time to leave and assemble a career strategy that allows you to be ready at all times. You should always have options, even if you are happy in a job. Options don’t always have to look like a way out either. Each new relationship you build may provide you with options. Each task you complete in your career strategy may provide you with new possibilities. Each time you add a new skill to your toolkit, you are creating an option. That is why developing a career strategy is so important. Logging into your work computer each day with your head down, hoping that change will happen, is the farthest thing from an option. If you are on the fence about embarking on a job search, there are several reasons that you may think it’s your time to go.

Let’s examine the seven most common reasons that may serve as signals to either start your job search to get a new job or have a serious conversation about getting promoted or increasing your current responsibilities.

1. Suddenly feeling bored at work.

I’m not talking about being bored on a particular assignment or if things are slow in the office and you find yourself doing more online shopping than working. I’m talking about that feeling of being bored to your core, and you feel like you are still exceeding the organization’s goals, but your mind craves more. The example I like to give is about a mother’s feeling that her child needs more learning opportunities. She can see that her child has an aptitude for more, and she looks for additional books and resources, or it’s time for her child to go to school even though he or she is only three and not ready to go to preschool. Moms talk about seeing the “light bulb” turn on in their child and knowing they need to do more for them because watching Frozen for the 28th time will not cut it. The same goes for your career. If you are bored beyond belief because you’ve mastered your role, and this boredom is also causing overall dissatisfaction, the time has come for you to think about your next move.

2. You have been there for a while, but you feel like you finally started to outgrow your work.

If you’ve accomplished all there is to accomplish in your position, and you begin to feel constrained by your title and role, it may be time to start looking for options. Maybe you need to have a discussion with your manager about a power lateral or promotional opportunity, or maybe it’s time to start looking at job boards if you know upward movement is not a possibility for you in your current company. The key is knowing you have done all you could do within the constraints of the role you currently hold.

3. If you put in the time, but the pay still isn’t where it should be. 

Maybe you negotiated to the best of your ability, but two solid years have passed, and you are a consistent, high performer, yet you have not received more than a cost of living increase. The key is ensuring you put time into your role and you’re performing well because you cannot complain about a pay level you accepted when you were hired, especially when you haven’t put in enough time to showcase your professional value. Once you have been in a job for at least a year, observed how the business operates year-round, and you’ve mastered your job, it’s more than acceptable to start looking for money inside and outside of your company. However, having the experience and impact to back that desire to increase your salary is essential. Many professionals have had a situation in which they quickly said “yes,” and were excited about a job opportunity but realize they would be underpaid but that is not enough in this case.

4. Having a conflict in the office that is not fixable. 

This is tough. Sometimes, conflicts at work are difficult to navigate. If you’ve had a conflict with a manager or co-worker that is truly affecting your ability to perform in your job, then you may want to consider your options. However, I am a huge advocate for making sure you find a job before leaving your current job. It also helps to develop relationships with other colleagues to make sure you are guaranteed a quality recommendation, if needed. There are many types of conflicts that can happen in the office. It goes without saying that if it’s impacting your work, your ability to continue contributing, or someone is retaliating against you, you must go through the proper channels, generally through your human resources office, to document and share this. However, there may come a time when it may be best to either leave the department or leave the company to pursue your next role in an environment that supports your growth.

5. You work for a department or company you do not like. 

There is no use in working for a department or company that you cannot stand to be in for 40-plus hours per week. If you know you do not support the mission, the vision, or the work you are completing every day, it may be time to leave. Even if the economy may not be great or you feel as though the job you are looking for may be hard to come by, this must be a strategic move. Do not just pack up and quit today. Start applying for positions in other departments in your current company that could make you happy or at a new company that you feel aligns with your career strategy and has what you need to thrive. When it comes to making career decisions, consider everything involved– the people, company, your work, and the trajectory you will have when doing this work. All those factors come into play.

6. Circumstances in your personal life make your job harder.

Changes in your personal life can be even harder if your job is making it more difficult. Maybe you got married and with your spouse bought a house that is super far from work. Maybe you were thinking of starting a family and know your office could care less about work-life balance for its employees. Maybe you have a health concern, and the long hours and late nights in the office won’t allow you to care for yourself properly. Maybe COVID-19 significantly impacted your responsibilities for your family and you need to reevaluate your work situation. Those are all valid reasons, and there are probably hundreds more, that can make it time for you to start thinking about navigating and building a career that supports your current life stage. Evaluate whether you can do anything to stay at your current job if you would like to stay, such as reduced hours, an alternative schedule, or a permanent remote arrangement. Still, if your current job does not fit your lifestyle, it may be time to think about leaving.

7. You’ve found out there’s a glass ceiling at your company. 

If you’ve hit a glass ceiling at your job, and you know there is no possible way for you to get promoted, develop further, and reap any of the benefits that that company provides, you may need to explore outside opportunities where you can spread your wings. One of my favorite quotes is from Dr. Barbara Ross Lee, a nationally recognized expert on health policy issues. Dr. Lee spoke at a women’s leadership dinner when I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, and she said, “When you feel that you’ve hit a glass ceiling, find a bigger room.” There is always the option to take your next move outside of the company.

Excerpted from Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning Into a Career You’ll Love by Kimberly B. Cummings. Copyright © 2021 John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Reprinted with permission from John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ. All rights reserved.
Kimberly B. Cummings

Kimberly B. Cummings

Kimberly B. Cummings is a career and leadership development expert as well as an accomplished speaker and podcast host. Her mission is to empower women and people of color get seen in the workplace, make more money, and become industry leaders. Founder of Manifest Yourself, LLC, Kimberly provides organizations with tailor-made solutions to hire, develop, engage, and retain women and people of color. Her book, Next Move, Best Move: Transitioning into a Career You’ll Love, teaches professionals how to navigate the working world.

Good Question: Can contradictory personality traits combine to become super powers?

In a special edition of Good Question, we’re sharing an excerpt from When Harvey Didn’t Meet Sheelagh: Emails on Leadership. The book is unconventionally co-authored — through an exchange of emails — by Harvey Schachter, a management columnist, and Sheelagh Whitakker, a board member and retired CEO (notably, the first woman CEO of a TSX listed company). The pair have never met, but through emails share what they have learned over the years while challenging conventional wisdom on notions of ambition, success, ethics, getting communication right, gender at work, and legacy. In Chapter 10, they both explore a very good question: can contradictory personality traits combine to become a superpower? You can use the same exercise to meet your oxymoronic self — and perhaps discover that your contradictions aren’t self-defeating.

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Sheelagh WhittakerSheelagh Whittaker
Retired CEO, board member, and author. 

Sheelagh Whittaker loves to laugh. A savvy strategist and CEO, shrewd observer of the zeitgeist, and engaging storyteller — imparting wisdom from her invariably humorous stories — she rose to corporate top echelons back when people thought the glass ceiling was an observation deck. She has served as CEO, board member, and mother in Canada, the US, Britain and Australia. Her co-author, Harvey Schachter, is the dean of management column writers. Specializing in leadership, management and workplace issues, Harvey curates and synthesizes business how-to books and missives full of purported insights, and directs the reader to those worth consideration. Trenchant and practical, his delivery is sensitive to his reader’s need for insights delivered in small doses.

 

Hi Sheelagh,

Journalist Stewart Alsop called Bill Gates a “practical visionary.” That’s an odd combination, an oxymoron. But if he had just been a visionary without that practical side, he may not have been as successful as he was. If he had just been practical, there would be no Microsoft powerhouse today. The oxymoronic combination of traits was critical.

Walmart founder Sam Walton embodied not one but three critical paradoxes. He was relentlessly focused on winning but totally flexible and willing to try anything that seemed reasonable. He was creative but also willing to copy anything that worked well elsewhere. And he was an excellent motivator, willing to give people space to try out their own ideas but he also checked up on everything anyone did.

That comes from a 1997 sleeper book I loved, Paradoxical Thinking by Jerry Fletcher and Kelle Olwyler, which argues “the route to sustaining high performance is to consciously and actively encourage yourself to be paradoxical.” 

To find your core personal paradox, they suggest listing your personal qualities and characteristics – at least twenty – such as the types of actions you like to take, roles you like to play, and words that might be used to describe you. Then combine those into paradoxical pairs using oxymorons. For example, in one workshop they unearthed the following from participants:

  • attack sheep
  • lazy do-it-all
  • spontaneous planner
  • ruthless helper
  • creative imitator
  • passionate robot
  • hesitant risk-taker
  • velvet jackhammer
  • insecure tower of strength
  • ambitious slowpoke

Look for combinations of words on your list that are already opposites. You may, however, need to invent a phrase to describe yourself. The authors note that names of animals can be helpful – shy and timid making you a mouse, powerful and fearless turning you lion-hearted.

You’ll probably be uncomfortable with some of the characteristics you’ve named. “If one side of your core personality paradox seems like a limitation, you probably have felt for much of your life that you ‘shouldn’t’ act that way or you would be ‘better off’ if you were different. It is likely that you have tried to suppress or eliminate that quality of your personality. Yet this is not the direction to go,” they insist. 

Instead, reset your perceptions by listing the positives and negatives of the preferred and disliked sides. From those, develop a high-performance oxymoron combining the best of both sides, and a negative oxymoron combining the not-so-goods. In an example in the book, a woman defines herself as a “self-doubting overachiever,” liking the overachiever but disliking the self-doubting element. However, when she completes the self-examination, her high-performance oxymoron is quite helpful: “Thoroughly prepared expectation exceeder.” The nightmare scenario, though, is when she becomes a “hopeless wheel-spinner.” She has to try to be the former and not the latter.

Enough!

When I first read the book and for many years afterwards, I considered myself a “gentle tiger.” I still do, but recently I have focused more on a newer oxymoron: “rebellious loyalist.”

What about you? 

 

Hi Harvey,

I’d be interested in understanding your loyalties.

Meanwhile, I had a lot of fun with performance oxymorons. Right off I tried on “likeable bitch” with a good friend of mine who responded quickly but kindly, “Sheelagh, we are who we are. But maybe there are other ways to phrase it.”

Undaunted, I experimented with “irrepressible?” and came up blank. I guess I am simply irrepressible.

Other ideas included:

  • insightful boss
  • feminine feminist
  • ambivalent disciplinarian
  • effervescent recluse

While playing with performance oxymorons I was reminded of a very clever job category that existed in EDS – that of EDS Fellow.

EDS Fellows could be described as corporate individual performers. Early on, someone (maybe Ross Perot himself) recognized that we needed to attract and nurture brilliant mathematical and operations research minds to help us stay ahead of the game. Clearly, we did not want these people to spend their time managing others. We could handle that; we wanted them to spend their time experimenting and coming up with new ideas. 

