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Growing for gold: Lessons from the Leader Character and Candour Conference

Feb 9, 2017

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Whether guiding a team to a gold medal or an organization through a crisis, a leader’s character is at the forefront.

Cheryl Pounder, a two-time Olympic women’s hockey gold medallist; and Jaime Watt, executive chairman of Navigator Ltd., a public strategy and communications firm; discussed how character dimensions; such as courage, accountability, and humanity; contribute to personal and organizational success.

Pounder and Watt were keynote speakers for the 4th Annual Leader Character and Candour Conference for HBA1 students on February 7.

Here are some key takeaways:

Cheryl Pounder: There is a human side to performance

Pounder emphasized the importance teamwork, humanity, and drive had on her character development and how character helped her during her journey as an athlete.

While she had lapses in humanity and sportsmanship before her successes, Pounder said her ability to reflect on those failures helped her to strengthen her character and develop into a better teammate.

“As leaders, we need to recognize the part humanity plays in our performance because relationships matter,” she said. “My team learned from failures and, had we not lost, we wouldn’t have looked back and examined our flaws. Don’t be afraid to look back while you’re winning because we have to change while we’re on top, not just wait for failure.”

She provided three keys to good character development:

1. Be courageous

Excellence is abnormal so you have to behave abnormally to reach it. Pounder said you need to explore your life and get outside of your comfort zone to grow into a good leader. When your courage wavers, it’s important to hold on to your goals and learn from the hardships. You have to ask the tough questions, know when you’re wrong, and have the courage to stand up in the face of adversity, she said. Taking calculated risks and reflecting on your behaviour develops character.

2. Humanity matters

When you are competing in the business world or in sports, it’s hard to have integrity and care for those around you. Instead, take the time to help others, said Pounder. It’s easy to turn away from others, but do not compromise the integrity of your team by doing so. A good leader needs more than just skill to be successful. You need to be a good teammate, create a sense of belonging, and learn from others. If you engage, instead of just participating with others, you will succeed, she said.

3. Be passionate

People will always doubt your journey, but you must have the passion to push forward. Pounder said her grandmother inspired her hockey career.

“She told me, ‘If hockey is what you want, believe in yourself and give it everything you’ve got. You’ll never know unless you try,’” she said.

You never know when your passion will impact others, so pursue your dreams and inspire others. Pounder said you must demand excellence from those around you, support one another, and help others to grow with you.

Jaime WattJaime Watt: Be prepared for crises

Watt discussed three ways to manage personal or organizational reputations.

1. Mind the media’s immediacy

In today’s society, information is immediate and spreads like wildfire so its accuracy might become compromised. You must watch for inaccuracies and be quick to correct errors. Media articles live forever on the Internet and can resurface later to become part of an organization’s narrative.

“Our world is changing and has shifted. The ways we consume and react to information have undergone a remarkable transformation,” he said. “The trust we have for corporations has been shaken." 

2. Manage your reputation

Most people will face a crisis in their careers; whether in public safety, financial loss, litigation, or other situations; said Watt. Crises can distract employees, hurt morale, and undercut the values of an organization, so they need to be addressed swiftly. Don’t make the mistake of thinking crises only happen to high-profile and large organizations. Anyone can have a crisis and the visibility and degree of scrutiny depends on the nature of the crisis, not the size of the organization. Watt said developing a reputation recovery plan is critical. It’s also important to ensure integrity is at the heart of the organization’s culture.

“If you have a culture of non-compliance, that will put you out of business,” he said.

3. Be transparent

When managing a crisis, Watt said you must be quick to apologize to decrease legal jeopardy. Public consensus is the final authority, and the customer is always right. Any issue that arises must be dealt with openly, honestly, and with integrity. If you deliver a sincere apology, people are more willing to forgive you. A lack of transparency and openness can cause irreparable reputational damage.

“We understand that people make mistakes, but we demand accountability. You can always do right by doing good,” he said.