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Find your courage: Lessons from the Leader Character and Candour Conference

  • Dawn Milne
  • |
  • Feb 12, 2020
Find your courage: Lessons from the Leader Character and Candour Conference

Tarana Burke

Whether leading a global movement to end sexual violence or taking a stand against political scandal, courage is at the forefront.

For the 7th Annual Leader Character and Candour Conference for HBA1 students hosted by Ivey’s Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership on February 11, two well-known leaders with very different backgrounds discussed their common thread: the value they place on candour and courage, especially in leadership roles.

One was Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist and founder of the Me Too movement (also known as #MeToo movement) against sexual violence. In 2017, 10 years after creating this small movement out of Selma, Ala., it grew into a worldwide phenomenon when it became one of the most widely used hashtags in social media history. Burke became a global voice for survivors and continues to lead the movement as the Founder and Executive Director of MeToo.org.

The other was The Honourable Jane Philpott, a medical doctor, former politician, and the newly appointed dean of Health Sciences at Queen's University. Previously seen inside government as one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s most effective ministers, Philpott resigned from her position as President of the Treasury Board in March 2019 to protest what she viewed as Trudeau's unethical handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair. 

The goal of the event is to help the students to understand and appreciate the importance of character and candour. The conference also included a workshop where the students gained insight in developing character and candour in their lives.

Moving the dial through courage

Burke spoke about the courage it took for people to candidly share their experience(s) of sexual violence – often for the first time – when the movement spread virally as a hashtag on social media. She cited how gun violence prompts people to raise their voices, yet, when it comes to sexual violence, people are encouraged to stay silent. She said she hopes the movement will help people to speak out and raise awareness about this important issue.   

And although the movement has spurred widespread discussion about the best ways to stop sexual violence and harassment, Burke said it will take multiple interventions over a long period of time to shift culture.

She said courage will help to move the dial.

“It can feel like an enormous undertaking and it does feel scary most of the time, but that’s where your courage kicks in,” she said. “Courage moves us wider and farther than fear.”

Tarana Burke discusses what courage is

A new kind of leader

In a fireside chat with Professor Gerard Seijts, Executive Director of the Institute, Philpott discussed the importance of speaking up, taking a stand, and following your conscience.

She said it takes courage to raise your voice and to speak with candour, but people will respect you for doing so.

“History shows that people are treated kindly for choosing to stand on the side of truth,” she said. “Trust history. Trust that, in the long run of time, you will never regret speaking up.”

Philpott said people are looking for leaders with principles, and the benefits outweigh the costs.

“If you know you are on the side of truth, it’s always the right thing to do,” she said. “Don’t be afraid... You’ll survive the aftermath and it’s beneficial to others … You can be a new kind of leader.”

Jane Philpott discusses how having courage inspires others