A career path entitled Individual Performer was created, to which a very special class of IT artiste could aspire to be promoted. An EDS Fellow had the status, salary and perks of a vice president and no mundane day-to-day responsibilities. It was a brilliant solution to a motivation and retention problem and the EDS Fellows were revered by the organization.

I’ve got it – “irrepressibly curious.”

 

Hi Sheelagh,

You never follow the rules, do you?

But maybe you’re, as they say, aligned! Unlike me.

I’ve always worried my contradictions hinder my leadership, compared to others who are not as divided within themselves. The book offered me hope that maybe my contradictions aren’t self-defeating. You may be the model I need to follow. Together, we are probably an oxymoron.

 

 

Why we need time to disconnect — and how leaders can (and should) make it happen.

A woman relaxing with a book and tea.

By Christine Laperriere

Do you regularly shut off your devices and “leave work”? Do you have specific and agreed-upon hours in which you are no longer “on-call” for answers to work questions? Are you thankful you are not working 24/7 these days like others you know? If you couldn’t answer yes to at least one of these questions, you might need the right to disconnect.

It appears that before the pandemic, many of us were overwhelmed with the demands of work. I was so frustrated with this problem, I chose to write, in my spare time, a book entitled Too Busy to Be Happy. Thousands of people worldwide bought it, and many admitted that it was the book’s title that caught their attention. It was like I had identified a feeling that so many people had but couldn’t articulate. Ironically, some who have bought my book are — wait for it — too busy to read it.

Then came the pandemic — which forced hundreds of thousands of knowledge workers (a clever new name for office workers) into their homes, stuck behind their computers for hours on end. This had another massive impact on the way people worked.

When knowledge workers shifted to work-from-home, you could encapsulate the new phenomenon that developed in one catchphrase: “If I’m awake, I’m working.” Many employees were not accustomed to working from home and wanted to let their bosses know they were indeed working, so they fought to respond to email and text messages as quickly as possible (i.e. what I like to call digital facetime). With that, serious challenges started to arise:

  1. People did not get more productive. Although people felt they were “always on,” they didn’t have dedicated time to focus and accomplish more significant tasks because meetings filled their days. Any significant blocks of time were fractured. High-value tasks were constantly being stopped and started again, as people often urgently responded to non-urgent texts and emails.
  2. People extended their workday. I noticed that many people I work with started to do “high-focus work” in the evening or late at night because this became the critical time they were not meeting or responding to daily information, and they can finally focus without interruption.
  3. People felt more pressure to work around the clock. As more people started tackling mission-critical work in the evenings, those who were not online started to feel like maybe they should be. As some played late-night catch-up, other well-intended employees felt like maybe this was the expectation. I don’t blame those who posted late-hour work—they wanted people to know how hard they were working!
  4. People stopped fully disconnecting. Ironically, many well-intended team members would see things coming in after hours and they’d opt to send a quick answer or acknowledgement. Who wants to look like one of the “slackers” who are busy eating dinner with their families or hitting their home gym for the 410th time?
  5. People burnt out. This never-ending cycle of work mixed with a global pandemic was the recipe for depression and a deep level of anxiety.

When I challenge my coaching clients to designate specific times to disconnect, they often say that they find that challenging because of the lack of alignment with those committed to digital facetime — sending messages and emails at all hours of the day. Given that most people can’t complete their full workload these days and constantly run behind schedule, they at least want to give their organization the impression that they are doing their best.

Here are a few solutions I’ve been challenging companies to implement:

  • Designate company-wide blackout hours, where no one is expected or required to be online or working (i.e. 8 pm – 8 am).
  • Allow employees to clarify their blackout hours themselves (i.e. an employee who works from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. could dedicate 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. as their “disconnect” hours.)
  • Designate meeting-free blocks of time during the work week dedicated to getting big assignments done. For example, Tuesday is meeting free or no meetings from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Why is it important to make this a cultural concept versus letting everyone manage this independently?

  • We need to remember the power of culture — people subconsciously mirror one another. Therefore, when we work in an environment where people work around the clock, even if we implement healthy boundaries—by nature—we feel either guilty or disconnected from the team in our efforts to uphold those boundaries.
  • Unspoken permission is a thing. I have noticed that culture can be powerful in setting up what feels like unspoken permission to do or say specific things. Setting the precedent that encourages people to disconnect each day—even if they choose to take a different path—will eliminate the unnecessary guilt and resentment when they choose to take a much needed break.
  • Life is short. In the last twenty months, many of us have lost or lost time with loved ones. People have been acutely aware that our time on earth is finite. And with that, many have come to enjoy regular family dinners, skipping rush hour, growing a herb garden, and seeing that even weekdays deserve moments of enjoyment.

Whether or not you’re in Ontario — a province that has just passed the “right to disconnect”  I encourage you to take the lead. Spot those hours when you will disconnect from work and be present with your friends, family, or yourself. Block out times in your day to focus on what matters at work and unhook from the need to respond to pointless emails and text messages. Last but not least, give yourself permission to enjoy any newfound peace and freedom these practices create.

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperreriere

Christine Laperriere is president of Leader in Motion and focuses exclusively on developing great leaders. She hosts the Best Boss Ever podcast on Apple Music and Spotify where she interviews top professionals on who their best boss ever is and why. She offers advice through her blog "The Whipp" (Wisdom, Humour and Inspiration for Professional Peeps) and she is the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential.

How two moms built a grassroots to global program at TELUS.

TELUS Mama Bears Founders

As ambitious, career driven women and first time moms, Angelica Victoria and Kate Evans saw an opportunity to build a way to connect mothers in their workplace: creating a community, cultivating a culture of support, and driving positive change. The grassroots program that they started has now turned global across TELUS, and they are leveraging their platform to create a legacy of change by amplifying the voice of the mother as they advocate to improve the lives of working parents. Their vision is to reimagine and institute a world-leading experience for moms at their organization and beyond.

by Angelica Victoria & Kate Evans

 

We call it the “Mama Bear Magic”: the instantaneous, unspoken connection and easy rapport built when sharing our experiences, vulnerabilities, challenges, and joys as mothers in the workplace. 

After having returned from our respective parental leaves and serendipitously becoming teammates, we both understood the ups and downs of managing a household with a small child, while also managing our demanding day jobs. Quite quickly it was evident that we were both equally passionate about our families as we were about our careers. We’re also immensely grateful and lucky to have joined a team with fantastic, world class leaders, and our immediate support person was a mom herself who was incredibly kind, understanding, and empathetic to our needs and aspirations. 

We discovered early how incredibly powerful it was to have fellow like-minded women and allies to lean on and learn from, not only for day-to-day parental tips and tricks, but also for navigating our career journeys, workplace nuances and norms — both from an emotional and tactical standpoint. This gave us the idea to build a program focused specifically on the niche of mothers within our workplace, where we could get career/life guidance, mentorship, and alliance from women who have been there before us, and share our own learnings and best practices with those who have yet to embark on the journey that is motherhood. And thus was born: The Mama Bear Program

And then COVID hit. Suddenly, the challenges of working mothers were exacerbated even further, with the pandemic creating even more pressure and workload for parents across the board. It was time to launch our side-of-the-desk project as we knew having a community of support was needed more than ever.

Within only a few short months, the grassroots initiative garnered a groundswell of support and expanded nationally and globally across TELUS, resonating incredibly strongly with many, many mama bears across the organization. It was a poignant, pragmatic offering that addressed a long-standing gap and aligned in many ways with broader issues gaining societal traction across various platforms. We shared it proudly and gained leadership support and advocacy to progress our impetus for change, sparking thought provoking conversations, and fueling ambitious goals and the vision of a world-leading team member experience for mothers at our organization and beyond.

Looking back, here’s what we learned:

Start with the why: drive a vision and dream big.
  • Be thoughtful, strategic, and articulate about the purpose you want to pursue, and the opportunity you want to address. 
  • Embrace challenges and vulnerabilities. Realize that you’re not alone and speak to these to connect a community and create an authentic voice. 
  • Set the bar high and create a strong, compelling, connecting brand for your program and platform. Be inclusive and welcoming, but focused on your niche market.
Bring a myriad of strengths to the table.
  • It’s been a true partnership between us — the power of our working relationship is that we balance each other out, we have our own unique strengths that we bring and exercise, we teach each other so much, and we are stronger together.
  • Thoughtfully and intentionally build a team and invite trusted voices to join you. We started with a couple of mamas working together at launch, and over time we’ve grown into a fantastic working team with various incredible skills. That’s been instrumental in allowing our program to scale.
  • Seek out advisers and champions — they are there! Look around, share your story, garner support, and tap into brilliant minds. We are so humbled to have our steering committee, VP sponsor, and various other passionate advocates to guide us and enable us to be better. 
Advocate for the community.
  • Take the lead and start the conversations. Timing is key, focus on progress over perfection, and begin even before you feel like you’re ready. Trust us — you got this!
  • Welcome and listen to the voice of the mother: no one person has the perfect answer. Learn, listen, and iterate as you go to build a meaningful program for the community.
  • Understand that every journey is different, but collectively, we are stronger together. The wonderful thing is that in spite of all the differences and paths we take, the thread that connects us all is the journey of motherhood.

It’s been an incredible, amazing journey to create and build up this program and scale it to where it is today. We’ve truly also surprised ourselves with how much we’ve been able to achieve together as a team. We never dreamt things would unfold the way that they have, with humbling challenges and phenomenal wins, and we are so grateful for it. The fuel that’s kept us going is our purpose, and at our core, we’ve found a way to stay empowered and inspired by the wonderful women around us in this community, by our children, and especially by our own moms who raised us and have been such a strong role models in shaping who we are, the women and mothers we’ve become — teaching us the importance of harvesting strong relationships, being committed to our values, living with strength and grace, and being our own personal women of influence. 

Good Question: How do I deal with a professional identity crisis?

Woman Thinking

Q:

“My whole life feels like it’s been upended this past year, but my career in particular has me feeling lost. I can’t imagine a bright future, or plan my next career move, or even wrap my head around how my work has changed right now. I’m questioning my career choices and my professional identity — but questions are all I’ve got. Where do I even start to get some answers?”

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

Many of us are still stuck in lockdown limbo, and there’s no denying that this global pandemic has changed the professional world forever.

With home offices replacing cubicles and some job-related perks that may never return (RIP business travel), I’ve found that COVID-19 has forced many of my clients into a career identity crisis.

Part of it is certainly the unknown: What’s the world (and my day job) going to look like tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? Some industries are worried that they won’t get back to pre-pandemic levels of business for years, if ever. And part of it is having an abundance of downtime (if you don’t have kids, of course) to reflect on your professional journey so far. Are you happy? Does your job make you feel professionally fulfilled? There’s nothing like saying, “You’re on mute,” five to 25 times a day to make you reassess all of your life choices.

