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MBA Leadership Day shows students how to build resilient leadership

Jul 22, 2021

MBA Leadership Day (l-r) Mona Malone, Jeannine Pereira, and Rashid Wasti

(L-R) Mona Malone, Jeannine Pereira, and Rashid Wasti.

If the true test of a leader comes during crisis, then COVID-19 was a big differentiator.

That’s why this year’s MBA Leadership Day showcased lessons from leading during the pandemic and other tumultuous times.

Hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership, the event included a case class on leadership crucibles and a keynote address from Tracy Edwards, MBE. Edwards told about leading the first all-women yacht crew in the 1989/90 Whitbread Round the World Race and beating the odds by finishing second. She also discussed her recent efforts with The Maiden Factor Foundation to empower women and girls through education and raise awareness of gender inequality.

The students also gained advice from three Ivey alumni: Mona Malone, HBA ’94, Chief Human Resources Officer and Head of People & Culture at BMO Financial Group; Jeannine Pereira, HBA ’95, Director of Talent Development at EY Canada; and Rashid Wasti, EMBA ’03, EVP & Chief Talent Officer at George Weston Limited. During a virtual panel session, the alumni shared how they’ve developed as leaders and influenced change. Here are some highlights.

Be authentic and build your personal brand

Your personal brand isn’t what you tell people about yourself; it’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Pereira encouraged the students to view their brand efforts as a continuum throughout their careers. She discussed the value of taking a purpose course to determine her strengths and how she changed her behaviour to demonstrate them.

“You want your brand to reflect who you really are,” she said. “Think about it throughout your career. Figure out what are the things that matter to you, write them down, try new things, and build your brand over time.”

Malone recommended picking a few words you’d like to describe your brand then asking people to describe you, and addressing any gaps.

“If nobody picked a word that you want, think about how you can show up every day to reinforce that word,” she said. “Really translate the word to the behaviour because it is through our behaviour that people form an impression of us that becomes our brand.”

Wasti stressed the importance of being authentic in constructive ways and finding a supportive environment. He told how his organization holds culture days where employees share their journey to express their authenticity.

“You enjoy your days, you enjoy your environment, and you blossom a lot more if you don’t put pressure on yourself constantly to be something that you’re not,” he said. “Organizations would benefit greatly if they enable the people in them to be authentic.” 

Have a growth mindset

When facing challenges, such as the pandemic, where there is no playbook, leaders need to adopt a growth mindset where they reflect on what they’ve learned and consider how to apply it to this new scenario.

“It means that you're looking at others who have been more successful or who are achieving great things and you're trying to understand, what can I take from that as a lesson?” said Malone. “[It’s also about] recognizing that failure is part of life. We all fail. We all make mistakes. If we're not, we're probably not stretching ourselves enough in terms of our own growth potential.”

Don’t expect perfection, since self-doubt and fear can hold you back. Malone’s advice: surround yourself with mentors who help you to see why you have impact.

Pereira said believing you can learn propels leaders forward during challenging times.

“Believe that there is a next step, not that you can’t do this or you can’t go through this because you’re worried, but rather that you will go forward and learn from it,” she said.

With crisis comes opportunity, and Wasti said he looks for silver linings.

“You always have to be looking to make lemonade out of lemons,” he said. “Look for the opportunities that come out of the challenges that we face.”

Don’t let uncertainty paralyze you. Wasti recommended doing scenario planning to find the common denominator.

“Think about each scenario and ask, what are the five most important things I need to do? You will quickly find that there is a massive overlap … and that becomes your anchor,” he said.

Use your leadership to become an ally and advocate

Wasti said learnings from the pandemic offer leaders an opportunity to respond to systemic barriers and influence change. He shared how his organization hosted sessions last year where employees talked about their personal experiences to raise awareness of biases and barriers.

Pereira stressed the importance of being both an ally and an advocate for equity-deserving individuals.

“Find ways to amplify sponsorship so that you’re not only hiring an individual, but you’re accountable for making sure that individual is successful,” she said. 

Wasti said combining excellence and authenticity will go a long way in breaking down barriers.

“Regardless of what barriers you face, invest in being great at whatever you do and at the same time continue to be yourself and don't change,” he said. “Live your best journey because that is how you will get the last laugh, that is how you will succeed, and you will pave the way for others who come after you.”

Lessons from the pandemic on remaining resilient

Remember, this, too, shall pass

“I kept trying to tell myself there are stages and phases for everything and this too shall pass and we will come out ahead.”

  – Jeannine Pereira

Take time for self-care

“Sometimes when you're in a tornado, which is really what it felt like managing through the pandemic, it's hard to take a moment to reflect, but it's even more critical to be doing that … You do need to realize how you're managing through the marathon.”

  – Mona Malone

Think long term, but also take it day by day

“That combination of keeping the long-term view and then not getting caught up in next week or the next month, but just getting through today is really important.”

  – Rashid Wasti