Sonia Côté, Assistant Commissioner, HRB and CHRO at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), was awarded Ihnatowycz Leadership’s 2023 Leader Character Practitioner Award for her trailblazing efforts in the field of Character Leadership. This annual award is given to an outstanding individual who embodies character within their leadership, strives to embed leader character into their organization’s practices and policies, and is an ambassador for Character Leadership both within and outside of their organization.
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After being presented the award by Ihnatowycz Leadership’s Executive Director, Dusya Vera, PhD ’02, Côté sat down for a fireside chat with Ivey professor Mary Crossan. She shared with the audience her insights and the many lessons learned from how she was able to successfully introduce character leadership into the CRA, create a department dedicated to embedding it within the CRA’s practices and policies, and then help to spread Character Leadership to other federal public service agencies.
Côté discussed how her leader character journey started when she discovered Ivey’s Leader Character Framework in 2016, and recognized the impact it could have on individuals and the whole agency. However, she first counselled, “You need to activate your own character if you are going to be successful.”
She went on to speak about how she overcame questions and concerns once the CRA started incorporating character into their recruitment and selection processes, how her team was required to work outside of their comfort zone, and the importance of relationship-building both inside and outside of her organization. Côté, and other members of her team, are frequently called upon to distribute their learnings from the CRA and provide a roadmap for other agencies to embed character – which is something they share freely. “For a lack of a better word, it is because of our love of the public service. Sharing our developments and learnings with other agencies and departments means that it might help people more broadly. We are all in this together, and it helps us activate possibilities.”
The process of embedding leader character into an organization of the CRA’s magnitude and size is unfathomable for many. The most frequent question Côté is asked by others is where to even start. But, she shared that “you only need to start with a small, dedicated team of individuals committed to creating change and then you start to get traction. For us, we activated transcendence when we engaged with others within the organization… and a lot of collective courage to keep going.”