Blog photo - leadership lessons unlearned

There’s no denying that great leaders are passionate about what they do. They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve while inspiring and mentoring the people they lead.

Recently, I’ve begun thinking differently about conventional teachings about passionate, visionary leadership. Leading a not-for-profit organization whose mission I care about requires much more than passion. I truly understand that the uncertainty of donations and subventions can disrupt the best laid plans and vision of the future. Even though I have experience in business and as a volunteer board member in the non-profit sector, I have been learning so much more from many varied sources about the non-profit world.

  • Purpose, not passion.

Passion is emotion. Standing on its own, it is vulnerable and fickle in the face of challenges. Knowing why you do what you do will support your persistent efforts so you never give up during difficult times. The solid foundation on which passion is based, is purpose. Purpose first, passion second. Not the other way around. Ryan Holiday in his book Ego is the Enemy, aptly explains passion, purpose and realism –

What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you would say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective.*

  • Keep the vision statement simple.

Vision statements are supposed to tell us what our organization strives to become. It’s the desired future state that leaders and their people work toward. In my experience, vision statements are either too long for employees to understand or so short that they are meaningless. That’s why you’ll get a different answer from employees when they are asked to expain the vision of their organization.

In a world where competitive and political forces disrupt the best laid plans, we can’t rely on a rigidly defined vision statement to guide planning for the desired future state. Do go ahead and set aspirational goals but be flexible enough to change course and consider alternative ways to achieve them.

Employees are more engaged when leaders consistently explain the reasons behind the vision and what working towards the vision means in daily work. More importantly, finding ways to support employees to do even better, paves the way to make the vision a reality.

  • Let your people teach you.

While leaders are mandated to ensure financial sustainability and operational efficiency, they won’t always have the in-depth technical knowledge of the organization’s operations that impact performance. Employees at every level are an important source of information and learning for leaders. They can provide valuable insights on the reasons why the organization is not able to grow, fully satisfy client needs or operate efficiently.

Teaching moments for senior leaders aren’t rare. Those moments are apparent when leaders realize that they don’t know everything and are humble enough to listen, learn and accept advice from the people they lead. Applying the knowledge gained enables leaders to make informed decisions to create meaningful changes that positively impact the year-end scorecard.

See the BIG picture. Focus on what’s important.


*Quoted from Ego is the Enemy page 49 by Ryan Holiday


3 Things to Bear in Mind in 2019


As we start 2019, many of us will set goals and make resolutions in the hope that our lives will be better.   I wish everyone the joy and satisfaction that comes from the fulfillment of personal and professional goals.

As you set your goals and make resolutions for the New Year, I would like to suggest a few points to bear in mind –

  • Some goals may have been achieved, but not in the expected form.

Sometimes the trappings of success can become a distraction, causing us to pursue status symbols as proof that goals have been achieved. You may not have the coveted job title or corner office, but you may have already fulfilled the mandate in your current role. If this is true for you, it may be the right time to move forward, to set new goals to take you to the next level of effort that will challenge you to be your best self.

  • It’s good to set goals, but even better to leave them open-ended. 

It is necessary to set measurable goals to track progress, but be prepared to adjust goals to take advantage of new and better opportunities. Sometimes goals can be limiting your true ability to go further. Paying attention to your situation as it unfolds can provide valuable information. Perhaps a layoff that disrupts a career goal may just be the push you need to step outside your comfort zone and launch your own business.

  •  Align your goals with your values.

Avoid the trap of striving for a goal that leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Very often, the sacrifices and compromises that are made to achieve goals undermine our values. For example, striving for success in an organization that doesn’t respect the value you place on your down time isn’t worth the effort.

I truly hope that you will have fun and enjoy the journey through 2019. Have a great year!


Nous serons tous des proches aidants et de plus, nous aurons besoin d’un proche aidant.

John Isaacs and Camille Isaacs Morell

Les proches aidants sont le pilier invisible et caché du système de santé et fournissent plus de 80% des soins nécessaires aux personnes souffrant de «conditions de longue durée».

2,3 millions des proches aidants sont employés et doivent concilier les exigences concurrentes du travail et des soins.

Les proches aidants ont besoin d’aide aussi.

