What Makes a Leader?

This year, the Business Summit – Everything Counts! was celebrated by the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with our local partners Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade, Clarington Board of Trade, and the Greater Oshawa Chamber of Commerce. With the Business Summit, this year we also launched our free Business EXPO, that spot lighted amazing local businesses and their services. Together, the event sought to celebrate and unpack what it means to be a leader in business.

Between the delicious breakfast, frequent snack breaks, a delicious lunch, and all the networking, we got to hear from amazing individuals on what leadership means and looks like to them. I’ll admit, I did not expect all the laughs at a business event, but it turns out that the journey of becoming a captivating leader, can be unexpected and gives you great sense of humor! Not to mention, great leaders are powerful story tellers, experts at sharing a vision, and bringing people together. Good leadership allows us to go beyond what’s comfortable and dream big.

Leadership is more than management and decision making, as Faithlyn Hemmings (VP and Lead Counsel for GM Canada) shared. It’s about guiding, challenging, empowering, and teaching those you lead to be leaders themselves. A leader mindset appreciates that to accomplish big and meaningful goals, it’s better to go together. So, as leaders, “when you learn, teach”, as Faithlyn highlighted. Most notably, our speakers highlight that “Leader” is not a personality type or a tag that you either have or you don’t, in fact it’s a verb, a role that you can hone and strengthen regardless of who you are or what you are working on.

Of course, leadership also comes with its challenges. As a leader, setting boundaries, managing stress, finding work-life balance, and staying connected with one’s community can be difficult. Our expert panel for the day, comprising of Moderator Ken Regular (UPS Store), Karim Mamdani, (CEO, Ontario Shores), Amy Simpson (CEO, MicroAge), Marianne Pelletier (Director of Human Resources, Paramount Pallet), and Sheryl Wedderburn (CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association, Durham) led a meaningful discussion on the role and humanity of a leader.

As our panel and of experts stressed, a leader cannot give endlessly without self-care and self-love. Often the pressure and expectation you take on in leadership are unhealthy and detrimental to you and your goals. As our panel highlighted, we also need to kind to ourselves, “it’s time to end the myth of the complete leader”, being kind to yourself and practicing self-care, are essential to be a valuable and long-term leader. It allows them to lead better, taking their team and projects to greater success, and dream bigger than imaginable.

Great leadership leads to successful organizational design and change management, regardless of the size of the organization, and these processes create a strong foundation for business success. As Scott Bryant (EVP HR Home Hardware) highlighted, Home Hardware’s unique owner operated structure connects the leaders and decision makers with Home Hardware owners and operators across the country, ensuring that the uniqueness of each store and community was balanced against widespread systems changes in the company. When leaders understand the core of their business or organization, they lead changes and innovation with more confidence. And as Kasia Izdebska (Senior Manager, Enterprise Innovation, OPG) noted, creativity and innovation are essential for leaders, who dream big and guide their teams towards huge accomplishments never previously imagined.

To hone into these leadership values, Rob Campbell (National Director, Aboriginal Services, MNP), with his disarming humour empowered us to lead with courage, authenticity, and humility. Rob started out working in the hydro damns in northern Canada, and at each interval was courageous enough to take on challenges and roles he had never experienced before. His career is a list of courageous acts, and saying yes to new and unexpected opportunities; all the while he has become an invaluable leader championing Aboriginal voices and communities throughout Canada. “I don’t think I have an accomplishment” he noted, “We have tons of them”.

My takeaway? Courage, to be vulnerable and innovative, takes risks and being a great leader is being an honest and empathetic human first and foremost. It’s giving yourself and the people around you the space and kindness to succeed and accomplish monumental tasks. It’s acknowledging that we are flawed and that we are capable of amazing things.  Ultimately, this year’s summit made the act of leadership feel less intimidating and more rewarding.

We are grateful to our sponsors, MicroAge WatchGuard, Ellabates.com, Trent University Durham, CTS, Invest Durham, Durham College, Mason Bennett Johncox Lawyers, Livewire Media, McDougall Insurance, BDC, Ritchie Shortt &Tully LLP, and TD Bank Group; as without them these events and meaningful discussions would not be possible.

We can all learn from great leaders and hone our own skills, and wonderfully, we can do it while being uniquely and authentically ourselves.

– Preeti Sangwan, Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Whitby Chamber of Commerce