WXN Breakfast Series Recap: Prioritizing Relationships in Response to Diversity as our Leadership Environment Faces Change

Last week in Ottawa, the Women’s Executive Network wrapped up its 2012 breakfast series with the help of Maryantonett Flumian, President of the Institute On Governance, and Lili-Ann Foster, President of Renaud Foster Management Consultants – giving us the insider’s scoop on the changing environment of leadership. Amongst several themes discussed, two aspects became very clear: the world of business has become global and in doing so demands diversity, and within this diversity to bring people together, there is a new emphasis within all areas of leadership to foster and build relationships.

Lili-Ann Foster, President of Renaud Foster Management Consultants

“Culture, relationships, trust, respect and ethics have moved in big time into leadership in the recent past,” says Ms. Foster to the audience of women. “You see it from both sides at Renaud Foster, the kinds of things we look for now that we didn’t necessarily look for in the past – in the past people would say: ‘okay you have the experience, let’s look at this job’, nowadays what we hear from our clients over and over and over again is the fit, is the people skills, is the need for emotional intelligence, which of course was not known as a skill in the past, the empathy that the individual has, whether or not they’re able to work collaboratively, whether they can listen. One of the greatest skills that people keep seeking in leaders is the ability for that person to bring consensus amongst despairing stakeholders, whether it’s on a board, whether it’s in an organization, whether it’s in their team.”

Ms. Flumian’s Institute of Governance has been conducting some ground breaking research over the past two and a half years around the concept of public governance exchange. Interestingly, they’ve found that “nothing is of more importance than the intangible relationships. How they work, how you can work to build them for a lifetime because you don’t know where you’re going to be tomorrow, and you don’t know where the person across the table from you is going to be tomorrow, and how building that trust and respect goes a long way in actually making things work. It is actually the glue that bonds us in the governance perspective, and therefore is the glue that bonds us in a leadership perspective, because leadership after all comes in all sizes and shapes.”

And so keeping in mind that businesses benefit from diversity, and diversity is more and more being insisted upon in leadership positions, Ms. Flumian recommends leaders push for diversity of thought. “Different views, ages, orientation, cultural backgrounds, not only is it a richer environment, they stop us from having the blinkers and stop us from making huge mistakes in the public sector and end up costing all sorts of things. . . . Expose yourself to the real Canada, understand what’s out there, understand how you should serve in a different fashion, and the best way of doing that is to have a proxy of what Canada actually looks like around the dinner tables.”

Maryantonett Flumian, President of the Institute On Governance

With this incorporation of diversity, it only makes sense that the public sector is now looking for leaders who can respond to the differences with awareness and emotional intelligence.

Watching the exchange between these two women, one gets a sense of many challenges, prejudices and glass ceilings conquered across their careers. How does a person (regardless of whether they chose to be a leader, a follower, or a lone-wolf) develop such a successful career?

Ms. Foster leaves us with a final suggestion as we sit in the Rideau Club, a room truly steeped in its history with the impressions of great leaders, and now with great women conquering the world as we sit here for our Breakfast Series, by saying that we must recognize and “work at your strengths, and not work so hard at your weaknesses . . . you want to excel in your three or four best strengths and work at those, because you’re likely to be able to reach the 90 to 95th percentile in those. Work at your weaknesses, you’ll be at it for years and you’re lucky if you get the 50 percentile.”

This is practical advice that remains in my mind as the conversation on leadership wraps up. We all have different strengths because of our diversity, and for many leaders-in-development their sensitivity, emotional intelligence, and a genuine appreciation of others is finally finding a moment to shine.

Many thanks to Lili-Ann Foster and Maryantonett Flumian, as well as the Women’s Executive Network for holding this fascinating conversation and revealing to us just how much the environment of leadership has started to change.

If you don’t want to miss the fantastic networking and conversation between women executives, be sure you’re at the next WXN event – here’s a page to check out their calendar and consider membership.

Till next time,


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.

Read more from Camille as she aspires to  help women explode their success. For more posts and experiences, join Camille at her Sister Leadership page, connect on Twitter, and follow on Facebook.


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