Denise Amyot on Taking Risks & Collaboration in Leadership

We’ve been talking about modern-day fairy godmothers lately on Sister Leadership, and so it is my honour to share  with you a conversation we had with Denise Amyot, President and CEO of the Canadian Science and Technology Museums Corporation (CSTMC), “whose mandate is to foster scientific and technological literacy throughout the country,” regarding what it takes to be a great leader, mentor and example of innovation. In this post, you will learn her six core values for leadership with impact, and hear of examples when these values had practical applications. If you are serious about success, you cannot miss this post.

Ms. Denise Amyot

Ms. Amyot has a strong arsenal of values packed in her leading tool box; through this clear focus on how to support her team, ground breaking trends and projects are being created during her time as President and CEO of the CSTMC. We had an opportunity to talk with Ms. Amyot about leading a team, being a mentor, collaboration and taking risks.

When asking Ms. Amyot to explain how she creates a dynamic working environment within the CSTMC, she is ready with her response. Essentially, there are six core values that have created an organization recently voted as top employer in the National Capital Region. (An accomplishment that Ms. Amyot sites as one of her proudest moments of contribution in her current role.)

1. The first is, as Ms. Amyot explains it, “giving the gift of trust.” She encourages her staff to try new ideas, and  shows trust in their abilities.

2. This ties perfectly into her second core value as a leader: Empowerment. “To ensure that we can harness the skills of everyone, their experience, their knowledge, all levels of the organization have to rally behind empowerent as a whole.” In empowering the individual, Ms. Amyot empowers her organization as a whole.

3. But of course, in exchange for a trusting and empowered environment, Ms. Amyot cites a very important element which we’ll return to at the end of this post: Engagement. “It is rewarding to be empowered but you also need to ensure that your team is engaged. And to make it known that you count on them. So often I say to my staff, if you see something that is missing it’s up to you to do something about it. That’s very important.”

4. Her fourth core value: Reflection and the BIG GOAL. “Of course, that is to ensure that we take stock, and that we measure what we have to done to ensure that we also focus on the big goal.”  Is your empowered, engaged team focusing their efforts toward the main objective?

It’s a challenge to bring ideas together when working with many people and professionals, crossing sectors as Ms. Amyot’s team has done. And yet, as she has encouraged these core values, two other factors become imperative . . . because leadership is not just about fostering a productive team, it’s about bringing innovation to the world, and finding results that have impact.  Which is why Ms. Amyot’s final two core values are worth particular attention:

5. Taking Risks.

And 6. Collaboration.

“In our organization, you know there’s not a given path. It’s not written what you should do. The only thing that is written is that we have to care for the collection, we have to preserve the collection, we have to ensure that it is representative of the innovation in Canada, but it is important to look at “are there new ways to do things?”  Are there other people that could do it with us and it would be better?” says Ms. Amyot.

For instance, the CSTMC has embraced social media*. Anyone familiar with federal entities knows that there is a general hesitation in the government to release the creation of social media content to their employees. However, Ms. Amyot has nevertheless been leading the charge within her organization.

“We are seen as a leader in the world of museums with social media, because we are very active but we also empower our staff. We’ve trained our staff, we’ve even trained our board of directors last week on social media on both Pinterest and Twitter, how to use it and so on. And we know we take risks when we do that. We don’t control what they produce – they produce it, they show it, and then other people in the staff see it and they say, “Wow, we should emulate this.””

When asked if giving up the control on communication is too big a risk, she responds in kind, saying, “there’s more risk in not doing social media than there are risks in using social media.  And so we are very, very active. It starts at the top, so I’m a big tweeter. My address on twitter is@DAmyot, and I feel it’s very important to show that I am doing it.  And even if you’re at work . . . I don’t expect that they will use social media when they go back home, so they have access to all the social media at all times at work.”

That’s a slightly mind-blowing concept considering that even five years ago, a page like Facebook would have been banned while at work.

As for collaboration, through empowering her staff to engage and take risks, a new model of idea-sharing has been created. “One of my staff once came to see me, and they said, “I have this idea to invite people from across the country to look at artefacts and to learn how to read the artifacts.”  It was very innovative because it’s a multidisciplinary team that meets for five days, and what they do, they learned how to read and how to interpret objects, and then quickly discovered – they come from all kinds of different organizations, all kinds of backgrounds, they are artists, they are scientists, there are people who are designers, there are some that are poets, there are some that are more engineers – then they realized that they don’t see objects the same way. . . it is the most fascinating week and also sharing about those objects.

