Picture a room that towers over Ottawa with panoramic views of Parliament Hill (as seen between thick drapes that reach down to a plush carpet flooring) with many round tables set with flowers and elegant yogurt cups – not to forget the hot cups of coffee and pots of tea waiting to be drank – and waiters with breakfast streaming through the door . . . In this setting, the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) Breakfast was held last Tuesday at the Rideau Club dining room, a group originally established with the support of Sir John A. Macdonald and George Etienne Cartier, and which has since hosted scores of bright Canadian minds. Certainly this is the perfect place to meet with Member of Parliament Peggy Nash and discuss what it takes today (here in the 21st century) to be a great leader.
As the talk begins, Peggy Nash takes the podium and warmly greets the room. She has numerous achievements under her belt that certainly make her a woman to admire including having run for leadership of the NDP, serving as Opposition finance critic, sitting as Vice Chair of the Standing Committee on Finance, being a founding member of Equal Voice (a group that advocates for more women in Parliament), and winning several awards including the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award.
Peggy most certainly knows about leadership.
“If you want people to follow you, then you need to have a vision of where you want to go,” she begins as the room puts down their forks, knives, tea and coffees and instead pulls out their iphones, tablets and blackberries as the #WXN tweeting takes off. “Leaders have to inspire, they have to have a vision.”
She asks us: “Where does your dream come from?” before showing us where hers began. Peggy’s dreams trace back generations in her family. Her grandparents arrived in Canada just in time for the great depression; they did what they needed to do to survive, from cleaning homes to killing rabbits with sling shots and selling them door to door. Peggy’s own parents were the first in her family to finish high school. They held hopes that their daughter might complete a secretarial degree, but Peggy was shooting higher. Languages were her passion, she pushed to attend university with her peers. As she progressed further in her learning and her career, she took with her the lessons of her parents and grandparents; pressed upon her was a “sense of basic fairness and cooperation.” She had witnessed what is possible for people when neighbours work together, build fences for one another, give time to their community. “We are stronger as a group than we are individually,” says Peggy. “My vision has been just that, that committed people change the world.”
But, she stresses, a good leader cannot just have a vision. “You need to have a concrete plan that rings true to people,” And then, to add to ‘vision’ and ‘planning’, Peggy gives the third key ingredient to create momentum: the need for urgency. “Vision is the why. Urgency is the why now?” she tells us. (As everyone in the Rideau Club stops to write this down, because it’s a brilliant line, don’t you think?)
Having a vision; constructing a plan; and creating a deadline to achieve that idea (i.e. urgency) . . . that’s Peggy Nash’s recipe for what it takes to be a leader. And yet, she’s not done. For Peggy, ‘New Leadership’ means being open to the ideas of others. They are the machine that mixes and bakes the cake (if we continue with the ‘recipe’ analogy). Peggy advices that “having a team of trusted, solid, creative people is the best thing a leader can do.” She urges the room (a group filled with women executives, leaders and entrepreneurs – so really, a fitting crowd to enact these ideas) to “find creative people, people who are talented, and want to make a difference in the world.” The best thing a leader can do, according to Peggy, is not be threatened by other talent.
While the new leader is open to the talent of others, leadership itself “can be collaborative but it’s never a team sport [. . .] ultimately a leader needs to make a decision and stand beside that decision.” For Peggy, “how you get to those decisions is the key part.”
Quick recap, Peggy’s key points to being a leader in the 21st century:
- Have a vision
- Know your plan (and the problems)
- Create urgency
- Involve talented and passionate people
- Be the decision maker, stay in charge.
Do Peggy’s points ring true to your own experiences? Share your thoughts on leadership in the comments section.
Till next time,
Psst. Why was I at the WXN event? Sister Leadership! Check it out below:
Camille Boivin is founder of Sister Leadership, bringing her knowledge of resilience, perseverance, and changing perception to others. Camille is currently accepting applications for the Women’s Executive Network Senior Executives Wisdom Peer Mentoring program. Applications to this exciting and knowledge-sharing program are available here.