So, if you’re feeling like you don’t know where to go from here, the most reassuring thing I can tell you is that you’re not alone. This is a common reaction to a crisis, and with some deep, inward reflection, you can find your next step — or should I say lily pad? (More on that below.)

The Lily Pad Effect: Stop trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up.

Though it’s certainly one of the most popular questions, I truly believe asking ourselves what we want to be when we grow up is also one of the most tragic. It assumes that there’s only one destination. While that may have been true in decades past, the modern working world looks a lot different.

The vast majority of my clients have a much different, non-linear story.

It isn’t based on one single decision (like “I’m going to go to dentistry school and become a dentist”), but a series of decisions over time. Let’s call it a migration.

So, if you take that idea and relate it to the Lily Pad Effect, each lily pad is a decision, a step, a chance to grow. Each lily pad takes you further along on your journey, just as it would act as a point of support for a frog crossing a pond.

This is one of my favourite concepts that unfortunately, didn’t make it into my book, Too Busy to be Happy. (But there’s a lot of other important info in there, so I encourage you to take a read! You can download a sample here.) The Lily Pad Effect is a great way to look at your professional life, along with each choice you make in your career.

There’s nothing like saying, “You’re on mute,” five to 25 times a day to make you reassess all of your life choices.

The key to the Lily Pad Effect is to not be so focused on the final destination. Figure out your next jump — or your next lily pad. You may go there, hang out for a little while, and for a period of time, it feels great because the sun’s out and the lily pad is warm. But then the sun starts to set, and that lily pad falls into the shade. It gets cold, and so you move on.

And this is what I use to coach clients who are grappling with a career identity crisis. Look for your next lily pad. It doesn’t have to be forever (and it probably won’t be) but take a look at the lily pads (or opportunities) around you and make the best decision based on what you can see and the information you have. Each lily pad will bring you closer to a new set of lily pads, and the pattern will continue over the course of your career.

If I look at one of my clients who’s in marketing, a job in legal and compliance probably doesn’t seem like one of the available lily pads — it would likely take quite a lot of jumping to get there.

But if I assess the lily pads around that client, I’d find that moving into sales or customer service might be within jumping distance. Or maybe a different role at the same company, or the same role at a different company. Those jumps would be feasible based on that client’s experience and career trajectory, and they would likely feel more comfortable making the leap.

Look at your career dynamically.

Like being a parent or a partner, being a professional is an ever-evolving journey. The role looks different in your 20s than it does in your 40s, and it’s time that we all approach our careers with the same mindset. It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to predict what the final destination should (or could) be, but if you think of your career milestones as stops on the journey, the moves become a lot more manageable.

Instead of trying to figure out what you “want to be when you grow up,” try figuring out what you want to do next. What would feel good for the next two or three years of your life? What interests you right now? Once you have an idea, you can start planning what you can do to get there.

Do your research.

Any move you make, whether it be within your company or to a totally new pond — er, field — should be considered research or information-gathering. This is a critical component in finding your passion and professional fulfilment. Every role you take on teaches you about your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes, and the type of company you might want to work for — if you want to work for a company at all. Maybe being an entrepreneur is more up your alley?

Whichever way you turn, there’s an opportunity for discovery.

Wherever you are in your career, remember the Lily Pad Effect. Consider each lily pad a small step along your journey, and use each stop to learn more about what drives you. Eventually, you might find a lily pad that you really enjoy and you’ll spend your workdays basking in the sun.

 

 

Good Question: How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?

Woman working from home

Q:

“This last year has allowed for a lot of personal reflection. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong career, but I don’t know if now is the time to do something about it. How can I make a career pivot in a pandemic?”

 

Chanele McFarlane

OUR EXPERT:

Chanèle McFarlane
Certified Career Strategist

Chanèle McFarlane is a multiple award-winning Certified Career Strategist, TEDx Speaker and Writer. As the Founder of her career advice website, Do Well Dress Well, she has built an international audience around her approachable and practical advice on personal branding and career strategy. Chanèle is a sought-after public speaker who has spoken for several organizations, universities and colleges across North America. Her expert commentary has been featured in media outlets such as Fast Company, Elle Canada, FLARE Magazine and more. She is also an on-air career expert who has appeared on Breakfast Television, Global News’ The Morning Show, CHCH Morning Live and Rogers TV Ottawa. Chanèle has been recognized as one of PR in Canada’s Top 30 Under 30, one of the Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada and one of the Top 25 Women of Influence.

 

 

A:

Well, this is certainly the question I have been asked most often over the last year!

The first thing I want to say is that if you’re questioning whether now is the right time to make a career pivot, the answer is unequivocally yes. 

The news is currently full of negative narratives surrounding the labour market. Everyday there are headlines that suggest the future of work is bleak and that unemployment rates will continue to increase.

Yes, some industries such as travel have been severely impacted, but there are others that are very much thriving with opportunity. For example, the healthcare and online education industries have grown exponentially since March 2020. People are successfully making career pivots and landing new jobs during the pandemic —  and you certainly can too! Sure, there is a lot of uncertainty right now, but with the right strategy, it’s very much possible.

As someone who has made several career pivots (I even did an entire TEDx talk on it!), here’s my best advice for navigating a pandemic career pivot:

Start with self-reflection

I always suggest beginning your pivot process with deep self-reflection through a Stop, Start and Continue exercise. This requires you to create three lists: 1) What would you like to stop doing?; 2) What would you like to start doing?; and 3) What would you like to continue doing? By no means will these lists be exhaustive; you can certainly continue to edit them at any time. However, this exercise is particularly helpful in eliminating some of the initial overwhelming feelings we tend to get when we’re starting the pivot process. What you write down serves as a great starting point and helps you get one step closer to figuring out your next phase.

Conduct a skills audit

Once you’ve completed this exercise, keep your pen in your hand because you’re going to continue the self-reflection through a skills audit. First, take some time to jot down all of your transferable skills. In other words, what skills do you have that are valuable in any industry? This could be things like communication, problem solving, and project management. Next, do you have the skills required for the future of work? According to Forbes, having a growth mindset and critical thinking are among the top skills for 2021 and beyond. We live in a ‘skills economy’ which means that in most industries, employers place the highest value on your specific expertise, compared to your educational credentials.

Do your research

Once you’ve done some self-reflection and auditing of your skills, it’s time to do some research! Read up on the industries that pique your interest, review job descriptions, and look through the Linkedin profiles of people who have the roles you’re interested in. What did their career path look like? What skills do they have? What education and/or professional credentials are required? 

Additionally, you want to ensure that there are actually employment opportunities available in your industry of interest — and that the future outlook is positive. The Government of Canada’s Job bank website is an excellent resource for this research. In fact, they’ve developed a page that outlines the Outlook for COVID-19 Impacted Occupations for each province. It’s important that you don’t skip this step because you could run the risk of investing time (and potentially, money!) into attempting to pivot into a dying industry.

It’s also a great idea to reach out to people for informational interviews to ask them about their jobs, how they got into the industry, and any advice they have for someone looking to get started. Attending events is also an excellent way to build your knowledge and expand your network.

Choose education wisely

You may do your research and come to the conclusion that you won’t be able to pivot successfully unless you gain more educational credentials. I would never discourage anyone from continuing their education, but I challenge you to really think if you actually need to go back to school or if you just need to see the value in your existing experience. Women tend to count themselves out of opportunities by seeing themselves as underqualified. In Linkedin’s March 2021 Workplace Confidence Index, they found that women were far more likely to consider education as a job-seeking strategy, with 40% reporting that they would be willing to go back to school part-time or online, compared with just 26% of men. If you were to read a job description and you realized you had 9 out of 10 requirements, would you still apply? You might not need further education but perhaps just a little more work experience. If you’re currently employed, find opportunities to take on new projects and/or find a volunteer organization looking for pro-bono support on a site like Catchafire.

If  you uncover that pursuing more education is in fact the best choice, be sure to choose a program that connects you with industry professionals and allows you to gain as much real-world experience as possible. When we feel stuck in our career, it’s seems easy to just decide to go back to school but remember that your skills and work experience are still the most valuable for competing on today’s job market.

Immerse yourself in the industry

Now once you have a good sense of what field you’d like to pivot into, it’s time to completely immerse yourself in it! When I was looking to make the pivot from digital marketing to employer branding, I made sure to immerse myself in anything and everything related to the industry. I followed the top thought leaders on social media, I signed up for events, and I read tons of articles, studies and books to fill my knowledge gap. You want to gain a strong sense of what’s happening in the industry, the language they use, and who the key players are. This will be invaluable when interviewing for roles because you’ll be able to demonstrate your understanding of the field and, more importantly, your commitment to continuous learning.

Rebrand your résumé and online presence

Making a successful career pivot also requires you to do a bit of rebranding. Update your résumé and Linkedin profile to emphasize your transferable skills, as well as any key industry terms. As you immerse yourself in content and events in your new industry, start to share this information publicly on your social profiles, especially on Linkedin. (With nearly 700 million users and more than 4 million hired through the platform in 2019 alone, you’re missing out on opportunities if you’re not actively using Linkedin!). It’s important to let your network and potential employers know about your new career focus, especially if you already have an established personal brand that’s heavily centered around your previous role or industry. Re-share interesting articles, talk about the events you’re attending, and engage with people in the industry by leaving insightful comments on their posts. Once you get comfortable with that, I encourage you to start writing your own articles. Over time, not only does creating content help you to reinforce your own understanding, but it is one of the best ways to attract new career opportunities. After all, you never know who could read it — anything is possible on the internet!

I know it may seem like making a career pivot is a lot easier said than done, especially in the middle of a pandemic. Author Cal Newport puts it best though: “Compelling careers often have complex origins.” That couldn’t be more true. Once you’re on the other side of the pivot, you may just realize that this new role or industry is exactly what you were meant to do and you’ll uncover a career path beyond even your wildest dreams. 

Good Question: Does Covid-19 mean my career plan has to go on hold? Christine Laperriere shares her advice.

Q:

“Before Covid-19, I was on a career plan to move into a Vice President role in the next 18 months or so. I knew I had more to do to secure the position, but I was doing great work, growing the right relationships, and my last performance review confirmed I was on track. Now, everything has changed. Working remotely, I can’t just stop by someone’s desk or easily get a few minutes with senior leaders — who all seem to be in crisis mode, so I hate to bother them with career discussions. I know I’m lucky to just have a job. Should I accept that my career aspirations are on hold?”

 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

Let me start by saying, you’re not alone. So many of us are scratching our head and trying to figure out what to do next. And yes, you are fortunate to be employed, but it can still be frustrating to feel that your hard earned career momentum has been lost. The good news is, your aspirations don’t need to come to an end — you just have to adjust your strategy.

