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It’s Up to Us to Decide: Is a Future of Leadership that is human a Moment or a Movement?

Thank you Joy Johnson, President of Simon Fraser University and Andrew Gemino, Dean pro tem, Beedie School of Business for inviting me to be part of the award winning SFU Beedie Talks Alumni speaker series. And thank you Omar Sachedina, CTV News National Affairs Correspondent for being a terrific moderator.  You kept me on my toes.  The topic was “The Future of Leadership is at an Inflection Point: Is this a Moment or Movement?” (  – video).  I was so heartened by the audience engagement – in the chat, the thought-provoking questions and messages I received. This compelled me to continue the conversation about human-centered leadership: Leaders who are empathetic, compassionate, vulnerable, and authentic; support mental health and well-being, take action to build diversity and inclusion,  and lead with a purpose that includes all stakeholders.

The tipping point. While Covid certainly propelled us into the future, for the first time in recent history, we’re collectively living through the same experience. Broken systems and antiquated leadership styles have been illuminated and amplified across the globe; it feels unlikely that the toothpaste will go back into the tube.

The hardship of Covid has presented us with an opportunity for “plastic hour,” to quote the philosopher Gershom Scholem. We stand at a crossroads where we can effectively “unstick” what has been “stuck” for too long, thereby granting leaders a powerful opportunity for meaningful, lasting change.

Leadership is a behaviour and action, not a title Empathy helps us navigate our differences as people. Leading with our head and heart was a theme that resonated. It’s clear there is hunger for authentic leadership that not only acknowledges our humanity, but emphasizes it.  I was so glad that Omar briefly touched on vulnerability:  “What you said about vulnerability is so important, that goes for everybody, including men, as a key tool to become a better leader, whichever workplace we may be in.” I heard from a few men who were inspired by hearing a prominent journalist – and one in the public eye, no less – speak about this. It is clear role models matter. We need discourse.  In fact, my mid-20’s son and I often talk about the pressure on men to bottle up their feelings and fears.

Leaders poised to move the needle forward listen to learn and prioritize creating a psychologically safe working environment. They understand the ripple effect of how mental health impacts people, organizations and society. Good leaders create space for new ideas and demonstrate their humanity by showing up to work as who they really are vs. a corporate persona. They set the tone by demonstrating courage, inclusivity, and collaboration – necessary traits as we navigate this brave new world.  Human-centric leadership may feel scary to some because it feels counter intuitive.

Much of our culture has promoted the idea that the only way to guarantee productivity is by being in an office from 9-5 during the week—and now we know that’s simply not true. Let’s move from measures of “time in office” to outputs and outcomes.

If not now, then when; if not you, then who?   We know that diversity is good business. Can we really afford not to unlock the full potential of people, of all people? Then why is inclusion moving at such a slow pace? We simply can’t wait another generation for business and public sector leadership and boardrooms to mirror the face of Canada. Doing the same things as we did before, won’t change the outcomes. If we are serious about making change, we need ambitious targets, meaningful accountabilities and transparent disclosure. We’ve seen some progress with women on boards and I believe this was helped along by the foregoing as well as committed CEO’s. If companies are truly committed, there needs to be a link to compensation. I understand representation results can be difficult to achieve in one-year cycles. How about aligning these goals to a combination of short-and long-term incentives. Profit and purpose are not mutually exclusive, and leaders have a responsibility to hold themselves accountable to all stakeholders, not just shareholders.

At the session, I called upon influential leaders, particularly white men to use their social capital to advocate for change. That means having uncomfortable conversations about accelerating diversity with their peers. It means sponsoring different people  – advocating for high potential talent who are indigenous, black and people of colour – when they’re not in the room. Without heightened personal commitment, visible leadership and new actions, progress will be glacial.

We’re not going to squander this moment. We’re going to turn it into a movement so big, it can’t be ignored.  (Download to your device to view or listen like a podcast on the go)