Women in Leadership Speech – Beverley Hammond
Women in Leadership (WIL) Speech - Luncheon for Young Women
Passwords for Success
This is such a great event and I have really enjoyed hearing the other speakers talk about their “Passwords for Success”.
Thanks to each of you for sharing that wisdom.
As coincidence would have it - and this being Election Day – the story of my early career, which I have been asked to start with here - is actually pretty relevant.
Let me begin by saying I am nowhere near where I had imagined I would be when I graduated from Western Poli Sci, bound and determined to be a constitutional lawyer.
I wrote my LSAT then moved in with a friend in Ottawa hopeful for law school there. Then it all “went to hell in a hand-basket” as the saying goes.
Instead of a career interpreting the law, I ended up on the other side of it – creating the law. Politics.
The things I learned working for cabinet ministers and managing campaigns were life altering. Having said that, I cannot begin to tell you how happy I am to be here today speaking to you and not somewhere trying to “get out the vote”.
That period of my life was quite honestly scary for me– mostly because I was in the big leagues and always worried I wouldn't perform. It was also a bit surreal.
I will refer to one incident as a young political staffer. Where I asked myself “is this really happening to me?”
This is also current given what has been in the news lately.
Peter Mackay and I have something in common…we’ve both flown on the Challenger! Now, I wasn't on my way to a fishing camp though. Nope. I was all by myself flying from Ottawa to the Sheerwater military base in PEI to meet my then boss, the Minister of Tourism.
I was 24 years old. Now being the only passenger on the government jet at 24 is cool. Its also pretty overwhelming.
To make it more so, as I disembarked the Challenger in my new suit from le chateau and carrying my faux leather briefcase, a line-up of 30 service men was there to greet me…standing at attention. And saluting. Me.
Through some miscommunication they thought I was the Minister. I’m not sure who was more embarrassed, me or the Commander when the mistake was discovered.
In politics the old adage “all in a day’s work” really takes on new meaning!
My decade in that business was both an incredible experience and an exhausting life.
Which brings me to the first of my four passwords for success: Balance
We’re all aware because we are always told about the importance of balance in our lives. Women being particularly good ‘plate spinners’ are often reminded we need more balance or that balance is healthy. I’ve been taught to believe that balance is the dream. But I’ve just always found it so darned elusive!
In fact, I found it stressful to be constantly trying to find a balance. To chase something so elusive causes disappointment and anxiety – which is ironic in this circumstance.
I would wonder “what's wrong with me?” “why can’t I figure this out?
So for a while in my life I just gave up trying. I gave up on “balance”. I would never be one of those wonderful, balanced women.
What I’ve since discovered is that it is not so elusive. It is simply misinterpreted.
The reality is that balance is not a “one size fits all” proposition. And if we really look honestly at ourselves, we might see that the balance we are chasing is actually unachievable because of the circumstances in our lives.
I could have balance – I just had to find my own balance built on my own situtation. My way.
Here is my situation list:
- Husband and a house in Waterloo
- 3 step children in 3 universities’ in 3 cities and in 2 separate provinces
- A condo AND a business in Toronto
- 70 + people who count on me for their livelihoods and who I am accountable to
- A mother in a nursing home in Bracebridge
- An elderly father, 3 siblings and their families all equally far away
- I sit on 5 boards and Chair the board of a large national not-for-profit organization
- And my best friends are spread from Halifax to Victoria.
What I’ve learned is that my formula for balance is going to be far different than that of anyone else in this room.
So is yours.
Once I understood this and I forgave myself for underachieving for so long, I felt pretty emancipated.
As I was preparing for this speech I read a great interview with Arlene Dickinson one of the Dragons in that terrific CBC show Dragon’s Den. In discussing her new book and her success she said “If someone feels happy and content working 70% of the time and that makes her a better mom, why not?”
I couldn’t agree more. And if that doesn’t work for another woman that's okay too.
I have MY balanced life. And I am getting pretty good at living it.
But my balance is not yours.
My advice is to make your own “situation list” and figure out what balance can mean for you - not the woman sitting next to you.
In the words of Steve Jobs: “Time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone else’s life”
My second Password is Communication
A lesson I have learned the hard way in my career is that psychic abilities are extraordinarily rare.
I have been so often surprised that people can’t read my mind. How could they not know that is what I wanted? Or what I meant? Or why I reacted that way?
Turns out its hard to read minds.
But it is, I will say, “less hard” – because it isn’t easy - to learn how to communicate so the people around you don’t have to be psychics. And so that you don’t have to be either.
I’ll give you an example.
We did some leadership development work last year and through that I discovered that I am one of these weird types who actually innately believes that anything is possible.
I don’t mean that in the cliché way. What I mean is that in almost every situation, I don’t ask first IF we can or should do something, I always ask HOW we CAN do it.
What I am about to say isn’t a cop-out… I actually can’t help it.
Right or wrong it’s literally hardwired into me.
