WXN Breakfast Series Ottawa May 14th Review

21 May

Last week in Ottawa, May 14th , the ladies of the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) assembled once again on the top floor of 99 Bank Street in the beautiful Rideau Club for another engaging conversation. With all the buzz about “leaning in” for women in business, this was an opportunity to hear from three very impressive leaders and pull from their experiences. On the panel we had Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett, Chief Reserves and Cadets for the Canadian Navy, Rosemary McCarney, President and CEO of Plan Canada and the Honourable Sheila Copps acting as moderator.

WXN Breakfast SeriesSo let’s just take a second to say WOW.

It’s amazing to meet such accomplished women, and on top of that, get to mix and mingle with them while hearing their stories. A huge #SisterNod to the WXN for arranging this breakfast.

So let’s dive into their conversation, which in so many ways pulled on Emotinal Intelligent aspects like Self-Regard, Self-Actualization and Emotional Expression while touching upon obstacles at work, leadership experiences and best advice ever received.

An interesting question posed to the panel involved navigating obstacles at work – whether it’s feeling lonely at the top, not seeing a clear career path ahead, or dealing with a difficult boss.

Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett shared a comment that rang true within the watching crowd of women executives:

“I think with obstacles, the most important thing to me is don’t be afraid to ask. So that’s where mentoring and peers and sponsoring, and all of these things are really important. They say it’s lonely at the top – it shouldn’t’ be. And if it’s lonely, you need some help. So again, call on those people. You’re not a failure if you ask questions. That’s sort of a quick answer to that, to be strong enough to call on your colleagues or subject matter experts.”

Emotional Expression(We’ve all heard that expression, ‘it’s lonely at the top’ – yet I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘but it shouldn’t be.’ Expressing that need to connect, or find support, or call upon experts takes a bit of courage, and yet makes sense. It had me wondering, it is because leadership has thus far been male-dominating that emotional expression hasn’t been more highly valued? There’s a very interesting paper from MHS that suggests women to be higher in interpersonal relationships and empathy than men, so perhaps as the leadership landscape changes – will this concept of constructive expression of emotions also change?)

The conversation on obstacles turned to working with difficult bosses. The opinion was quite consistent across the panel.

Again, Rear Admiral Jennifer Bennett focused on being true to one’s self:

“You can learn as much from bad leaders as good leaders. I think it’s really important to keep perspective …I go back to as a teacher when you are dealing with elementary and research problems: ‘whose problem is this?’ If your boss is having a bad day, that’s their day. You don’t have to have their bad day. So again it’s keeping perspective and keeping a sense of self.”

Rosemary McCarney added onto that concept of being true to yourself: “At a certain point, life’s too short to be in a sick culture, an organizational culture, so you’ve got to equip yourself – whatever you have to do financially and professionally – equip yourself so that you can always just walk away.

The Honorable Sheila Copps added to this conversation with some excellent advice on fear and moving forward:

“The bottom line is, you have to spend every day doing some things that you like, and some things that you don’t like – but if the boss that you have is creating a poisoned atmosphere that you can’t work your way around, then you have to be prepared to jump, and I think that’s something that women sometimes find very difficult. I’ve made different transitions in my career. Every time I’ve moved from the known to the unknown, it was scary. I really had to keep telling myself, ‘don’t be scared, other people have survived this’ and move forward – and I’m talking about even when I left provincial politics to run federally, I was so scared if I was making the right decision.  You try and second guess everything, but at the end of the day, the leaps that you take, or the moves that you make to … in terms of any life career change, can be scary. And I think going back to  what Jennifer said, be comfortable in yourself …  true to your core values, but don’t be afraid to quit and start afresh.”

Then she added onto that a caveat: “Do not quit a job until you’ve actually found another job. That’s a good life lesson, if it can work.”

Touching upon the idea of Self-Actualization, you might not receive the expected response when asking Ms. McCarney how she navigated a career path toward her dream job with Plan Canada.