J’ai été témoin de première main les effets dévastateurs de la démence sur mon père et de l’impact des soins prodigués sur ma mère. Même si mon père était un bon patient, il avait besoin des soins 24 heures sur 24, 7 jours sur 7. À un moment donné, ma mère a dû être hospitalisée. C’est à ce moment-là qu’elle a compris qu’en tant que proche aidante, elle ne pouvait pas tout faire.

Le proche aidant ne devrait pas avoir besoin de se sentir obligé d’être un héros, même s’ils le sont en réalité. Leur rôle dans la société est à la fois indispensable et inestimable.

Le nombre de proches aidants au Canada a augmenté de plus de 5 millions, passant de 2,85 millions en 1997 à plus de 8 millions en 2012. En 2018, on peut s’attendre à ce que ce nombre ait considérablement augmenté.

À un moment donné, nous serons tous des proches aidants et de plus, nous aurons besoin d’un proche aidant.

Si vous connaissez quelqu’un qui prend soin d’une personne atteinte de démence, ou d’une condition de longue durée, soyez sensible, tendez la main et soyez gentil.

La Semaine nationale des proches aidants est du 4 au 10 novembre 2018.

En savoir plus sur les Activités, et Ressources

Références –

At some point, all of us will be caregivers and will be in need of a caregiver.

John Isaacs and Camille Isaacs Morell

Care givers are the invisible backbone of our health care system and provide over 80 percent of the care needed by individuals with ‘long-term conditions’.

2.3 million care givers are employed and must balance the competing demands of work and caregiving.

Caregivers also need to be cared for.

I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of dementia on my father and the impact of care giving on my mother.  Even though my father was a model patient, it was still a full-time job taking care of him.  He needed care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  At one point, my mother had to be hospitalized.  That was when she realized that as the caregiver, she couldn’t do it alone.

The caregiver shouldn’t need to feel that she or he has to be a hero, even though caregivers are heroes.  Their role in society is both indispensable and invaluable.

The number of Canadian caregivers has increased by over 5 million, from 2.85 million in 1997 to over 8 million in 2012.  In 2018, we can expect that this number has grown significantly.

At some point, all of us will be caregivers and will be in need of a caregiver.

If you know someone who is taking care of someone with dementia, please be sensitive, reach out and be kind.

November 4 – 10 is National Caregivers’ Week.

Find out more about Activities  and Resources

All statistics are from A Canadian Carer Strategy, published by Carers Canada 2013 


Millennials: Your diaper days are not over

The truth about the dementia boom and the possible impact on your career



My baby boomer husband laughed when he reminded his sons that he used to change their diapers.  He jokingly pointed out that he needed to be extra nice to them because roles could be reversed in a few years.  This came up in a conversation about his retirement years.  Amidst the laughter and the talk about the anticipated blissful empty nest retirement years, a hard truth emerged.

  • Baby boomers will create another boom: in less than 15 years, Alzheimer Canada predicts that 934,000 Canadians will be living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. That’s a 66% increase in less than a generation.

Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia.  Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities, requiring them to have consistent supervised care. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.

Millennials and their children are going to be the caregivers of tomorrow.

The impact of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias engulfs whole families and communities.

Parking parents with dementia in nursing homes isn’t going to be the first option in an already overburdened health care system with limited capacity.  Increased capacity in seniors’ residences requires time and increased tax dollars.

In the meantime, family caregivers will continue to provide more than 19.2 million hours of informal unpaid caregiver time conservatively valued at $1.2 billion of unpaid care. On top of that, caregivers themselves will incur their own health costs as a result of the impact of the care giving burden.

What impact will this have on millennials who are currently building their careers?

  • Tough choices and negotiation

Faced with caring for ailing parents and raising young children, millennials and mid-career professionals will have to make some tough choices.  Women often end up being primary caregivers.  They should not assume that their employers won’t accommodate their needs.  Putting career advancement on hold for a few years and declining interesting but demanding opportunities are valid options.  However, this may not be possible for everyone.   Financial constraints and family commitments may require some employees to stay in the workforce.

Being clear with employers about your needs is a worthwhile course to take.  Asking for a flexible work schedule, adjusted compensation in exchange for caregiver benefits and offering to make up time taken during work hours are some areas which you should consider for negotiation.

For example, Michelle Obama’s negotiating statement could be adjusted to reflect the need to afford time and care for an aging parent affected by dementia.