But guess what? We didn’t know if this would work. We didn’t have a clue, and now the model is replicated in a number of places around the world, and my team is making presentation in different places.  It’s fascinating because objects can be just objects, but it’s a way also to go and get the stories of those objects.”

This new method of multi-disciplinary collaboration manifested itself in Let’s Talk Energy**, the CSTMC’s latest initiative on Energy. Again, she empowered her team to think different, engaging them with a challenge while working on a plan to improve energy literacy: “I said to my team, we need to think differently. We need to think more than our walls.”

“We created a national advisory committee, made up of people from across the country to east to west to north, we did a group that represents the different forces of energy. We wanted to ensure the groups represented the private sectors, government, academic, and NGO. We created this group of about 24-25 people, and we asked them to be our ears and eyes, to tell us what was happening in their field. We asked them for feedback for doing what we had in mind.”

And so collaboration became the keyword in unifying the stories about energy. They are the working example of collaboration, and making that knowledge available internationally through the use of twitter accounts like @enertweets (#TalkEnergy),and website

“What we do with that network, we share our resources, we share our knowledge, we share whatever materials we have . . . because we thought it was about energy so we should learn how to recycle things. “

(Along with great leadership skills, Ms. Amyot’s also got great wit!)

Ms. Amyot and her team are taking risks, and in doing so becoming innovators in the field of education, collaboration, social media and beyond.  Her next challenge? STEM Girls.

In our discussion on mentoring and inspiring change for women, Ms. Amyot raised an interesting point on the issue of opportunity, and being aware of possibilities.

“Myself, I went in science. I went in biology, but nobody ever said the word engineering to me. I never even thought about it. Even when I arrived at university, all our courses were together and I was watching the guys – because most of them were guys, and I never thought it was okay for me too. And I’m sure I would have done well. It’s a bit of a frustration nowadays, because I think that parents and teachers are part of the solution, to ensure that they open the possibilities – they open the doors.”

Which brings us to STEM Girls  – a showcase of what is possible for women who go into science. It may not be a direct mentoring program, but by revealing possibilities bigger ideas can start to form. From featuring a timeline of important women scientists (including notable events such as when women were given the vote, “Because this may not be related to science and technology, but it is related to science and technology, because it is about women gaining their fundamental rights” as Ms. Amyot points out), to having hands-on elements to show what engineering, research, programming and developing may mean if girls choose these paths as careers.

To me, it’s crystal clear that Ms. Amyot is so very much like the fairy godmothers we’ve been discussing. She brings knowledge and empowerment to her team. But then, when asked what storybook character she identified with most, Ms. Amyot responded with,

“Alice au pays des merveilles, (Alice in Wonderland).  I would be this little girl, Alice, who was very curious and wanted to go in new places and take risks and was not afraid of what would happen, what she would discover. It is the adventure, it is the risk taking, it’s the challenge to the status quo also.”

But as we wrap up the interview, Ms. Amyot makes a point about engagement that remains in my mind and shows that roles for women in business, mentors, little girls – whatever starting point you prefer, all really do evolve with experience and time.

The mantra of this women creating change and innovation?

““Be the change you want to see in the world.” (Ghandi) Because as I said earlier, it’s up to each of us to make the difference. . . In my own career, I’ve always been a mentor. I love to have mentees – I don’t only have one mentee. In fact, I have quite a few mentees, and it’s very hard for me to say no to a mentee. And the rare times I’ve said no, I’ve said, “okay I’ll find you someone.” Because I really think we learn from others. Other people help us to see what we don’t see.

For me, what is important is really to empower others around me to do it too.  You know, at one point it’s all about you doing something for the world.  But as you get older, you want others to be empowered because you realize that if all of us – if we do something, then we’ll do much more. And some people, they need to be nurtured, for some it’s natural  – they have it in their DNA to take a scientific analogy, but others, sometimes it’s just a lack of confidence or not having role models before, or just not knowing it’s okay to try things.

I say to my team all the time, if you see something that is wrong, just correct it. If you see something that is needed, do it – do something about it.  Don’t just let it pass, and whine about it or say it’s bothering you. Just fix it!”

Sister Leadership would very much like to thank Ms. Amoyt for her time and wisdom shared during our conversation and in this post. It is such a privilege to learn from these women who have made their place and give that success to others as well, and it is our joy to bring it to you, our readers. If you enjoyed this post, we very much encourage you to share it within your social media networks. (Click through to find sharing links at bottom of post)

Till next time!


*For a listing of the CSTMC social media links, click here.

** Annual reports for Let’s Talk Energy are available here et ici.

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