Many John Molson students and applicants aspire to a career in management; what were some key hurdles you had to overcome to succeed as a leader?
In my career, the notion of leadership has evolved, as well as what it means to be a successful leader. I had the opportunity to work with leadership at all levels of organizations – large and small – beginning with a small start-up whose founders were three friends and a class mate. Although short lived (less than a year), I learned to create my own job description where none existed. This experience allowed me to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
All my subsequent jobs were in large corporations, with defined hierarchies, cultures and systems that required a different skill set from the start-up culture. My entrepreneurial mindset gave me the capacity to be an intra-preneurial change agent within these complex systems, which meant challenging the status-quo when required and expanding my comfort zone. Interestingly, in the typically male-dominated industry of technology and engineering, I have had a number of female leaders. Myself coming from a minority background, this made for a great learning experience for my managers and me. Having the opportunity to interact and work with very diverse cultures and backgrounds has helped to define my leadership style. I have been able to hone my skills for connecting with and harnessing diversity in the workplace to navigate global organizations in ways that leveraged inter-connectedness above egos.
Furthermore, I have had to manage very technical teams with significantly more seniority than I held, as well as geographically dispersed teams from various disciplines, cultures and languages. The key lesson for me has been to strive to know myself better, in order to better know and serve my teams and clients, whatever the circumstances.
No one else can define you but you; that has served me well throughout my career, from Montreal to Shanghai, Tokyo to Perth, and among the various cities where I have worked. I have continuously re-examined myself to more effectively and strategically serve the systems I have worked within. As I progressed on myself as a mindful leader, I also mentored others to be stronger leaders themselves.
Self-care has been crucial to ensuring that I have the needed energy to work long hours in high-stress environments. From hot yoga to strength training, taking care of my body has helped me navigate my professional career with greater mindfulness.
How did the John Molson MBA help you along the way to reaching your career goals?
I started my MBA at a pivotal time in my career; I was starting to interact with senior executives, from department directors to the CIOs of large corporations. The courses and the interactions I had with my classmates forced me to look at the bigger picture of what we try to achieve in organisations, including what role we can play as individuals and groups to support positive outcomes for stakeholders.
One particular MBA course that was an eye opener for me was the Organizational Change and Development course given by Professor Steven Appelbaum. Especially when managing large programs, one realizes how technology alone cannot solve the complex business problems that companies and industries face today. As leaders, we have a key role to play as change enablers or, at least, to have a better understanding of what dimensions actually drive transformation in today’s fast-changing business context. We need to assess what parts of the system are on ‘autopilot’ and need greater consciousness on how to continuously self-correct and improve.
Working with senior executives challenged me to focus on outcomes and be my best self in all circumstances, as well as to recognize the limits in areas over which we have little control. In psychology, ‘intelligence’ includes the ability to benefit from experience, act purposefully, solve problems and adapt to new situations. As a project manager, constantly learning from past outcomes is key to continuous improvement. I have been able to harness emerging intelligence in the systems I worked in to navigate organizational uncertainty and ambiguity more effectively.
Whereas my engineering background – I have a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing from Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal – taught me to be a continuous and inquisitive learner, my MBA taught me that, at the end of the day, you get results through people and their ideas. Your ability to harness these powerful ingredients ultimately will determine your success at work and in life. Your capacity to influence others and raise collective intelligence is more important than being the smartest person in the room.