Demonstrate leadership through a crisis.
You’ve put in the work to show you can be a leader — now’s the time to prove that you can lead through a crisis. Think about this: in the future, when other leaders in your organization are trying to assess whether you are ready to be a VP, they are going to use their past experiences with you to determine if they can picture you being successful in this new and expanded role. So help them picture it. Stay open minded, stay innovative, and practice as much self-care as you can to help you stay sane (which I know is near impossible for those of us with kids at home, or those who are worried about the health and safety of our family and friends). None of this is easy; and that’s exactly the point — leading through a crisis is very challenging, which is why it’s such a critical opportunity to show your capability and dedication.

Create a communication plan. 
In order to put the first point into action, you need to become thoughtful about your talking points. Think through how you will communicate to others about how you are leading through this challenging time. For example, when people ask you how you are doing, tell them how you are leading. Tell them about how you view the complexities of moving to a virtual environment overnight, how it has impacted the team, and how it has changed your business. And then share with them exactly what your approach has been to lead through this challenge to get the best outcomes possible. As people get to hear how you solve problems, it will build your personal brand even further.

Connect virtually, but with a purpose.
Although I can imagine that few of us really want one more virtual meeting on our calendar, don’t be afraid to reach out to sponsors and mentors and ask them for a few minutes of either coaching around a business issue or a discussion about leading during this crisis. Share stories, support each other with ideas, and most important, don’t be afraid to ask them for help. If you are going to a sponsor, start by explaining how you are approaching leading through this crisis, and then ask for their advice on what you should be considering. What are you missing? How are they approaching this challenge? This meeting approach not only gets you coaching on how to be a strong crisis leader, it also gives you a chance to show your strategic thinking capability.

 

 

Three steps to create team engagement with strategic priorities

Most employees want to feel stimulated by their work and know that their contribution is valued. However, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, only 15% of employees worldwide are engaged in their jobs. This sobering statistic is sadly a bleak reality for many. Wondering how to foster a culture of employee engagement on your team? Kim Bohr,  CEO of The Innovare Group, shares three tips for boosting team engagement that can be actioned today.   

By Kim Bohr

  After years of leading teams and now advising companies across industries on how to align their people and processes to be effective in executing strategic plans, one fact is very clear to me: poor execution will sink strategy every time.  At the heart of failed execution are three realities:  
  1. Too many priorities impact employees’ ability to understand the importance of “this initiative over the next.”
  2. Lack of clear direction on how these directives align with the bigger organizational goals. 
  3. Why their work matters and how it fits into what the executive team says is most important.  
I learned this the hard way from my own experiences leading high-performing teams. As leaders, we are exposed to our strategic plans and key initiatives daily. So frequently, we become desensitized to the change swirling around us.  Our people, on the other hand, are not privy to the same level of frequency or detail. On more than one occasion, I found myself answering questions like, “Why are we doing this again?” What I came to realize was that I wasn’t keeping them current on the journey we were on because I was so comfortable with it. I forgot the importance of reminding my team why their unique skills mattered in the bigger picture of our company goals.   

“If companies are to remain competitive, evolution and reinvention must happen — which means change is inevitable.”

  It’s our responsibility as leaders to bring people along the way and to remind them where we’ve been and where we’re going. To do this I created a simple yet effective approach for leaders to use with teams to remain current and connected. These are three steps you can immediately put to use.
  • The Past Serves a Purpose 
Context is so important in change initiatives. Executing on strategy is about implementing change of some sort, whether it be grounded in a mindset, process, or product. Providing a sense of events from the past that have shaped our company or team preserves the history and connects everyone to the WHY.
  • Our current state and need to evolve
Human instinct is to settle into routine. We are creatures of habit. If companies are to remain competitive, evolution and reinvention must happen — which means change is inevitable. Stating where we are now and why we need to evolve is key to effective execution. Helping people understand why the company needs to embrace change should include details on the challenges being faced or opportunities to be seized. Context is key to minimizing the “Why are we doing this again?” sort of questions.
  • What’s ahead and why their work is important
Business moves fast and it’s not uncommon for people to be heads-down, plugging away. We move from task to task, checking off our to-dos from lengthy lists. If we aren’t intentional in bringing our people along with us, the shift in direction will feel jarring. When we describe where the company is going, the most important piece that can’t be forgotten is including why the work of our teams are important. The more we can tailor the message to each role, the stronger the commitment we get from each person in executing on the key strategic initiatives.  Given how much time and resources are invested in developing strategy and business planning sessions, it would make sense that a similar level of investment would be made in the efforts to execute and operationalize. In order to make all the planning effort worthwhile, attention needs to be given towards developing a solid communication plan. Using a framework like the above allows management to communicate a consistent message that reflects alignment from the executive suite throughout the organization. Perhaps equally important, it’s an inclusive approach that makes change efforts stickier and executing on the plan more likely to succeed.
Kim Bohr

Kim Bohr

Author, speaker, executive advisor, and CEO of The Innovare Group, is best known for diagnosing and repairing organizational and leadership disconnects by working with companies and leaders to help them assess, align and accelerate the strategic priorities that impact talent, execution, and business growth. Kim’s book, Successes, Failures & Lessons Learned, is a 12-week guided career journal designed as a valuable tool for companies to put into their employee's hands to foster accountability and greater ownership over their professional development goals.

Good Question: Why Can’t I Get Hired? Islay McGlynn shares her advice.

Q:

“I’ve applied for more jobs than I can count in the past year, but haven’t landed anything. I graduated from university five years ago, have had two employers in that time, and earned one promotion. I’m still considered a junior-level employee so I’m looking for my next move. At first, I was selective, but my friends keep telling me “Apply to everything!” even if I don’t have every qualification listed on the posting. I put myself forward for anything that’s in my industry. I’ve been called in for many interviews, but never hear back. I bring references, I’m on time, and I always follow up to show that I’m eager. It hasn’t worked and I’m discouraged and demoralized. Why can’t I get hired?”


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Islay McGlynn
Senior Vice President, Executive Support at Scotiabank

Islay is a thirty-year banker with broad experience across Personal, Small Business and Commercial Banking business lines as well as experience in risk management, human resources and operations. She is also the Chair of Maduro & Curiel’s Bank based in Curaçao, the Chair of the Dalhousie MBA Advisory Council and a board member at the Toronto Rehab Foundation.

 

A:

Glad to hear you are persevering! When it comes to seeking new opportunities to advance your career, it’s best to start with a self-assessment of your strengths, skills, and achievements. Think about the type of work you enjoy doing and are passionate about.

 

Accessing the position qualifications

You don’t have to possess all of the requirements of a job posting in order to apply. If you can show that you have similar skills and abilities that you have demonstrated in other roles or volunteer positions, this increases your chances of landing an interview, and ultimately the job.

Are you a right fit for the company? Hiring managers are looking for the right experience, skills, and knowledge and for the right fit with the company culture and the team. As such, you would benefit from doing some research to learn more about the organization you wish to join.

The interview gives you the opportunity to demonstrate how you can contribute to both the job and the team. It is also when your fit to the organization and department is assessed. Your presence and the impression you make during the interview stage is critical to your personal brand and success. So go in prepared!

Be selective! Don’t just “apply anyway”!  Your first instinct was right: The “apply to everything” advice your friend suggested is not my recommended approach. Be selective in your job search. If you reach the interview stage, hiring managers will sense your level of interest and passion for the role based on your responses.

Set yourself up for success by being more selective about your next career move. There is a lot of competition out there so targeting the right level and roles for your skillset and experience will increase your job search results. Look for exciting opportunities that leverage your strengths. This will allow you to shine and position yourself as a valuable team member. The growth, development, and progression you seek will follow when you are in the right role.

Remember that it is important to diversify your search strategies and leverage all the ways possible to land the right role. Let your network of friends and colleagues know you are interested in a new career opportunity.

How Colette Cooper transitioned from trained nurse to self-taught co-owner of a successful engineering company

 

With four small children and the challenges of juggling home, her nursing career, and her husband having his own business, Colette Cooper made the decision to step away from a demanding career as an intensive care nurse — and never went back. Instead, she joined forces with her husband Darren, ultimately taking on the role of Executive Vice President at Renteknik, their energy efficiency and operational management, engineering and consulting company.

 

by Shelley White

 


 

When Colette Cooper first entered the world of entrepreneurship alongside her husband Darren 16 years ago, she thought it was just a temporary career change. 

Colette was an intensive care nurse by training, and had stepped away from that demanding career to look after her four small children. Darren had just started a renewable energy engineering company and asked Colette to help him structure the business. She found the new vocation suited her and that she and her husband made a great team.

“I’m a better mom when I’m doing things, and I’m a career-driven individual,” says Colette, who’s based in Burlington, Ontario. “Darren’s very entrepreneurial, very personable, he can inspire confidence to embrace change with anybody. I’m more behind the scenes — very organized, very ‘Type A.’ But everybody has their strengths and I think that’s why we work so well together.” 

Now, Colette is Co-Owner and Executive Vice President of Renteknik, an energy efficiency and operational management, engineering and consulting company. She and Darren founded Renteknik with a since-retired colleague nine years ago. Colette says they came up with the name, which means “clean technology” in Swedish, around a kitchen table over a few cups of coffee.

“We are a boutique company working with our clients using state-of-the-art, real-time technologies to monitor their operations, efficiency and productivity,” Colette says. “If there is energy wastage, we can identify operational efficiency and energy management opportunities, helping them to be more competitive and successful and also sustainable from an environmental standpoint.”

The company’s clients include hospitals, arenas, recreation complexes, office buildings and manufacturing facilities across Canada (with some clients in the U.S.). Renteknik leverages innovative technologies like the ClimaCheck Performance Analyzer, which optimizes HVAC systems by recording and reporting on operations in real time. Another important technology is Panoramic Power, which provides wireless electricity monitoring through self-powering wireless sensors to identify malfunctions and inefficiencies through a cloud based software platform.

Colette says they are currently working on integrating their different analytical platforms into a single watchdog-type software portal that both they and their clients will be able to use. 

“It’s going to provide the visibility that our clients need to achieve greater efficiency and fuel their business success,” she says. 

Renteknik has been helped along in their quest to create this software portal through Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) — and more specifically, the Circle of Innovation program that’s a part of this broader initiative. WEC is designed to provide technological and advisory support for women-owned and part-owned businesses across the country, and the Circle of Innovation pairs up companies with interns from Canadian universities to help them complete specific technological goals and projects. Colette says she heard about the program through their relationship with BDC — Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs, and a key supporter of the Circle of Innovation program. 

“BDC brought forward this opportunity for us and said, ‘Your company is 50 per cent owned by a woman. And we think that this would be a wonderful opportunity for you,’” Colette says.

