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News@Ivey · Laurie Quinlan

Bridging character leadership gaps for lasting impact

Oct 24, 2023

Character Leadership Conference

L-R: Corey Crossan, Ananthi Al Ramiah and Mary Crossan speaking at 7th annual Character Leadership Conference

“Today we are surrounded by a group of pretty special human beings with a lot of hope.” – Canadian singer-songwriter and keynote speaker, Peter Katz

On October 18, close to 100 leaders from the private, public, and non-profit sectors gathered in Toronto for the 7th annual Character Leadership Conference hosted by the Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership. The theme was “Bridging the Gap between Knowing, Doing, and Being.” Through panels, workshops, and guest speakers, industry leaders in the Character Leadership community came together to address the challenges that arise when moving from knowledge to action, and to explore how they can use character-based leadership to make an impact in their personal and professional lives.

From islands to impact

In her opening remarks, Dusya Vera, PhD ’02, Executive Director of Ihnatowycz Leadership, posed important questions for the audience to ponder throughout the day and guide their learning: “As we learn about the importance of character, what do we do after that? How do we become the person we want to be? How do we bring character to our personal leadership, and to our teams and organizations?” The two panels that opened the conference, and the workshops and speakers that followed, sought to answer these questions.

An academic panel exploring global efforts in character leadership featuring Ivey professor Mary Crossan; Ananthi Al Ramiah, Director of Research and Strategic Integration in the Professional Schools at Wake Forest University; and Corey Crossan, Teaching Fellow at the Oxford Character Project at the University of Oxford, shared several paradigm shifts required to bridge from “character islands” or “the flavour of the month” to extracting the strategic value of Character Leadership. They explored how character and competence are inseparable foundations of professional excellence, and stressed the importance of creating intentional systems within our organizations to exercise, develop, and strengthen character order to achieve strategic impact and fulfill organizational purpose.

In the following practitioner panel, Dusya Vera hosted a conversation with Jon Hantho, MBA ’89, President & CEO of CBI Health Group; Natacha Prudent, Executive Director, Travellers Strategic Horizontal Initiatives at the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA); and Rashid Wasti, EMBA ’03, EVP & Chief Talent Officer at the Weston Group of Companies, where they shared their own character journeys along with the obstacles and resistance they encountered along the way. Prudent explained how strengthening her own character gave her the courage to go beyond her professional role to become a champion for EDI across CBSA and build bridges between racialized and Indigenous individuals, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and other marginalized groups. Wasti described how he has used the language and assessments of character in internal workshops to create good dialogue and introspection with leadership groups within the company. For Hantho, while recognizing that performance and “winning” is important, “how you win matters and leader character creates those lines that you cannot cross, rather than winning at all costs.” He also discussed how leaning into humanity, empathy, and transcendence allows us to better understand why certain decisions are made in his leadership team.

Workshops throughout the day featured topics of EDI, organizational culture, music, mindfulness, improvisation, strategy, and how immersive technology can aid in tackling workplace issues that require strength of character. Participants came away with new tools, resources, and insights into how exercising character through intentional development can bridge the gap between knowledge and action and have a lasting impact. In addition to Ihnatowycz Leadership faculty, workshop facilitators included Jennifer Bitz, Director General, Canada Border Service Agency and Jeannine Pereira, HBA '95, Director, Talent Development, EY Canada.

Character activation through music

Singer-songwriter and JUNO Award nominee Peter Katz closed the event by uniting the conference themes with songs and storytelling. Speaking about how music can help us embody character, Katz shared many examples of how his work has unexpectedly inspired those around him. “We don’t always know the impact we have on the world,” he reminded those in attendance.

In closing his address, Katz reflected that in our mortal lives, we don’t have all the time in the world, and we need to call upon our drive, courage, transcendence, and humility in order to reflect upon who we are in the present, envision who we can become in the future, and find our unique purpose in the middle of our busy lives. He commented on the relationships that were formed and the bridges that were built throughout the conference, and his excitement around the energy and passion he felt in the room. “We’re at the place of bringing what we’ve learned about leader character into the world.”