Leadership 101

Have you ever done something that you knew, within every fibre of your body, was great? For many of us, that doesn’t happen often. We try to do our best, but things sometimes get in the way and our outcomes are limited by things beyond our control.


Me, pontificating to the team…yet again.

Last week, I was one of the lucky ones. All the stars aligned and I was part of a team  who delivered the first Ontario Parks Leadership Foundations Course. 5 days of everything from asking and answering questions, listening critically, participating in “The Challenge of the Day”, guest speakers, story tellers…you name it, we included it in the course curriculum. And the outcome was great!

Gail and I were part of the team who designed the course, and we were asked to facilitate this initial event. 25 new leaders from the Ontario Parks organization were selected, and we put them through their paces. The timing was hard for me. I’m also doing some truly exciting change management work for Natural Resources Canada. I am committed to doing my best for my Ottawa team, so though my days were filled with leadership activities, my nights were filled with change management writing and research. By Friday, I felt like I’d been “rode hard and put away wet”.

But it was soooooo worth it. Every moment, from sitting around a table at a restaurant on Sunday night with people I barely knew celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, to standing in front of a room of new leaders and asking them…no, demanding, that they think critically, outside the box, and telling them I won’t settle for less than their best.

And they gave it to me.


New leaders, thinking really, really hard!

Each day, I challenged them to write down and share their  3 most valuable “Take Aways” with me. Some were handed to me, others were shoved under my door at night, with each participants’ thoughtful input. I wanted to know what makes a great leader; what is unexpected about leadership; what does it take to really lead. Here are some of the responses:

  • Change is inevitable. Be prepared to adapt. You must, if you are going to lead.
  • Managing different personalities requires different approaches.
  • Ordinary people do extraordinary things when they are challenged, inspired and passionate; when they believe and are believed in; when they hit a barrier or when barriers are removed.
  • Exemplary leaders possess vision, courage and empathy.
  • Leadership is saying “no” sometimes.
  • Personal sharing from the heart will connect you with others.
  • Trust people and the knowledge and experience they have.
  • Leadership is about inspiring others to believe in themselves and be the best version of themselves.
  • Leaders are not above followers.
  • Anyone can manage, but not everyone can lead.
  • Don’t be scared to get out of your comfort zone.
A bit of shenanigans is always good for any course!

A bit of shenanigans is always good for any course!

I knew, when this course was over, that it was a great success. As I stood in front of the group, I shared my story. I told them that when I left the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, I walked away without looking back because the family that was the MNR was gone. Over that week, I found it again. It is in the eyes, ears, hearts and spirits of these new leaders in Ontario Parks. Ontario is lucky to have them. And I was so, so very lucky to know them.


Capitol Experiences!

A person can learn a lot from three days in the nation’s capitol. I’m doing some interesting but unusual work for Natural Resources Canada, and it will take me to Ottawa fairly regularly for the next while. 2 mornings of running along the canal and 3 days of meetings generated a lot of learning opportunities for me. I’ve distilled them below, for your reading and learning pleasure. Enjoy!

Cab drivers can be amazing! Rory asked me if being in Ottawa improved my sense of nationalism. I told him it did, all because of a conversation I had with a cab driver. My driver was originally from Lebanon, hadn’t been home in years and missed it terribly. But his son is going to graduate from med school this summer, and his daughter is already a lawyer. He told me that coming to Canada gave his children a future, and he is so proud to live here. Chatting with him made me proud to be Canadian.

Eating alone in a fancy restaurant can be fun. Too often those of us who travel a lot spend our time ordering room service and working while we eat. This visit, I ended up going out alone to a wonderful Italian restaurant, Mama Theresa’s. It was busy with couples and groups, and as I sat at my table, people looked at me with curiosity and a perhaps a dash of pity. That is, until the waiter brought me a free glass of chianti, and waited on me as if I was the most important patron in the entire place. And as I sat sipping my wine, I couldn’t help but listen to the woman sitting behind me talk to her dining companion about her parents. They had moved from Budapest to Belleville in the 1950s, and she was so proud of their brave decision to leave home. It put tears in my eyes. I might have missed that had I been with other company.