 

“I try and take every opportunity to influence and show other women that it is not just about getting a business education or being the smartest or prettiest. I am self-taught in business and have achieved success by following my core values which include responsibility, integrity, creativity, learning, teamwork and partnership.”

 

This past summer, Renteknik was paired up with Harsh Guraya, a McMaster University student in his third year of the Electrical and Biomedical Engineering Program. Colette says the experience was a positive one, and she would recommend the program to other women entrepreneurs. 

“Through Harsh’s contribution, we are well on our way to completing the back-end stage of the project,” she says. “So we’re working now towards creating a front-end solution that will incorporate automatic analysis and machine learning algorithms.”

Colette says programs like WEC are crucial supports for women entrepreneurs. As a female business owner in a male-dominated industry, Colette says she sometimes struggled to get the respect she deserved. “It would be like, ‘Oh, you’re in business because your Darren’s wife,’” she says. Now, she hopes she can be a role model for other women entrepreneurs in male-dominated spaces.

“I try and take every opportunity to influence and show other women that it is not just about getting a business education or being the smartest or prettiest,” she says. “I am self-taught in business and have achieved success by following my core values which include responsibility, integrity, creativity, learning, teamwork and partnership.” 

Colette says she also feels good about the WEC program because it provides valuable learning opportunities for the students who take part as interns. At Renteknik, providing opportunities to students and new graduates is a key priority, she adds, as they are our future.

“Our company is very multicultural, and we’ve hired a lot of people that couldn’t get their foot in the door in Canada,” she says. “And we have a lot of women professionals including engineers, we’re probably at about a 40/60 split.”

With their tech goals on the road to completion, Colette says she and Darren have plans to expand their services throughout Canada and beyond. She admits that being an entrepreneur can be challenging — “It’s not for everyone,” she says — but over the years, she and Darren have figured out how to keep their home lives and their business lives in balance.    

“I think that it’s just all about communication,” she says. “And our kids, we’ve brought them up to know that you don’t get anywhere in life if you don’t work hard. We all just have to work together.

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

How Theresa Keeping is building opportunities in her native Newfoundland

 

Theresa Keeping, owner of the Port of Stephenville, is the quintessential serial entrepreneur, with over forty years of experience building several businesses. But it wasn’t until she moved back to Newfoundland — where she was born and raised — that her entrepreneurial aspirations have been connected to revitalizing the area her ancestors have called home for over a century.

 

by Shelley White

 


 

 

Over the span of 40 years in business, Theresa Keeping’s life has come full circle.

Theresa is the CEO and owner of the Port of Stephenville, located on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland. The port is a Transport Canada-approved facility, bringing in international and domestic ships year-round. It’s a part of the country that Theresa knows well — she was born and raised in the area, the fifth child in a family of 11 children.

But like many Newfoundlanders, Theresa moved away from Newfoundland to Fort McMurray, Alberta in the 70s, to pursue career opportunities. Over the next three decades, she would successfully launch and develop several businesses in Fort McMurray, including a printing, promo and sign company and a commercial development and real estate firm.

Theresa returned to her native Newfoundland in 2007, investing in and acquiring more businesses when the Port of Stephenville opportunity arose.

“My partner and I had a business building ocean-front subdivisions, and were leasing an ocean-view property to a gentleman from Charlotte, North Carolina. He introduced us to investment into this port which was being offered for sale,” Theresa says. She became a minority investor in the port in 2012, took over as majority shareholder in 2015, and recently bought out the last three shareholders to become the sole owner.

Theresa says it has felt very special to own and develop the land that her family once called home. A woman of both French and Indigenous heritage, Theresa is a member of the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation. Her Acadian ancestors settled in Stephenville from Cape Breton in 1848, and her Indigenous ancestors originated there too.

“The mountain behind the port is called Indian Head, and most of the people that lived around there were Mi’kmaq. So for me, it was gratifying to be able to be back on the soil where there were footprints from former family,” she says.

Theresa has big plans for the port site over the next few years, including developing a mining facility from an existing granite quarry, fin-fish and shellfish aquaculture facilities, a soil enhancement business, and alternative energy projects such as wind farms.

The idea for the soil enhancement business originated from a former paper mill site that adjoins the port. “Many tonnes of wood chips and decomposed bark were being stockpiled on the property for years. They have very little value in the raw, but when it comes to soil enhancement, they are like liquid gold,” she says.

Her drive to develop the port site is borne out of both her keen ability to spot opportunity and a desire to bring new energy — and jobs — to the area.

“It’s much needed,” she says. “This part of the coast in western Newfoundland has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. We would like to see more young people able to stay home or return home, and also bring immigrant populations into the area.”

 

“After school, my children would come to the office where I was, do their homework and play there, before we went back home to have dinner, I involved them into my life so I could be with them, they could be with me, and we could be a part of each other’s lives.”

 

With such ambitious plans, raising capital is an ongoing challenge. Theresa says her relationship with BDC, the bank of entrepreneurs, has been extremely helpful.

“When we first started in 2015 with the port, I tapped into some assistance with them — not a large amount, but just enough to make sure our operations would be smooth. Since then, what I really like about BDC is the fact that they seem to really care about what they fund. They give you the opportunity to meet their people, something I find more difficult with other institutions,” she says, adding, “I really like the personal touch. Computers are wonderful, but I like people’s faces too.”

Another boon of Theresa’s relationship with BDC was their suggestion she get involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle (WEC) — an initiative that BDC supports. As part of this program, the Port of Stephenville was paired up with an intern, Matthew Mather, a third-year student of management engineering at the University of Waterloo. Matthew spent this past summer working with the Port of Stephenville on an integrated management software platform to automate, plan and support all the on-going operations and future projects.

“As we build, we would like to be able to more easily manage everything. We have different entities — as many as seven before we’re finished — so, we need to keep a really good handle on them and grow with the business,” Theresa says.

With Matthew’s help, they are well on their way to developing the platform, she adds.

“Matthew was a great asset and gave us the knowledge of how to get started doing this,” she says. “He’s very knowledgeable and has assisted us in ways that we didn’t think would happen.”

In keeping with the Newfoundland way, Matthew was invited to visit Theresa and her team for a week to get to know everyone, and he was excited to take part in a traditional rite of passage, being “screeched in.” (The ceremony involves the kissing of a cod, among other things.)

“Now he’s an honorary Newfoundlander,” she says.

Theresa says she would definitely recommend the WEC program for other women entrepreneurs. She’s passionate about supporting other women founders, having faced her own challenges in the early days of building her companies — particularly the pressures of raising four children.

“After school, my children would come to the office where I was, do their homework and play there, before we went back home to have dinner,” she says. “I involved them into my life so I could be with them, they could be with me, and we could be a part of each other’s lives.”

She says she would like to see more support for women entrepreneurs to unlock the potential, innovation and economic power of women for the betterment of future generations.

“I would like to see assistance for women who are burdened with family responsibilities, like better opportunities for daycare, for instance,” she says. “Also, ways for entrepreneurs to find other entrepreneurs who are like-minded, so they can connect and build businesses together.”

 

The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.

Good Question: I feel like my boss is against me. What should I do? Linda Descano has the answer.

Q:

When I first started working for her (she didn’t hire me), she took me aside to tell me she didn’t think I would make it at the company and that I didn’t have what it took to be successful in the industry. I took that as a challenge and set out to prove myself and I did — to other people in the company anyway. Last month I applied for an award that recognizes women in my industry. The application requires endorsement from the company and has room for your boss’s input, so I asked her if she would be interested in supporting the award. She refused, telling me there’s no way I could win. I was dumbfounded but found support from another executive in the company.

I just found out that I won. I’m proud, but it’s created tension at work — co-workers congratulate me in front of my boss and it’s awkward. Also, she is my boss and she seems even frostier now than before. I need to manage this situation in order to manage my career (I don’t want to leave the company; there’s lots of potential here). I feel bullied. How do I handle this boss who clearly isn’t on my side?


 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Linda Descano
Executive Vice President, Red Havas US

In many organizations, it’s the youngsters who school the older workers on all things digital and social. But in Red Havas North America PR’s case, Linda Descano performs as the agency’s head online experimenter—carrying clients and twentysomething team members into the future. Recruited as Red Havas PR’s EVP in October 2015 to lead digital/social strategies for clients like WEX Inc., MilliporeSigma, Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, Descano provides cutting-edge counsel and tactical implementation, infusing PR, media relations, thought leadership, advertising, social media, content partnerships and influencer marketing into her campaigns. And as a CFA charter holder, she brings a financial savvy to the table that helps deliver more results for less. Prior to Descano’s pivot into PR, she spent 20-plus years in financial services, designing and delivering industry-leading integrated campaigns underpinned by social media and content marketing.

 

A:

If you are serious about staying with the company, then you must commit to being part of the solution and not exacerbating the tension. That begins with having a clear understanding of what your boss expects from you.

First, schedule a face-to-face to discuss her vision of the key attributes for success at the company, and why she doesn’t think you have what it takes to be successful. Listen more than you talk, and ask for concrete examples. Strike a constructive, rather than accusatory, tone.

The objective would be to align on the top three things that are expected of you, as well as a schedule for regular check-ins.

One idea to explore with your manager is a 360° review, so both of you have more data points to inform your action plan. Document these discussions in an email so you have appropriate records in the event that you aren’t able to reconcile and escalation to HR is necessary.

With respect to the award, always check with your organization’s policy to determine whether any approvals are required before submitting an award application. Even if none were required, I would be transparent and notify my manager in advance of submitting the application. If her endorsement was required and she declined, I would not ask another executive for an endorsement without telling my boss first—and, on the flip side, I would let the other executive know that my manager had declined. Going behind your boss’s back to get what you need may hurt you in the long run, since your behaviour will generate mistrust and does not demonstrate respect for her position.

Regardless of the specifics of your individual situation, it’s important to pinpoint the source of your conflict, whether it’s with your boss, a colleague or a direct report. If your issues stem from mismatched ethics, value, or integrity — rather than your abilities — then seek advice and guidance from your ethics office or a reliable internal HR resource to help you navigate the best way to proceed.

Good Question: How do I know when is the right time to leave my job?

Q:

A new position has come up in another area that I would love to pursue — but it doesn’t feel like the right time to leave my department. Should I pursue it anyway?

Knowing how much pressure we are under to deliver, I am concerned that my boss will be angry if I leave. I like my boss and my team, and I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate all they have done for me. And I hate the idea of leaving them with all of this work to do — it will put a lot of extra pressure on everyone.”

 

 


 

 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

In my role, I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of professional women at varying levels within their organizations, from CEOs to administrative assistants. So many women I coach feel there is “never a right time” to leave a position. I’m going to share a few pieces of wisdom I’ve gathered from working with very successful women.

