7 Vancouver Island Leaders Offer Lessons in 21st Century Leadership

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Douglas asks Island leaders, from expert consultants to startup owners, to answer some key questions about leadership in the age of volatility.

Leading has never been easy, but it’s an ever-greater challenge in a time of rapidly shifting products, services and consumer preferences. Employee needs have also shifted: people want more meaning in their work, more flexibility in their schedules, more reasons behind their actions. Couple that with an ultra-competitive marketplace where company loyalty is as evanescent as brand loyalty, and you’ve got a recipe for a whole lot of sleepless nights.

Books like Daniel Goleman’s Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence and Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action point to current themes underscoring leadership in today’s world. These include the importance of keeping one’s eye on the ball — the game, the big picture, the why — and looking after the people on the ground, the ones doing the day-to-day work.


FRANK BOURREE

PARTNER, CHEMISTRY CONSULTING


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
I’d have to say that we care deeply for our people. Our team is like family. We’re a flat organization, not hierarchical. Both Christine [Willow] and I share the same values and I think we provide some calm, caring leadership for our team … We offer “Just Because” days, we have a full benefits and pension program and we pay above-industry salaries. But … our retention rates and climate are really not about that. They’re about trust and mutual respect.

What is the biggest lesson in leadership today?
Christine and I both share the opinion that you need to trust your gut instincts. When it comes to dealing with selecting new staff or working with certain clients, I don’t know if you’ve read the book The No Asshole Rule [by Robert Sutton]. It’s this: don’t be an asshole boss, don’t allow assholes in your workplace and don’t work for an asshole. There’s way more to the book, but [at Chemistry] we choose good energy over bad and the high road over the low road. It’s served us well for 24 years together … We call ourselves Chemistry Consulting for a reason. It’s about the chemistry of people and business.

Your advice to others?
Perseverance. Trust and mutual respect with your team. You need to be human. Somebody asked me, “How do you deal with millennials differently than old-school people?” I don’t. I have the same expectations of everybody. Trust and mutual respect. And trust your gut.


NATASHA RICHARDSON

GM, BRENTWOOD BAY RESORT


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
There’s a difference between being a manager and a leader, and you need that understanding and level of control it takes to manage people [before moving into a leadership role]. A leader has great self-awareness and is passionate about the field they’re working in. Self-awareness is knowing how you take up space … people often miss that. They don’t know how they’re impacting their personal relationships … Where we see people fail as leaders, it’s usually [due to] a lack of self-awareness.

What’s the biggest lesson in leadership today?
Leadership is about being incredibly flexible. As a leader, I’m the one who has to be flexible, not necessarily my staff. If I’m flexible, I can go into all sorts of conversations and situations that might be difficult [and not] get defensive or rigid … I can listen better. Then you can be more intuitive and make better decisions.

Your advice to others?
Ask for honest feedback. You won’t know until you actually ask. Feedback is the best way to [find out] if you’re operating in a way you’re not noticing or paying attention to.


MANDY FARMER

PRESIDENT & CEO OF ACCENT INNS & HOTEL ZED


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
It’s not about my leadership per se, it’s about getting other people to step up and be leaders in their own right. My job is to provide the compelling vision. I provide that big picture: Where are we going? What do we want to achieve? I make sure all my team has the tools to make this happen … and then I get out of the way. It’s not just one person at the top — it’s all of us working together, supporting each other.

What’s the biggest lesson in leadership today?
What’s been fascinating for me is surrounding myself with leaders, because they’re the ones who are amazing and who are going to take this company to the next level. It’s up to me to support them and provide them with the things they need … I don’t have to do it all.

Your advice to others?
Have fun — and don’t take yourself so seriously. It’s really important to be approachable … I know I get so much wisdom when a housekeeper, for instance, grabs me to show me something in a room. That’s where you get so much more. Really, the main thing I do is I thank people for doing an awesome job. [I let them know] I see they’re working hard and that I really appreciate what they do, and ask them, “What can I do to help you?”


TIM CORMODE

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, POWER TO BE


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
You have to be willing to let go. I have a totally different approach to leadership now. I used to be like, “Do this, do that.” But with my executive coach, I really try now to lead by asking questions of clarity, and put the ownership back in the [staff’s] hands: “Hey, how’s it going? What’s going on here?” Can I offer some feedback or advice versus just jumping in and trying to change things? I found that to be super successful. It also keeps me comfortable that I can trust the team is doing stuff, and I can have effective conversations.

