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IHHP recently presented a livecast that I had the privilege of hosting with the storytellers behind “The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women.” The book brings together 70 women who participated in The Judy Project, a program that has trained over 400 women for future leadership positions, to share their stories and advice about values-based leadership, ambition, and making hard choices. To learn more about the book and The Judy Project, watch the full replay of the livecast here.

We are releasing a series of articles to showcase the inspiring real-life stories of the leaders who joined our livecast as panelists and to further explore the leadership traits they talked about and their foundations in the principles of Emotional Intelligence.

Our series continues with a story from Linda MacKay, former SVP of Personal Banking, Distribution, and Strategy at TD Bank, who shares five key lessons she learned throughout her career.

Check out her story below and keep reading to learn how curiosity and emotional intelligence differentiate leaders.

Lessons Learned: A Story About Lifelong Learning by Linda MacKay

“Much of leadership is about believing in yourself and your potential, and even more so the potential of others. For me, it’s about helping colleagues to expand the boundaries of what they believe to be the personal potential.”

linda mackay

I can boil down my leadership lessons learned over a long career into five pieces of advice.

1. Dwell in Possibility…

That’s the title of an Emily Dickinson poem that I love. Most people don’t know the whole poem but many know the title as a quote in and of itself. I think it speaks to the idea that Judy Elder articulated when she gave her speech on declaring your ambition and then going for it.

Much of leadership is about believing in yourself and your potential, and even more so the potential of others. For me, it’s about helping colleagues to expand the boundaries of what they believe to be the personal potential. While careers can start out by balancing your emotional quotient, your curiosity, your intelligence, over time, that intelligence piece isn’t a differentiator, your EQ and your curiosity become the differentiator for most leaders. How you relate to people, how you communicate, how you solve problems and help those on your team to do better and be better than they thought possible. Believing in possibility, along with helping others to see it, and to achieve it. It’s a powerful leadership lesson and attribute. 

2. Be early, be honest when faced with the problem.

When something goes wrong–and it will, often – my mantra has been to: Be Early and Be Honest. Deal with tough issues head-on. And as hard and as awkward as those conversations can be with your boss or your colleagues, it’s a far better way to solve problems than to let them linger and fester and probably become worse. 

Early in my career, when I made a mistake or problem emerged, I’d spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix it. That’s quite a bit of pressure for one person, and often the situation gets worse day by day. Bringing in a colleague or asking a boss early and asking for help, means that you’re going to get to a better solution faster. It also demonstrates your character, your integrity, and your commitment to doing the right thing. It ensures that you’ll have a chance to get help before the situation becomes unsolvable and takes more time and far more resources than it should have in the first place. 

3. Help others succeed.

Good leaders recognize that helping others, speaks to their own leadership. You won’t need to showcase what you’ve done; those around you will quickly make the connection that you have a high performing team or a key contributor to the team. And I’ve found that recognizing people on a daily basis bolsters their success. Whether you give them a handwritten card, a thank you email, or have an encouraging chat in the hallway when we could be in the hallway, or say thanks in front of others in a meeting. 

Recently, we were going into what promises to be a lengthy and difficult meeting. Ahead of time, I got the team member who’d be leading the meeting, a thank you card and gift card. And at the end of the meeting, (assuming it went well, and it did), I gave her the recognition she’d earned and deserved in front of the person heading up the project. Those things that seemingly are little things mean a lot to people. Recognition and gratitude, are too important to be left to an afterthought. 

4. Stay authentic.

I have a philosophy of demonstrating fun and a sense of humour, especially when things are tense. It helps people work better together. As you reach senior levels in an organization, people often feel that they can’t approach you and they’re intimidated, simply by virtue of your position or title. So it’s important to stay true to who you are.

 I also make it a priority to be transparent. Before or after a meeting I have really honest conversations with folks on my team– about what I’m worried about, how I think a meeting might play out. But I get them to share their views too. I encourage people to disagree with me. In fact, I often love to assign someone the role of devil’s advocate in important meetings; I’ll challenge someone to be the dissenter. Because we have to know how something can go very right, or horribly wrong before we execute. 

5. Hire for will, train for skill.

I feel like I should have trademarked this expression. In my business, we exist to help customers. Ultimately, the customer is your paycheque, so it’s important you make sure you have a great team that can deliver the customer experience that they both expect and deserve. To that end, I hire for will and train for skill.

That means I put a lot of importance on hiring people with the right attitude, with passion and alignment with our values. That’s critical. I argue it’s almost impossible to create a great attitude, (or passion or values for that matter), where they don’t naturally exist. People who might not necessarily tick every box in terms of qualifications are often the greatest asset on your teams because they are curious: and they ask terrific questions. The questions that get the rest of us thinking, and perhaps challenging what we take for granted. It’s easier for someone to grow into skills and competencies than it is in attitude and will. 

Curiosity and Authenticity

Linda’s story illustrates the central themes of honesty, authenticity, non-judgement and curiosity.

A core skill of Emotional Intelligence (EI) is being able to expand your mindset beyond binary thinking in order to explore options and possibilities. Given how interconnected and dynamic the world we live in is nowadays, it becomes especially important to be open and willing to new ways of thinking.

Linda shared some very specific lessons learned and underlined the important connection between emotional intelligence and curiosity being key differentiators for leaders in the workplace. Professional experience has taught us that those who are resistant to growing their curiosity, learning, and growth are more likely to not be strong and effective leaders. From a humble, honest, authentic place, we need to broaden our scope by connecting, getting curious and asking questions so we can guide our people and organizations to reach their full potential.

At IHHP, we hope our livecasts, our articles and resources, and our learning programs provide people with the opportunity to start the journey of building the skills of Emotional Intelligence, the skills that help us all work better together.

Continue the learning.

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Join us for a follow-up event with the panel in which we will continue the conversation and dive deeper into the personal stories and themes shared.

About the Speaker

Linda MacKay is a Senior Executive in Financial Services whose passion is noble purpose delivered through leading, empowering, and challenging talented colleagues & teams to think BIG and deliver on the ‘art of the possible’. With over 25 years of experience at TD Bank, Linda most recently Head of Branch Banking’s largest transformation strategy (Future Ready) including development, approvals, funding, delivery, execution, communication and change management. She is also a Jump Math board member, Canadian Women’s Foundation supporter, a financial literacy advocate, and diversity & inclusion ally.

About the Host

As a lifelong student of human behavior, a psychotherapist / family therapist turned organizational psychologist, Dr. Cranla Warren believes that a strong foundation of Emotional Intelligence (EI) builds great leaders, fosters employee engagement and creates great places to work. She has a wealth of knowledge and professional experience in the areas of collaboration, values-based leadership, coaching, and strategic business execution. Dr. Warren holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Psychology and a Professional Post-Graduate Certificate in Leadership. She currently holds the position of Vice President of Leadership Development at the Institute for Health and Human Potential. ​Subscribe to Cranla’s People Matters newsletter!