One of my key stress points as a leader – and therefore a stress point for those trying to deal with me – is that I don’t respond well when people tackle situations the other way around.
I am the captain of “Team CAN DO.” When someone approaches me and tells me something can’t (or shouldn’t) be done, I have a pathological reaction. They’re no longer on “my” team.
But I didn't tell people that, so nobody actually knew that about me. They just knew that it was never pleasant to deliver me the news that we couldn’t make something happen. Even if there were a hundred good reasons why not. I’d challenge them. Overrule them. Get upset about it. It became a pattern. Nobody wanted to deliver what they felt was the bad news.
Now, of course, that is never good because then people just tell you what they think you want to hear.
So my coach gave me some good advice.
Go talk to the people who report to you about this and ask them to avoid starting conversations with the reasons why things CAN’T happen.
Ask them to please start conversations with acknowledgement of the idea and some reasons why it could work – or something positive. And then deliver the bad news. So I did that. I asked people to help me.
I also asked them how they liked to be approached. What their stress points were.
That seemingly simple exercise has changed the way I communicate with my management team and it has had a tangible, positive impact.
Good Communication is as much about the “how” as the “what”.
Continue to learn about yourself and don’t just identify your triggers or your style, let other people know what they are. And find out about theirs.
Help them to communicate with you.
Its far less exhausting than trying to read minds.
My Third Password is Mentorship
Besides my mother – who was, and continues to be an inspiration to me – all of my mentors have been…wait for it… MEN
That could be because I grew up the youngest and only girl in a family of boys.
It could be because my career started in an industry that epitomizes the term “old boys club”. Or it could be because they were the smartest people I had around me when I needed advice and counsel.
Whatever the case may be.
Do I wish I had more female mentors? Yes, absolutely. And I’m going to plug the great mentorship program that WIL offers and encourage you to take advantage of it.
Or seek out your own mentors.
But “don’t leave home without it”.
As your move through career and your life these are the people who will help you reflect and question (yourself or the situation) and grow honestly. They will openly share their own mistakes and successes so you can learn from them, as they have.
One of my mentors has turned out to be my Chairman at Veritas. I will never forget the first piece of advice he gave me.
I was brought into the organization as a young president with a mandate to change the place.
I wanted to take on the world. And I wanted to do it yesterday.
I was ambitious and tenacious and trying to prove myself.
And I tackled everything – from projects to points of view - with an equal velocity and veracity.
About an hour after one particularly long and difficult management meeting where I locked horns about our way forward with one of the incumbent senior managers, the Chairman - who had been in the room for it – called me.
Gracious as always he said “Bev – I know what you’re trying to do and I commend you for it. That is what you’re here for. Change is tough. It can be a war. But to win a war you don’t have to die on every hill”
That was important advice. I often think about that – even if my compliance record isn’t perfect.
It’s advice I pass on.
It means focus on the things that matter most and be okay with giving in or giving up on those things that aren’t integral to what you’re trying to achieve or can wait until another time.
You can lose a battle and still win a war.
The last of my Four Passwords today is: Anchor
Two weeks ago I lost a bracelet and I haven’t recovered from it.
It wasn't a diamond bracelet. In fact, its monetary value was insignificant. It cost me about $30.
But there was a saying engraved on that bracelet – “fall seven times, stand up eight”
And from the day I bought it until the day it disappeared I hadn’t taken it off.
I read that engraving many times - when I had a bad moment or did the wrong thing or didn't win the business or felt inadequate at something.
And I considered what it meant: Its okay to make mistakes or to have failures – as long as you get back up or learn something and move on.
I counted on it as a reminder of that. Nobody else really noticed that I had it, knew what the engraving said or ever referred to it.
But I did. And that’s all that mattered
In sports they call that kind of object or reference point an “anchor” that thing that you think of, look at, hold onto or keep with you to help you in some way as you try to achieve your goals – whether it’s your best time in a race or your first time in the boardroom.
I’ve had other anchors at different phases in my life and career to give me confidence if I was insecure or nervous.
It started in university. I was that roommate who always had to deal with landlord in those “less than positive” situations. And to do that, I always wore my glasses – they were a bit of a shield and I could feel and act more confident with them on.
I’ve encouraged members of my team to wear their glasses if they are nervous about a client meeting or a first presentation.
As a young political staffer I had an anchor that only I knew about that gave me confidence when I was sitting in high level political meetings with old “important” white men, feeling incredibly intimated and like maybe I wasn't supposed to be there.
So find that thing that represents a success, inspires you, reminds you of where you come from, gives you a reference point or something that only you know about. And keep it close. Then when you need it, count on it. It can make a remarkable difference.
Balance; Communication; Mentorship; and Anchor. Those are my four personal passwords for success.
I hope there is something in my experience that you too can draw from. And I encourage you to share your own learning experiences with others in your life.
As women, we all have something to teach each other and something to learn form each other that will make us better.
Today - being here with so many remarkable, interesting women, with such wisdom to share, has been a terrific proof point for that.