Civil service working conditions are not glamorous. I spent one day moving from meeting to meeting, bouncing between cubicle to small, windowless boardrooms. The next day, I was in a government building that was built in the 1700s (I am only speculating here) and was filled with dust, darkness and mildew. The folks I am working with are vibrant, interesting and motivated people who have to do their work under these challenging conditions. If you work for private industry, you’d never have to work in conditions like that. These folks believe strongly in what they do to put up with those conditions.

Runners in Ottawa are TANKS! Either that, or I am one serious wimp. Each morning, I ran out to the canal and danced over the icy trails, wearing my IceBugs (http://icebugcanada.com/). I wore winter running tights, jacket, a wool cap and mitts. The Ottawa runners wore ¾ length spring tights, little ball caps and had bare hands! Perhaps living in the nation’s capital forces you to toughen up more than the rest of us. I was duly impressed.

Smiles are infectious.  Running along the canal, most runners keep their faces turned inward. Not me. My experiment involved smiling, no, beaming at everyone who dared make eye contact with me. Each and every runner I saw smiled back. Then the guards who work security in the government buildings? I grinned at all of them. Most of them now think I am certifiable. But by the end of my second day, I had a new friend behind the security desk who loved Stompin’ Tom and offered to be my escort in the building. Smiles are a valuable commodity. Use them well and use them often.

So when in Ottawa, listen to your cab drivers, eat alone, be vibrant, respect the toughness of runners and above all, smile!!!

This is the kind of grin that works!

This is the kind of grin that works!

Take a break

I sit down with a most wonderful cup of coffee…and the e mails pile up. The phone starts to ring – really, this early? I have a conference call, then a follow up call right after that. There’s a brutal amount of reading for one project, along with research for a separate strategic action plan.  Somewhere in there, I’ve got to to head upstairs and eat. Perhaps one more Clif bar for lunch will be fine, if I promise myself I will eat dinner…as long as the afternoon conference call doesn’t go too late and I’m too tired to cook.

Sound familiar? I sat at my desk last night, and my son came downstairs to see if I was going to yoga. “I’m too stressed and too busy to go, I’ll go next week”. He just laughed at me and said “Mom, you take yoga to relax. If you don’t go, you won’t relax. So just do it!”

I just wanted to stay and work. I’m working on 4 major contracts that demand both time and travel. The inside of my house is being painted, and I’m moving furniture from one room to another on a daily basis. I am packing up and cleaning up, and wondering where to steal extra time. I’m running on empty most days. You all know exactly what I mean, because we’ve all been there.

But that night, thankfully, I listened to my son. I usually do, to be honest, because he knows me often better than I know myself. I left my desk, changed and headed off to my yoga class. We did our Sun Salutations, our balancing poses, and all sorts of positions that require so much concentration that there is no room for strategic planning thoughts or agenda items. I became focused…on wondering why my knee was sore, and why is Warrior 3 pose so hard for me!

And I realized that I was experiencing another “passion” that I wrote about the other day. In doing my yoga, my mind no longer registered all the hard stuff. The internal dialogue of work was quieted, and I was able to focus on the immediate – my knee and my balance. My restless mind, racing from one thing to another, left the ruckus behind and slowed down.

Most times, the reality of being a consultant consists of blurred lines between work and the rest of your life. Working from home means your clients and colleagues may expect to find you at your desk at all hours. If you find yourself doing that, listen to my son when he suggests that perhaps a break would be a good thing. Do that which relaxes, both your mind and body. Be tender to your spirit. You will be rewarded with a sense of peace that you can return to whenever you want.

Take a break.

The girls and I taking a break. That's coffee in my mug, by the way!

Taking a break with the girls. That’s coffee in my mug, by the way!