 

It’s not a marriage.
So many talented women treat their commitment to their jobs in the same way they approach their marriages or families — acting as if they are committed indefinitely. Every employer will tell you that having employees that are extremely loyal is a great asset to their business. The challenge with this thinking is that it can limit healthy personal and professional growth.

Years ago, when I was struggling to leave a relationship, my coach said to me: “You don’t have to make him wrong in order for it to be the right decision to leave.” This was eye-opening. I was looking for where the other party was wrong to help me justify my decision to make a change. I see many professionals who will say they like their boss, team, company, or role — so they don’t know why they feel like they want a change. You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.

 

It’s not a fling.
While it’s important to recognize that being too loyal can be a detriment, I also like to challenge talented women to think of how they build a personal brand of commitment. Changing positions quickly can leave people wondering if you’ve got the grit to work through challenges and stay the course when things get tough. 

I not only ask clients if they’ve been in their existing role for a minimum of 18 months, but also whether they’ve seen some work through to completion — in which they can say with confidence that they’ve gained new critical skills through that working experience. There will always be unique circumstances that merit a quick departure, but repeated short stays can leave future employers questioning your credentials if this becomes your regular rotation. 

 

“You don’t have to hate your job to justify leaving it.”

 

It’s more like a home. 
I like to use the analogy of a home when it comes to how we approach loyalty in our careers. If you think about it, many of us have lived in different homes throughout our lives. Some homes we live in for numerous years, others are only for a short time. Sometimes we move to get away from our loud and rowdy neighbours, other times we move because we’ve simply outgrown the place and it’s healthy to evolve in a new environment that is a better fit for who we are today.

 

Don’t wait for permission.
I’ve worked with many women who feel they need to wait for permission to leave. We want others to say: “It’s okay to take that new role!” The truth is, we have to give ourselves permission to pursue what feels right to us, even at the expense of disappointing others. A boss that values your work is rarely going to encourage you to take on a different opportunity, and that’s a good thing — they see your greatness! This is even more reason why you should take that leap that excites you the most.

Be thoughtful about how you leave your role, and always thank those around you for what they’ve taught you. You’ll find that over time you’ll create a network full of professionals that continue to support you for years to come.

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

 

Three tips for getting clarity in your career when life gets murky after children

Becoming a working mom can sometimes feel overwhelming. Jennifer Hargreaves, an entrepreneurial mom who is the Founder and CEO of tellent — an online community and resource for professional women to pursue flexible work opportunities — offers three tips to get clarity in the chaos.

 

 

By Jennifer Hargreaves

 


 

No one can prepare you for becoming a working mother, or a mother for that matter. Even if you have done the research, made a plan and feel certain that you will know exactly how work, life, and motherhood will play out. 

Adjusting to new priories, shifting values and personal identity can be exhausting and confusing. Some of us can pivot easily and adapt quickly; seeing clearly and stepping boldly into the next step, the next role, the next challenge in our lives. For the rest of us, we can lose the me somewhere along the way, becoming so intertwined with our children, our work, and our partners that there is no me left. This impacts our energy levels, our career choices and growth, and our personal happiness. 

How many of us have craved time alone, to feel like ourselves again, to think our own thoughts, feel our own feelings, and make decisions because it is what we want to do and not because it is what we should be doing? 

Here are three tips to help you sort through the noise and get clear on what this next stage of your career and life can look like. 

 

1. Start. Right now. Seriously. Get a new journal and commit to getting clear.

What excuse just popped up in your head? It is so easy to come up with a rationale — not only to avoid starting a task, but also to justify why we can’t have what it is that we really want and deserve. Our excuses are born out of fear and our own self-limiting beliefs and lead to procrastination and inertia. 

I want you to challenge your excuses to get different results. Here are two simple exercises to combat procrastination and get you moving towards setting clear goals: 

Take responsibility. If you think you don’t have the time, make the time. We are brilliant human beings with infinite problem-solving potential! If your day is packed and you need five minutes, you have the ability to find it.

 

“Take perfection out of the equation and start showing up however you can.”

 

If you can’t find the time, you are choosing to prioritize other things over a task you don’t actually want to do — not because you don’t want clarity but more likely because your subconscious mind is sabotaging your actions.  

Owning and recognizing your role in this process will give you a feeling of more control. Tell yourself, I can do this if I want to do this. 

Make it easy. Break tasks down into simple actions. Take perfection out of the equation and start showing up however you can. For example, get out your journal and a pen and sit down. You have to establish this habit before you can improve it. Sit down enough times with your pen and journal and you’ll start writing. 

 

2. Identify what you want, not what you believe you can have.

This is way easier said than done for all of the reasons listed above. What we want can feel like it comes with conditions. We can have whatever we want in the world — keeping in mind that we also have to pay the bills, look after the kids, are approaching 40, don’t have any experience, have the wrong experience… But what if we ditched the circumstance and conditions? 

In order to do this exercise, you will need to relax and get quiet. Picture a baby and start by asking the question: what is this baby’s potential? What can she be, do or have? Put yourself in her shoes and ask yourself the same question. What can you do, be or have? 

Watch out for the onslaught of ideas and reasons that will flood your mind on why that can’t be done or how you are going to do it. There is no growth beyond the beliefs that you hold, so for this exercise, we have to think beyond our beliefs. 

Keep your journal handy and start to develop a vision of your future self — one with infinite potential. Think about: 

  • where she lives – describe her house, the décor, who lives there.  
  • what she looks like – visualize how she looks and her demeanour now that she has succeeded in meeting all of her goals.  
  • what she does – describe the kind of work she does, who she spends her free time with, what gives her the most satisfaction and joy. 

Find some time every day for the next seven days to connect with and visualize your future self. Close your eyes and imagine what it is like to live that life like it is happening right now. Create a list of all of your wants. Include your personal and professional wants. Remember that time, cost, education or responsibilities have no role to play in this exercise. 

 

3. Ask an expert. (You). 

Find a mentor. Not just any mentor — your internal mentor. Success looks different for all of us. External mentors play an important role in our professional development, but they cannot tell you how to get to your customized future state. The one that holds your individual hopes, dreams and values. 

The best person to be able to guide you to that future is you. In amongst the pressures to work, not work, breastfeed, home school, do it all, do nothing… ask your future self for clarity on what needs to happen now to become her in 20 years? 

Throughout the process, it’s also important to remind yourself that you are not alone. A lack of clarity on career and life direction after having children is the number one challenge that the over 3,000 professional women in our tellent community face. 

 

“The best person to be able to guide you to that future is you. In amongst the pressures to work, not work, breastfeed, home school, do it all, do nothing… ask your future self for clarity on what needs to happen now to become her in 20 years?” 

 

We field so many mixed messages about what we should be, do, or have as women, and especially as mothers, that it is easy to forget who we are and what we really want. These messages start when we are young and are often compounded by institutionalized workplace bias at mid-career levels. There is no doubt that work needs to work better for women, but we cannot wait for organizations to change for us as individuals. Start today in clarifying your goals with this exercise and start building the future career and life that you really want. 

 

Jennifer Hargreaves is the Founder of tellent, and a champion and advocate for women in the workplace. In 2015, she set out to change the way that work works for women. The tellent community has grown to over 3,000 women in the greater Toronto Hamilton area. What started as an idea to provide access to flexible job listings has grown into a movement, creating more opportunities for full and equal participation of women in the economy. 

 

Good Question: My mentor told me that I need to put more effort on critical mandates. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?

Q:

“My mentor told me that if I want to move up, I need to start putting more effort on critical mandates. I feel like everything I do is stuff that has to get done — so I’m not sure what to do with this advice. Was it a criticism of my work? What am I missing?


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

I often coach my clients on how to productively handle negative feedback — but I actually don’t think this is what your mentor is offering. Focusing on critical mandates is key for advancement, and the first step is understanding what this means. It’s not about getting through your task list — everything might have to be done, but not everything is critical — it’s about putting more energy towards what will have a big impact. Here are three easy steps to do it: 

 

  1. Figure out what are your critical mandates. 

    Can you quickly list the three most important things your company needs you to deliver on? Just because a task is urgent (someone in shipping needs a signature for a package) doesn’t make it important (delivering a presentation to align peers on a critical business objective).

  2. Colour code your calendar. 

    If you have three critical mandates, begin to colour code what mandate you are working on at each point in the day. A lot of people feel this sounds too tactical, but ironically, the moment you see where your daytime hours are being spent, it gets very easy to see what is keeping you away from your most important work. I challenge you to try this out for four weeks and then review your history to see what stands out to you. 

  3. Ask for support. 

    As you start to re-prioritize your time to focus on the most important mandates, some other things are going to naturally get less attention. As this is a growth opportunity for you, you may need to reach out to your boss to explain how you’re prioritizing critical mandates, and ask for support. She might need to delegate time intensive, low priority work to someone else, or even advise that certain tasks be set to the back burner until more critical initiatives are complete.

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

 

Lessons Learned: How a senior executive is redefining “having it all” by making peace with compromise

The topic of “having it all” can quickly spark debate — not only about whether or not it’s possible but also about the unrealistic expectations just discussing this goal can impose on women. But, whether we talk about it or not, many of us are still experiencing the struggle of balancing work and life. Shemina Jiwani, a tech executive and mother of two, has found her own approach to having it all, centred around compromise. These are the lessons she’s learned.

 


 

 

By Shemina Jiwani

 

Can a woman have it all? I grapple with this question all the time, as I attempt to find balance in my own life between being a mother to two young children and a Chief Operating Officer for a FinTech company. I believe the answer first lies in how you define “having it all” and being realistic about it. I believe that I can have it all, with one caveat: having it all comes only when we are able to make peace with the trade-offs and compromises necessary to do so.

 

We Need Female Executives

There are countless studies which find direct correlations between a company’s profitability and the presence of women in executive and senior leadership positions, most notably McKinsey & Company’s “Women in the Workplace 2018” report. Clearly, we as women are doing our part.

Women are earning more bachelor’s degrees than men, we are asking for promotions and negotiating salaries at the same rate as men, and we are staying in the overall workforce at the same rate as men.  So why do women represent only 15% of executive or senior management positions?

Clearly, there is still a lot of work to be done. We need to stand on equal ground.   

 

Eliminating Unconscious Bias

I recently took a business trip to London, England for four days, leaving my husband to care for our four-year-old daughter and one-year-old son solo. I was flying with a male colleague whose kids are the same age. I jokingly asked him if he was in trouble for leaving, as I had multiple friends, colleagues, and even my own mother tell me I shouldn’t be leaving my children. He was surprised. He replied the only opinion he was given on his trip was a pub recommendation.