I told my boss, “This is what I have: two small kids. My husband is running for the U.S. Senate. I will not work part time. I need flexibility. I need a good salary. I need to be able to afford babysitting. And if you can do all that, and you’re willing to be flexible with me because I will get the job done, I can work hard on a flexible schedule.” I was very clear. And he said yes to everything. 

– Michelle Obama

How should employers respond to the imminent upsurge in the number of caregivers in the workforce?

  • Sensitivity in the workplace

It is important for employers to realise that there is much at stake when the needs of their caregiver employees are not addressed.  Reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and disability, the loss of highly skilled employees, and increased conflicts among employees are a few adverse consequences.

Some ways in which employers can support employees and optimise the talent of their caregiver employees  include –

  • Extending employee benefits programs to include employee assistance programs with counselling and information resources to support employees who are caregivers, for their own children and aging parents;
  • Policies to help employees reduce stress – e.g. protocols that set boundaries for the transmission and response to emails after work hours,
  • Training for managers to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and burnout and how to support employees experiencing difficulties handling work and caregiving responsibilities; and
  • Worksite training to support employees better balance their time at work and personal responsibilities.


Further reading

A good reference resource for employers and employees is a study on balancing childcare and eldercare by Linda Duxbury PhD and Christopher Higgins PhD.

More information on the current state of Dementia in Canada, consult the recent report of the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Your First 90 Days. Be slow. Be mindful. Be humble.

Montrealers have done an about-face. Only six out of ten of them approve of the mayor they voted for just over 100 days before. Tax hikes in her new budget have put Mayor Valérie Plante’s credibility on the line. It will be a long, slow journey to regain lost ground.

The loss of credibility or the failure to gain it within the first 90 days has to be the worst nightmare of any new leader.

I can count on more than one hand, the times I’ve transitioned to a new role. Without fail, the first 90 days has always been set as the checkpoint for key deliverables. In the past, I’ve always met the critical deadline. But now, there is a big difference.

Less than a year ago, I made a career change. I accepted a senior leadership position in a non-profit organization that wants to get to the next level of growth and financial stability. Here’s the catch: there are two sets of first 90 days for me. The first was when I joined and the second will be in a year from now when I am expected to take over full leadership of the organization.

There is a lot of good advice and wise counsel on how to get through those critical 90 days. “Create a learning agenda.” “Define your transition plan.”  “Set up a timeline and stick to it.” “Everything is time sensitive and action oriented.”

While I agree with most of this advice, I have questioned the potentially negative effects that the race against time may have on those on whom the new leader has to rely to get the work done.

Is professional credibility a badge of honour that is to be earned at the expense of others?

I took a look back at the most challenging first 90 days, and found some useful insights.

A few years ago when I was appointed to my first senior management role, I was mandated to implement a major part of a new back-office system in a business that was new to me. Feeling overwhelmed by the large volume of information and the tight deadline, I remember deciding to be more of an observer than a leader in one of my team meetings. The body language and the negative tone of the conversation among team members revealed critical information. I understood that there was an underlying fear of job losses, fatigue with the constant change and feelings of incompetence because people felt excluded from critical project communications.

I quickly realised that for the 90-day mandate to be successfully delivered, there were other issues that needed to be resolved. I explained to the senior vice-president to whom I reported that a training session on the new system, a seat on the planning committee and a regular project updates were important priorities for my team. He agreed to all of this as I convinced him that working on these important priorities first would enhance the quality of the implementation of the new system. My team members were motivated and felt equipped to confidently work towards delivering the system changes, which were delivered within 90 days.

My takeaways

  • A guiding principle for choosing quick wins is to determine key priorities and then to decide which ones are urgent and which ones are important. Urgent priorities are deadline-driven. Important priorities may impact the delivery of the urgent priorities.

If the money, information and people can’t be mobilized in the first 90 days, then negotiate a new date. If it seems that the expected outcome of the quick win is not possible, or has to be modified in some way, then carefully plan how to communicate to everyone who will be involved and affected by the change.

  • Credibility and respect are earned primarily through effective communication. Respecting the concerns and perspectives of colleagues is as important as respecting deadlines. Telling people what needs to be done without letting them understand why, is a recipe for disaster.

In my view, being mindful and being humble are critical elements of effective communication which greatly contribute to the respect and credibility that a new leader must earn in the first 90 days.