What’s the biggest lesson in leadership today?
Looking ahead in the future, social media and technology have a much larger influence on leadership than they did many years ago. It’s one click to information — and it could be false information that you’re going to be dealing with. Be aware and be careful of how you represent yourself. Technology is having such a massive influence in both positive and negative ways.

Your advice to others?
Instilling a culture of gratitude is super important. A place where, consistently over time, staff feel valued, volunteers feel proud of the efforts they make for the organization, the board feels part of something, your funders and stakeholders feel part of something — and they feel like you’re really truly thankful for the work that they do.


PAUL HADFIELD

OWNER, SPINNAKERS GASTRO BREWPUB  & GUESTHOUSES


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
Every organization needs to have a soul. As the leader of an organization, it became apparent it was my job to embody that soul — what Spinnakers was trying to be. What that meant was we needed clarity in terms of who we were and what our place was. And we needed a philosophical base for individuals to say, in effect, “What would we do (given whatever the situation is)?” thereby empowering people to make decisions within a consistent framework that helps us go forward.

What’s the biggest lesson in leadership today?
When we live in an interconnected community like we do on southern Vancouver Island (which is the antithesis of the globalized community), we’re more dependent on each other. We need to foster and take care of those relationships. And we treat people in a more respectful manner, knowing we’re all dependent on each other … [After Spinnakers suffered its fire last year] the insurance claims adjuster and the project manager for the contractor … said that in 25 to 30 years they’d never been involved in [such a fast, responsive project] as helping Spinnakers rebuild. It’s that comment about community — and the fact that we have forever as leaders in the craft-brewing community given forward. We help everybody who walks through our door; we share resources. We do all that, and what we went through was everybody giving back to us at that time… One of the first texts I got [after the fire] was from my banker, saying, “How can I help you?”

Your advice to others?
It’s very much a matter of listening and developing relationships with everybody, and understanding what their needs are … It’s critical that they feel engaged and that their opinions are understood, listened to and valued.


SHELLY BERLIN

PARTNER, BERLINEATON MANAGEMENT CONSULTANTS


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
I believe that leaders are built not born, that leadership is a personal journey and that we all have it in ourselves to be good leaders. Leadership is about how we choose to behave, and in this way leadership is a practice. Leaders are always learning. The great leaders we have worked with have one thing in common — they pursue a greater good that goes well beyond their own needs. 

What’s the biggest lesson in leadership today?
You can’t compartmentalize leadership. How you behave is how you behave. It isn’t a nine-to-five job. Today’s video-streaming, at-your-fingertips technology has made this glaringly obvious. How one leads will change and adjust as culture and generations evolve, but for me, what it takes to be a good leader remains the same: courage, integrity, empathy, collaboration, selflessness and reflection.

Your advice to others?
Spend time on developing your leadership practice. The more time you spend practicing, the more permanent it becomes.


SCOTT PHILLIPS

FOUNDER & CEO, STARFISH MEDICAL


What is your philosophy of good leadership?
It’s not about me telling people what to do. The company does not require me to manage everything. I can delegate and people feel empowered and responsible to make things happen. Leadership is … being clear about values and philosophies so people feel competent to make the right decision …

It’s important for there to be something on the horizon people are aiming at. About five years ago, in 2012, [our leadership group] got together and wrote down a list of about 50 aspirational things we could imagine of ourselves in 2017. What if we were to be the most successful medical-device company in North America, what would have to happen in the next five years? We laughed. We’d have conferences, and we’d have speakers from around North America, iconic figures in medical technology. We wrote it down and said, “We’ll have systems so bombproof that people can navigate through a project and you never have to audit their documentation because it’s automatically handled.” We laughed. “We want to have offices in three cities in North America.” And today, it’s amazing to look back and say, “Wow. We’re pretty much there.”

What’s the biggest lesson in leadership today?
It’s a difficult balance between being bold and confident and also being open at the same time. If you surround yourself with yes people all the time you’ll make terrible blunders. At the same time, you have to be comfortable enough about what you’re saying and inspire others to go down the path with you. That’s a difficult balance to strike.

Your advice to others?
Not to be too full of yourself. It’s really not about you. [In terms of ] the team who’s going to get you there, ultimately, they’re all special people who need a chance to develop and grow like you — and you’re all working together to achieve something. Build that feeling into your company. I’m just the conductor, as it were, but by no means am I the king of anything.