Both men and women can harbour unconscious biases when hiring and evaluating for the promotion of women. Often these biases focus on women’s motherhood or even potential motherhood.  For instance, it may be assumed that a woman between the ages of 20 and 40 will inevitably take maternity leave, or if she is a mother that she will prioritize family before career. Yet, even hard-working women who try to prioritize their careers will still be subject to judgements about being a bad mom or working too hard.  It’s a frustrating catch-22, and it is a bias because these assumptions are not commonly made for men of the same age group.

The antidote to unconscious bias may very well be empathy. Start a dialogue by sharing your experiences with your colleagues; you may help them see things from a different perspective.

 

Find a Work-Life Balance

It was very difficult for me to find balance; I couldn’t unshackle myself from my own guilt and the opinions of others, even if it meant sacrificing my own happiness. This is not sustainable. Flexibility, boundaries, and self-care are essential to “having it all.”

 

Here are some good places to start:

  • Ask for what you want: I was lucky enough to adopt my son from Morocco, which meant living there for six months. Before, I would have assumed taking maternity leave was my only option. Instead, I worked remotely and didn’t lose any momentum in my career progression. You won’t get what you don’t ask for.

 

  • Establish rules of engagement: Set boundaries for yourself and others that help you be more present. For example, I leave the office at 4 PM every day, and I don’t check my phone again until the kids are asleep at 7:30 PM. For you, it might mean working from home more often, establishing flex-time, or setting a monthly travel-limit.

 

  • Find a support system: Maybe we can have it all, but we can’t always do it all. It’s also important to remember that raising kids is not only a mom’s job. I have an amazing husband who shares the load with me. Single moms may need to consider amending co-parenting plans, enlisting the help of family, or even hiring childcare. Every family is different but remember you don’t need to do it alone.

 

  • Ditch the guilt: Inevitably, you’ll miss something: a recital, a game, a meeting, a deadline… accept it and move on. Own your choices and mistakes: you’re a human being. Guilt is not productive, nor is placing too much stock in the opinions or judgements of others.  

 

  • Find a Tribe: With so few women in upper management, it can get lonely. I was lucky enough to find a group of like-minded women from an accelerator program called Rise Up. I now have a network of 35 women that can truly relate to me, empower me, and help me stay on track.

 

You probably can’t be an effective CEO and a PTA president, but you can have it all as long as you are at peace with the compromises you need to make to do so.   

 

Shemina Jiwani is the Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Strategic Initiatives at AscendantFX, a technology-based payment provider. Shemina is an experienced strategic leader with a focus on aligning people with technology. Shemina is an inaugural member of Money 20/20’s Rise Up Program, a global accelerator program for women in finance and technology. Follow her on Twitter @sheminajiwani

 

How Catherine Bell created The Awakened Company — and three tips for ‘awakening’ your own business

After completing an Executive MBA from Smith School of Business, while working full time and making partner at an executive search firm, Catherine Bell knew she had the capacity for a big undertaking. It would take a few more years of experience, but she eventually launched The Awakened Company — a management consulting firm that helps companies focus on the individual, engagement and culture in order to improve the bottom line. “Companies focus on financial metrics, and we need to also be measuring culture,” she says. We asked Catherine how her journey unfolded, and how other organizations can start the process of ‘awakening.’

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

Catherine Bell spent most of her childhood moving from city to city across Canada. It was challenging, but she attributes much of her personal development and success to it. It was through the challenge that she grew.  

“Always finding myself in new situations, new schools, with new people was not easy — but it has served me well as an adult,” says the founder of The Awakened Company, a global management consulting firm focused on igniting interpersonal and cultural transformation within organizations, and the author of a book by the same name.

Being prepared to handle change — even embracing it — turned out to be a superb life skill for Catherine to acquire at a young age, given both the academic and career path she would embark on later.

Catherine began her undergraduate education in Waterloo studying science. Partway through, she changed both her degree and university, and eventually graduated from Western University with a Bachelor of Social Science in sociology. Having lived nearly everywhere from Montreal to Vancouver, Catherine chose Calgary to settle after university, first working in market research and then switching to executive search. “In 1998 when I got that job, no one was hiring,” she recalls. “But they took a chance on me, and I decided then and there that I would make partner before I was 30.”

It was around this time that Catherine began thinking about furthering her education. “I needed a broader perspective; I wanted to understand financial statements and taxes,” she says, of her decision to find an MBA program that would provide her with such skills. In her mind, an MBA would equip her with a problem-solving toolkit.

“At the time, Queen’s had a two-year Executive MBA that I could do in Calgary, and I especially liked their team approach to learning,” she recalls. In 2000, Catherine began her studies at Smith School of Business while working full time and — just as she had set out to do — made partner at her firm that same year, at age 29.  After her experience as an entrepreneur she joined one of the largest international executive search firms to get a broader perspective.

By 2008, Catherine felt she had enough career experience under her belt to start her own boutique consulting and executive search firm, which she called BluEra. Along with her co-founder, she decided to focus the business on building awakened and evolved teams, using mindfulness as a business tool, and shifting the focus from “me” to “we.”

 

“When happiness is up and engagement is up, turnover is down and companies profit as a result.”

 

“From everything I’d learned, I knew there was a different way to do business, a way to build companies that focused on the individual, relationships, and team culture.” BluEra grew from a small startup to being ranked on the PROFIT 500 ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

Starting a business with two small children was a challenge. “The EMBA experience was definitely capacity building,” she says. “Knowing I could work full time, make partner and complete my degree made me realize I could do anything.” She believes most people, when they set their minds to something, can achieve it.  

Catherine’s passion for a new way of doing business evolved naturally into a book project — The Awakened Company. It was an opportunity to share her learning and perspectives with a broader audience. “It took me seven years to write my book, but along with my two brilliant collaborators, I interviewed more than 20 world-renowned business leaders in the process,” she recalls. “I really had to throw caution to the wind when reaching out to these individuals to ask them to contribute to the book. It was an invitation to let go of fear, to up my game and to step into vulnerability.” The book merges practical know-how, wisdom traditions and business research.  

One of the book’s contributors was Julian Barling, a Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Smith School of Business, an expert in transformational leadership and one of Catherine’s professors during her EMBA. “I’ve used Julian’s framework for leadership time and again, in my coaching and consulting and in my own leadership,” she says.

Finding a publisher proved to be another challenge and another opportunity to strengthen her perseverance. “I specifically wanted Namaste Publishing — the publisher of Eckhart Tolle’s books — but because they hadn’t published anything like this before, they said no many times before they finally said yes.”

With a book under her belt and BluEra thriving, Catherine was just about ready for the next challenge. When the opportunity came to sell BluEra and move on, Catherine decided to focus all of her attention on The Awakened Company, the management consulting firm she’d been growing on the side, based on the contents of her book.   

“These days I’m taking the learnings I had from building BluEra and sharing them with other CEOs,” she says. The Awakened Company now has a team of six coaches working to move organizations toward an “awakened” approach — valuing culture, happiness, social good and service over profitability and the bottom line. Catherine believes culture builds profitability and her focus is on measuring culture.  

“The outcomes we notice, when we see and think about things differently, is a dramatic increase in profitability,” says Catherine. “When happiness is up and engagement is up, turnover is down and companies profit as a result.”

How can your own organization start on the path to becoming an awakened company? Catherine explains there are three keys to awakening well-being in an organization:

  1. Practice self-care

At the root of self-care is your relationship and connection to your awakened self. Once you are in touch with your inner compass and aim, you can make positive decisions toward the world you want to create.

  • Develop your self-awareness. This includes knowing your gifts, your work-ons, and how to silence your inner critic (that voice in your head can take up way too much space and time).
  • Celebrate the things you have accomplished in a journal, or with a colleague or friend over lunch.
  • Develop a centring or mindfulness practice. Your presence is your power. And the power of the pause cultivates better leadership.
  1. Establish genuine relationships

While relationships play a significant role in employee satisfaction and productivity, they aren’t always valued enough within organizations. There are many ways for leaders to cultivate the ability to go deep and establish genuine connections.

  • Make time to have one-on-one meetings.
  • Use ‘I’ language and speak from your three centres: I am feeling, I am thinking, I am doing, and my request for action from you is…
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. Write down the exact words the person is saying, or repeat what the person has said in your head.
  1. Collectively create a healthy culture

Research shows that organizations that focus both on cultural and financial metrics perform best — but many continue to only measure their bottom line. There are a number of actions that can be taken to improve the health of an organization’s culture.  

  • Develop a clear sense of where the organization is headed; a unified vision that informs meaning in people, in relationships, in transactions, in the choice of suppliers, in choosing employees, in social media strategy — in everything.
  • Develop a clear understanding of the organization’s values, with policies that reflect it.
  • Develop cultural metrics, like turnover and satisfaction, that are measured quarterly and reported.

 

Unlike other executive MBA programs that draw their students from a single city, Smith’s Executive MBA is a national program that draws participants from every region in Canada, creating a broader perspective in the classroom and a powerful alumni network that spans the country. Learn more here.

 

Good Question: My boss shared with me some difficult feedback, and it has really thrown me off my game. How can I deal with this?

Q:

“Recently, my boss shared with me some difficult feedback, and it has really thrown me off my game. I feel like I work really hard and am overall doing a pretty good job, and she’s not acknowledging that. How can I deal with this?


 

OUR EXPERT: 

Christine Laperriere
Executive Director, Women of Influence Advancement Centre

Christine Laperriere is the executive director of the Women of Influence Advancement Centre, president of Leader In Motion, a leadership development organization, and the author of Too Busy to Be Happy — a guide to using Emotional Real Estate to improve both your work and your life. A seasoned expert in helping women professionals advance their careers, she’s had the honour of guiding hundreds of women in various companies and roles to reach their full potential. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and executive coaching, along with years in design engineering and management consulting.

 

A:

It can be hard to hear that your performance has been less than stellar, but with the right mindset, this can be an opportunity rather than a roadblock. There are a few key steps I suggest to help navigate through negative feedback, and come out the other side with a positive outcome.

