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Three lessons of leadership

  • Beckie Thain-Blonk
  • |
  • Aug 1, 2017
Three lessons of leadership

MBA Leadership Day panel speakers Michael Rolland, HBA '79; Barbara Stymiest, HBA '78; and Jon Hantho, MBA '89

MBA ’18 candidate Beckie Thain-Blonk writes about the lessons she learned about leadership during MBA Leadership Day hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership.

Ivey’s mandate is to equip students to become global leaders who will have a lasting, positive impact. Ivey's method of teaching leadership digs deep into personal assumptions and biases while presenting challenging situations that MBA students must learn to respond to adeptly.

Part of the program's leadership curriculum is hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, under the direction of Executive Director Professor Gerard Seijts and guided by an active alumni panel. This week the class of 2018 heard from four senior Canadian leaders in a conference hosted at Ivey.

Speakers included:

  • Barbara Stymiest, HBA ’78, former Executive Vice-President & Chief Financial Officer at BMO Nesbitt Burns, Chief Executive Officer at the TSX group and current board member of several public companies including Blackberry Ltd., George Weston Limited and Sun Life Financial Inc.
  • Michael Rolland, HBA ’79, Chief Investment Officer at OMERS Private Equity
  • Jon Hantho, MBA ’89, Chairman of the Board at Life Labs, former Chief Executive Officer at Maxxam
  • Linda Hasenfratz, EMBA ’97, Chief Executive Officer at Linamar

The day included a panel discussion, a live case based on a specific leadership challenge from each speaker's life, and a final key note presentation by Hasenfratz.

Reflecting on the day, I walked away with three key takeaways: humility, listening and selflessness. Let me explain further.

  1. Humility

    (Note: the identity of the case participant is kept hidden to ensure open and candid discussion)

    The live case I participated in focused on a situation where a new MBA grad was given an important task by the CEO, but the grad did not take the time to build relationships upfront or actively listen to the people he was working with. Despite his good intentions to successfully implement the strategy, the feedback from his team was to "Stop being an a--!"

    The real-life subject of the case, noted that "being given an assignment from top management can be the kiss of death." The subject highlighted that when this happens people may dislike you, your ego can inflate and it is very easy lose sight of where you came from. Overall, these qualities do not endear you to your team.

    Before learning that the case was about the participant, the class brainstormed what the MBA grad's response could be and what questions he should ask of himself. The case discussion highlighted the importance of building relationships upfront when leading a new team. Building relationships requires active listening and a healthy dose of humility. The lesson was very clear: remember that relationship skills and humility are important in both the highs and lows of your career.

  2. Listening

    In the panel, Barbara Stymiest discussed the first board chair position she held while still a manager at Ernst & Young. She spoke about the challenging situation the company was in and how her role involved rallying the board and guiding the CEO in a turnaround strategy. Stymiest pointed to one of the key lessons she learned early on: as a leader, listen first.

    Drawing on her examples of leading in the boardroom, Stymiest emphasized the importance of a leader speaking last. She highlighted that, as a leader, if she spoke first, the room would orient around the direction she initially provided. However, the power of a board is to draw on the expertise of each member and consider all the options. This only happens when a leader is a skilled listener.

  3. Selflessness

    Throughout the day, each speaker talked about what they considered to be at the core of leadership. In 100-percent agreement, each speaker emphasized that leaders focus on others. According to the panelists, an individual becomes a leader when they stop focusing on themselves and start orienting themselves around the development of others.

    This is not a new message, but a good reminder to return to the basics. By this definition, a leader is not born when they become a CEO or are appointed to lead a team. Instead, a leader is defined by an "others orientation" and that can start today, regardless of who the individual is or what position they hold.