Being mindful of your own feelings and carefully noting the reactions of others in meetings and in direct conversations can provide insights into issues and underlying problems that need to be resolved.

Even though new leaders are hired for their expertise and are expected to make changes, it is important for them to be humble. The most valuable sources of information may be junior employees, or those who may be transitioned out or redeployed as a result of restructuring that may be required.

Being humble also involves seeing things from the perspective of other employees, particularly those most directly impacted by changes that have to be made. The fear of change is disruptive and upsetting.

And here’s the reality check – a few years from now, you or the person who hired you could be faced with change coming from a new leader who is tackling the challenges of the first 90 days.

For sure, the first 90 days are critical. The most important quick win is to gain credibility by earning the respect of your colleagues. Carefully choose your priorities and work collaboratively with others to deliver in a way that everyone wins.


See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.


Lessons Learned from my Mother’s Bad Behaviour


Conventional wisdom tells us that children learn from the good example of their parents.  But something went haywire when my mother misbehaved in the office of the Prime Minister.  She defied the leadership of the Jamaica Civil Service Association by raising a topic that was not on the agenda in a meeting with the Prime Minister.  In less than 10 minutes, my mother secured an important policy change that gave women in management positions in the public service the same benefits as their male colleagues.

It was 1976, the first year of the United Nations’ Decade for Women.  The Government of Jamaica was committed to implementing gender equity policies.  Ironically, only male public service managers with over 10 years’ service could benefit from the payment of 50% of family vacation travel costs.  There was no justification for this discriminatory benefit.

The male-dominated executive of the association struck down every attempt my mother made to have the assisted vacation benefit extended to women.  These men also refused to have the elimination of gender-based discrimination listed among the Jamaica Civil Service Association’s priorities for change.  When the courtesy call visit to the Prime Minister was being planned, my mother was told that it was not the proper forum in which to raise “these controversial topics.”

Not one to burn bras or launch a public campaign against men, my mother chose to use her position of leadership to influence and create change by ‘properly’ misbehaving.  This meant taking the risk of crossing the line of political correctness in the highest office of political power. 

Three things I learned

  1. Don’t ask for forgiveness

Political correctness is the biggest hurdle to progress.  Being disruptive doesn’t always have to take the form of raucous demonstrations in the streets. My mother’s way of fighting for the cause was to secure a seat at the table, by getting elected and getting involved.   Going off-topic in the board room is a very valid and powerful tactic to militate for change.  My mother chose to break the rules of protocol.  She made no apology for doing so.  I learned from her, to never ask permission or apologize for doing the right thing.

  1. Know who holds the power

There is strength in numbers, that’s why enlisting the support of influencers is important.  However, in order to win, you always need to know who holds the power to make change happen.

The Executive Committee’s mandate was to make representations to leaders in government on behalf of public service employees.  My mother was not discouraged by the unwillingness of the male-dominated executive to advocate for gender equality.  She knew that it was the political directorate that held the power to make changes in policy.  Her ultimate goal was to get the Prime Minister’s attention and incite him to take action.

  1. What’s in it for them matters too

My mother presented the issue of employee benefits as a blind spot in the government’s policy of gender equality that could no longer be overlooked.  The Prime Minister understood from her intervention that changing the rules was the right thing to do, particularly at a time when the issue of women’s rights was high on the public agenda.  Removing gender-based discrimination in the public service would reinforce his commitment to women’s rights and earn for his government, greater credibility both locally and internationally.

The BIG picture

All of this happened over 40 years ago.  Although assisted payment of vacation travel is no longer a benefit in the public service, my mother’s commitment to the cause of gender equality continues to be part of her legacy.  She didn’t just take personal pride in fulfilling her professional ambition or sit on her hard-earned status of being among the first women in public service management.  She saw the big picture and decided to fight for a better and just world, so that many other women and men would have equal access to opportunities to achieve their ambitions and enjoy the benefits of their service.

The most valuable lesson I learned from my mother is that women should never be reticent about pursuing their ambitions or shy away from dissenting voices.  Aspiring to positions of leadership is one of the best ways to fight for a cause and create meaningful change.   Effective leadership requires the courage to take risks, even if it means you may have to ‘properly’ misbehave.   The outcome may surprise you.

See the BIG picture.  Focus on what’s important.