  1. Recognize it’s normal to feel defensive. Difficult feedback is especially hard to take when you feel like you are working really hard. The natural first response is to think your efforts aren’t being valued. That said, just because this is the normal human response doesn’t mean it’s the most effective one.
  2. Before you process the feedback, take time to process your feelings. I often encourage clients who are disappointed or frustrated by difficult feedback to give 24 hours before trying to process this information. And be sure to do something fun in those 24 hours — whether it is treating yourself to a good workout, a favourite dinner, or even just curling up with a good book and a glass of wine. The important thing is to consciously decide to take your mind off of the feedback for a bit and get yourself back into a higher state of mind. Once you’ve had time to focus on something else, it is easier to get genuinely curious about the feedback.
  3. Play a game of “They are right!” As you decide it’s time to reflect on the feedback, do a “they are right” exercise and see if you can validate their point of view by noticing three to five things you do that endorse the feedback. You don’t need to beat up on yourself — you are just looking to process where this feedback might be helping you see a blind spot.
  4. Consider the upside of difficult feedback. Getting candid feedback and using it to grow can be an absolute game changer. Each person you work with will have varying points of view around where you need to improve. You don’t need to please everyone all of the time, but if you can gain awareness and try new approaches as a result of feedback, it will likely help you grow as a professional.
  5. Book a 90-Day Check in. Nothing is more impressive to a leader than a team member who takes difficult feedback and grows from it. Leaders want people who are coachable and they will naturally support people they see excelling. So, if you want to demonstrate your ability to be coachable, set a reminder to book a follow-up call with your boss after you’ve had 90 days to take in your feedback and practice new approaches. Ask to check in with her to share what actions you’ve taken, see if she’s noticed the improvements you’ve made — and ask for more feedback. 

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.

How Kimberly Fulton orchestrated her own six-month secondment to focus on her passion

Kimberly Fulton was navigating her career as a management consultant and looking to incorporate her passion for women’s advancement into her work. Inspired by an article about the director of Catalyst Canada in her alma mater’s alumni magazine, she pursued and secured herself a six-month secondment with the global not-for-profit focused on women’s advancement in the workplace. Now she’s applying her consulting skills to drive impact at Catalyst while also deepening her expertise and professional network in the diversity and inclusion space.

 

 

 

By Hailey Eisen

 


 

 

As a Manager with the global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney, Kimberly Fulton loves working with global organizations on their strategic and operational transformation programs and talent strategies. But after three years in the industry, she was looking to further incorporate her passion for women’s advancement into her work.

“It was one of those serendipitous moments; I arrived home from the airport after spending the week with my clients and in the mail was my Smith alumni magazine,” recalls Kimberly, a graduate of the Smith MBA program at Queen’s University. “On the cover was Tanya van Biesen, the director of Catalyst Canada.”

A global non-profit organization dedicated to advancing women in business, Catalyst was founded in 1962. The organization drives change with pioneering research, practical tools and proven solutions to accelerate and advance women into leadership.

The magazine article sparked something in Kimberly. She’d long been passionate about diversity and inclusion and had been leading A.T. Kearney’s Women’s Network — first within the Toronto office, and then in the U.S. “This had always been something I wanted to pursue in more detail,” she says.

Kimberly leveraged her professional network to get an introduction with Tanya. “I wanted to see how I could work with and support Catalyst without leaving my job,” she recalls. She approached A.T. Kearney about flexible career programs and was able to arrange a six-month secondment with Catalyst.

“The firm was extremely supportive of this move, which they recognized as a career development opportunity for me, as well as a chance to gain knowledge and experience to bring back to the firm and help us accelerate our own D&I journey,” Kimberly says. “Diversity and inclusion are critical priorities for A.T. Kearney and they saw this as a great opportunity to put those values into practice.”

Now that she’s halfway through her secondment, Kimberly says she’s inspired by the work Catalyst is doing to build diverse and inclusive workplace cultures, and impressed by the opportunities this secondment has offered to further develop her skills, expertise and professional network.

“I had incredibly high expectations coming into this experience, but it has exceeded those expectations at every turn,” Kimberly says. “When I started, I knew I would get the chance to immerse myself in Catalyst’s research and learning programs, but I never expected to find myself sitting in a boardroom and sharing our work with the CEOs of many of Canada’s largest organizations.”

She encourages other women to chase opportunities that will help shape their careers into what they want them to be. “Sometimes I think the narrative we’re told as women is we don’t have the confidence or assertiveness to seek out new challenges, which can actually have a self-fulfilling effect,” she says. “The reality is any significant career move can be intimidating, but I don’t think this is unique to women …Regardless of your gender, the most rewarding and impactful career steps will almost always come from a place where you don’t feel super confident; where you’re forced to stretch and grow and develop.”   

 

“Sometimes I think the narrative we’re told as women is we don’t have the confidence or assertiveness to seek out new challenges, which can actually have a self-fulfilling effect.”

 

This isn’t the first time Kimberly has taken a leap into the unknown. In 2014, six years after completing her undergraduate degree at Queen’s University in Psychology, Kimberly left her job and moved back to Kingston to do her MBA. She’d been working with a civil engineering firm in B.C., followed by a job at a construction management company in Calgary. While she enjoyed her career, she felt as though she could be doing more. She was looking for a way to unlock the next step in her career path. She decided an MBA was the right move.

“It required a significant investment in myself for what was, essentially, a big unknown,” Kimberly recalls. “But the program really pushed me outside my comfort zone and it was incredibly rewarding to see what I could achieve as a result.”

Kimberly faced the teamwork and academic challenges head-on, and was also elected into the role of Consulting Club President. “Taking on that leadership role proved to be an excellent opportunity and I gained exposure to many consulting firms, which I was interested in pursuing after graduation.”

She saw consulting almost as a ‘residency program’ following her MBA, giving her the chance to take the skills and knowledge she’d acquired in class and apply them in the business world. She was hired by A.T. Kearney through on-campus recruiting and moved to Toronto upon graduation to begin as an Associate.

“I quickly found I had an interest in talent, culture and change management, which brought together my background in Psychology and the skills I acquired during my MBA,” she says. Now, as a manager in A.T. Kearney’s Leadership, Change and Organization practice, Kimberly advises some of the world’s largest organizations on how to achieve their business strategies by activating the full potential of their talent.

In navigating her career, Kimberly often recalls the advice she was given by a partner at the firm, “Instead of trying to solve for my whole career at a single point in time, she advised me to focus on identifying the most interesting opportunities right now and then continually re-evaluate. Keep an eye on where you’re going in the long-term, but don’t step off your career path just because you haven’t decided if this is exactly where you want to be in 10 or 20 years.”  

This advice has proven useful for Kimberly, who would have never guessed she’d be spending six months working in the not-for-profit space. When inspiration struck, Kimberly actively pursued it to create a valuable experience for herself. “I was pretty persistent with both Catalyst and A.T. Kearney to make this opportunity a reality because I saw a lot of potential value and was excited to follow my passion without stepping off my career path,” she says.

For now, she’s working to support Catalyst’s strategy and operations in Canada — and learning and growing every single day. As for what’s next, Kimberly is enjoying every moment of her experience with Catalyst while looking forward to returning to A.T. Kearney with a renewed energy and fresh perspectives to share with the firm and her clients.

 

As an important step in solving organizational diversity and inclusion challenges, and to develop more inclusive leaders, Smith School of Business and Catalyst Canada, have formed a strategic partnership. Learn more about the new partnership here.

 

Good Question: How can I create a strong relationship with a potential sponsor?

Christine Laperriere

Christine Laperriere is a seasoned expert on helping leaders and teams reduce internal conflict, improve employee engagement, and more effectively engage with customers and prospects. Working with the Women of Influence Advancement Centre and through her own consultancy, Leader in Motion, she has spent the past ten years teaching hundreds of leaders how to be more effective through her “Leadership through Conflict & Change” course, and helped many with specific challenges through private executive coaching. Her background includes an undergraduate and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, certifications in psychotherapy and executive coaching, along with years in management consulting focused on implementation, change management and culture change initiatives.

 


 

Q: I have been invited into a “coffee talk” with my boss’ boss. I know it’s a great opportunity for future sponsorship, but I’m not sure how to take advantage of it. This isn’t part of any sort of formal program, just a casual invite without a specific agenda. How can I create a positive impact in this conversation and start a strong relationship with a potential sponsor?

 

Even though it’s just a chat over coffee, this is definitely a meeting you should be preparing for. Many highly talented professionals get invited into these casual skip-level meetings, but they often don’t think through a strategy to leverage this opportunity to build a stronger relationship — and potentially create a sponsor. Follow these tips to get yourself prepared and make a positive impression.

 

1. Be intentional.

Set a clear intention for this conversation and how you’d like this person to feel after the conversation. An example might be: “I want Jane to feel that I admire her work within the organization, and I want her to know my strengths so she considers me for new opportunities in the future.”

 

2. Show your admiration.

Everyone appreciates being valued and recognized, even top executives in your organization. If there is an aspect of this executive’s work that you admire, it never hurts to share this as you get to know them better. Show them that you don’t just respect them for their title but more for the great work and leadership they bring to the organization.

 

3. Question their views.

Take the opportunity to ask them to share their perspective about how they see various business issues, projects or opportunities. Given their role in the organization, they often have a different perspective and vantage point. By being curious about their perspective, you can learn a lot about a leader. The more you know about how they view things, the more value you can bring to your relationship with them.

 

4. Share your personal brand.

Be sure to think through a quick sound bite that highlights a few recent accomplishments you are proud of or a few unique strengths you bring to the team. Remember that your work alone can’t actually speak for itself, so you’ll need to help highlight these accomplishments and your strengths in an authentic way.

 

5. Invite them to walk in your shoes.

Once you’ve shared your personal brand, it’s a powerful question to ask your potential sponsor what opportunities they would be thinking about if they were in your shoes. There is specific magic in this question as it encourages that executive to really comprehend the strengths and highlights you’ve shared, and connect those to future opportunities they see in the organization. The best part is, if you position this as a question, it encourages them to do the thinking — making them more likely to remember your conversation moving forward.

 

6. Think “mutually beneficial.”

The best relationships in business and in life are beneficial for both parties involved. Many times, professionals assume that executives have everything they need or they only focus on what’s in the relationship that could benefit them personally. Asking this potential sponsor what you could do to help them demonstrates that you aren’t looking to build a one-sided relationship for your own benefit alone, but that you are also looking out for their interests as well. This simple step will help you build the respect and trust that will act as the foundation for a long-term strong working relationship.

 

7. Send a mindful follow up.

After your coffee, follow up with an email that specifically points out why you appreciated the conversation, including the insights and suggestions you found valuable. Watch for future opportunities to connect, and if you’re unsure when or how to approach them — each sponsor and each situation is different — this could be a good conversation to have with a mentor or trusted colleague.

 

 

What’s the difference between a mentor and a sponsor?

It is often said that a mentor talks with you, and a sponsor talks about you. What does that mean? While a mentoring relationship focuses on discussion, advice, and guidance, a sponsor actively connects you to career opportunities. You may not even know that an individual is your sponsor — but that doesn’t stop them from suggesting your name when a stretch assignment or promotion comes up. That’s why it’s so important to take advantage of “casual coffees” that enable you to cultivate these valuable relationships. It can have a major impact on how quickly you are able to move up in your career.

 

 

To learn more about how you or your organization can advance talented female professionals and leaders more effectively, contact Christine directly at claperriere@womenofinlfuence.ca.