Self Actualization“It’s not linear. I knew what I wanted to do in general, and I’m fortunate enough that life has taken me in the direction I wanted to go, but it wasn’t linear – I did hostile takeovers on Wall Street for the first five years of my career. And people say, “What’s that got to do with the humanitarian response to Syria in 2015?” And you say, “Lots. Because of Negotiation skills, and transaction skills, and negotiating an MOU  …  But I think the guidance councillors – they concern me, the ones I had, the ones my children have had, they really think it’s a linear world, and it’s not. It’s not a linear world, and what you want to do is scoop up as much experience and solid formal studies that you can in your studies and forever after … so you can actually make some choices and make some decisions – but it’s not a linear world.”

She later went on to talk about dispositions for success, and I’ll give you the quote here since it ties in so wonderfully with the above.

“You’ve got to be tenacious. You’ve got to go for what you want to go for and know there will be setbacks and moments when you need to put up with other stuff to get to where you want to go, so tenacity is important. And fundamentally, and I don’t know whether this comes out of the HR behavioural competency literature, you’ve got to be an optimist. You gotta really see in a Polyanna way that whatever is it you’re dealing with or whatever it is you do, that you’re going to be able to do it. Most of the world [is made by] amazing human beings, wonderful human beings. Good people are all over the world, and they’re going to support you and they’re going to do the right thing too. I think you need to innately be an optimist. And if you’re not, cultivate those kind of things that will make you an optimist.”

Lastly in the breakfast session, the panel was asked to relate the best advice they’d ever received. It was fascinating to hear two of the three ladies hark back to their childhood, and the values instilled in them by their parents. (We talked just the other day that in moving toward your goals, you deep and basic values need to be aligned with your ambitions. So how cool that they indirectly tapped into this concept?)

Ms. Copps started the conversation around advice by remembering her father:

“Be honest. My father always told me the whole business about success being luck – it’s not luck, it’s 99% perspiration and 1% honesty. … I always felt at the end of the day, if I was honest I could walk away whatever the outcome – sometimes good, sometimes they listen and sometimes they won’t.”

(A great example of “leaning in”! Daring to be ambitious and honest. As Sheryl Sanberg said in her excellent TED talk, women are more likely to be perceived as annoying for such attributes, while men would be seen as strong.)

And Ms. McCarney added to that idea with her best advice, also harking to some excellent concepts of self-actualization:

“I think at stages in your life, you kinda think back to the messages that you got from parents as little kids. And they weren’t thinking about your career, they were thinking about how you were going to handle things in the sandbox, the proverbial ‘sandbox’ … we still all play in sandboxes. And my mother was [saying], ‘ be a leader, don’t be a follower’, and by that she meant don’t be taken in, don’t just go along with the crowd on things you shouldn’t be doing. And my father’s was: ‘if that’s what you decide to do, make sure you have the credentials to get yourself to a place where people will listen.’ … So you go back to childhood and those messages, and to this day they continue to influence how you do.”

Self RegardBut it was Rear Admiral Bennett’s response that struck the deepest chord within me, again touching upon strong internal values and a sense of self-regard:

“Don’t sell yourself short, and by that I mean aim high. Don’t aim for the impossible, but I think sometimes in short-term goals we may miss what might be happening. And the other is to celebrate success and be proud of what you do. So again, don’t always think that you are lacking, because where you are is pretty great … And ‘it’s okay to be you’ is another one that I think is important to me. I didn’t have to lose myself in what I thought other people thought I should be.”

And of course, on top of this fascinating conversation at the WXN breakfast was the chance to mix with other women executives and hear their stories. In the weeks to come, we hope to share with you some of their personal insights, and continue on with our exploration of Self-Actualizaiton, Self-Regard and Emotional Expression, as well as this idea of “leaning in.”

Thanks for reading all the way through. It was a long post today – but packed full with so much insight, I didn’t want to hold anything back.

Till next week!


Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, certified in EQi 2.0 and EQ360, a master practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), has been coaching high-level women and men for over six years, and is now opening her expertise to those emerging in business. Camille pulls her blog topics from her unique coaching approach that combines her training as a EQi 2.0 and EQ360 certified facilitator with the dig-deeper tools of NLP.

Get in touch here if you’d like to talk with Cam about group or one-on-one coaching, and EQ assessments. With the miracle of Skype and telephones – distance is no issue!


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