A Strategic Race

Did you become as addicted to watching the Olympics as I did?

Two things stood out to me as I marvelled at the athletes’ accomplishments; I trust their relevance extends far beyond Athletics to those of us involved in less competitive or visible pursuits:

  1. Athletes were clear on their goal. There was a moment when the first runner across the finish line was featured on the screen, just as an enormous “Woot!” could be heard behind her. It was one of her competitors, celebrating enthusiastically. That runner barely made it onto the television coverage, but she was rejoicing over a Personal Best with far more gusto than the gold medallist. She knew what she was going after.

Continue reading “A Strategic Race”

Brave Benchmarks

You know how it is when you are looking to buy a car, and you find yourself noticing that same model of vehicle on the road everywhere you look?

That’s what’s happening for me on the theme of courageous leadership. We discussed it at Wiser by Choice, and the topics of risk and bravery have emerged in virtually every session I’ve facilitated since, across a wide range of organizations and settings.

Bravery is a relative term. What is considered “courageous” depends heavily on the person and the context. But it also depends on the benchmark. That is, what is your starting point for measuring courage, and how gutsy is your goal from there? Continue reading “Brave Benchmarks”

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Sandra Austin

Sandra Austin is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for The Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario Canada.

The Strategic Initiatives portfolio includesdistinct, high-priority and high-profile portfolios that are constantly changing, often addressing messy problems with uncertain outcomes. The key for Sandra is to approach this work with curiosity, but not simply curiosity for its own sake. She works hard at understanding the issues and considering possibilities without being too committed to a solution, while being anchored by a strategic plan and pursuing a “coalition of the willing.” She brings curiosity to those who resist change, recognizing their value in widening the lens on an issue. Sandra says, “We need to be comfortable with things being uncertain and moving into untried things, asking ‘What if…we did it this way?’”

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi

Dr. Dorothy Nyambi is the President and CEO at Mennonite Economic Development Associates.

From a background as a Black female medical doctor in Cameroon, Dorothy is now working on a North-South shift in a development subsector characterized by explicit and implicit racism, white ‘saviourism,’ and sexism. “People say they are curious, but they also don’t know how to give up power to do so.” Dorothy brings a sense of genuine curiosity to these challenges and to leading her team. She likens them to an Olympic team, where everyone has their strengths in service of the same goal, and her role is to help them work together to do so. “I really believe in working with people to unpack their own minds—that people have the solutions to their own problems.”

Jennifer Hutton

Jennifer Hutton is the CEO at Women's Crisis Services of Waterloo Region.

Whether in seasons where staff and leaders are exhausted from the complex needs of their work or in instances where new and exciting possibilities are envisioned and made a reality, Jennifer leads her team with imagination as a core value.  Jennifer says, “Time is well spent in conversation. Sometimes a pivotal conversation can send you down an important path forward.” This value also means letting her team know it’s okay to take risks and even make mistakes. Many of those risks have paid off, too, with innovative and effective awareness campaigns, discovering ways to eliminate job stressors for staff, and pivoting to new ways of delivering services to their clients in times of crisis.

Julia Grady

Julia Grady is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of 10C, as well as a working encaustic artist and community finance innovator. 

“People talk strategy, but they don’t realize that imagination, passion and creativity are actually the underlying ideas and principles in the top companies in the world,” says Julia whose work as a placemaker is rooted in her identity as an artist. Her organization’s imaginative vision always addresses the question: what do changemakers need? The answers to that question have been varied and are constantly evolving, and are often found in the design constraints of a problem itself. She activates conversation between partners, including funders, who work and imagine collaboratively. The result is social impact work that earns revenue and makes communities better.

The Counselling Collaborative of Waterloo Region

The Counselling Collaborative of Waterloo Region is a group of six not-for-profit community counselling agencies working in an integrated way to serve their community. 

While the agencies worked together for years, in 2018 they began working more collaboratively, developing a strategic plan and securing funding as a group. They use a “no wrong door” approach and a centralized intake to help the community connect more easily. Along the way, the leadership team addressed power differentials and built credibility so today their biweekly meetings are characterized by vulnerability and mutual support, with each member considering the group a vital resource and a place to discuss practical concerns. The agencies have found a way to be better together, with greater access to resources and influence.

Heather Froome and Dr. Sidney Kennedy

Heather Froome is the Director of Operations of the Homewood Research Institute, where Dr. Sidney Kennedy is the Executive Director.

As affordable housing has become increasingly scarce, Eden says it’s vital to be clear about her organization’s mission and values as they discover new ways of achieving them in the face of market constraints. It’s easy to drift from mission, especially when appealing opportunities come with significant revenue, but Eden is committed to strategic planning as a guide: “You need to deeply understand your organization’s mission and stay true to it. These give purpose and clarity. We also consider the return on investment and whether an opportunity is in our wheelhouse. You have to be okay in being narrow in what you do.” As a leader, she also seeks those who share the vision, saying, “You can’t be strategic alone.” 

Eden Grodzinski

Eden Grodzinski is the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Halton-Mississauga-Dufferin.

As affordable housing has become increasingly scarce, Eden says it’s vital to be clear about her organization’s mission and values as they discover new ways of achieving them in the face of market constraints. It’s easy to drift from mission, especially when appealing opportunities come with significant revenue, but Eden is committed to strategic planning as a guide: “You need to deeply understand your organization’s mission and stay true to it. These give purpose and clarity. We also consider the return on investment and whether an opportunity is in our wheelhouse. You have to be okay in being narrow in what you do.” As a leader, she also seeks those who share the vision, saying, “You can’t be strategic alone.” 

Devon Page

Devon Page is a lawyer and the outgoing Executive Director of Ecojustice.

Protecting the planet is a daunting task requiring those doing so to be highly strategic and mission-aligned. When Devon considers organizational effectiveness over the last few years, he asks, “Why aren’t we thinking about the ways we are better and stronger than we were before?” Thinking strategically for him is simply a question of operationalizing vision, although he acknowledges translating vision into action is not always straightforward. A big challenge within strategy is innovation, where an organization is directed by its mission and also called to respond to new challenges and pursue audacious goals. Devon also points to clear impact—rather than funder appetite—as the bottom line for strategy, and what makes an organization stand out. 

Catherine Wassmansdorf

Catherine Wassmansdorf is the Education Program Manager at The Riverwood Conservancy.

Pivoting work in experiential outdoor education during the pandemic was a lesson in adaptability for Catherine, who adjusted her personal practices, relied on the support and confidence of her organization’s leadership and colleagues, and leaned on their shared mission. She discovered new ways of delivering dynamic and effective programs digitally—including unexpectedly popular online Turtle Time—some of which allowed new participants to join in the fun. She also learned about the limits of adaptability, when constraints did not allow programs to translate well to online environments. “We now have a new capacity,” Catherine says. “We have a sense that we have forged multiple pathways that will help us if and when we have to adapt again.”

Jay Reid and Hayley Kellett

Jay Reid and Hayley Kellett are co-founders of the improv-based corporate training organization The Making-Box.

From roots in theatre, Hayley and Jay use improv principles and skills to help their clients experience change as energizing rather than depleting. The principle of letting go equips teams for uncertainty, while the skill of noticing distinguishes between faux adaptability and factors needed for real change. “’Yes-and’ helps us work together in polarized situations,” says Hayley while Jay says, “There are deeper outcomes in the notion of practicing playfulness together,” pointing to studies demonstrating the practical value of humour in creating psychological safety for teams. The Making-Box itself draws on these principles and over the last few years has itself been a case study in adaptability as it shifted its model and service delivery methods.

Terry Cooke and Annette Aquin

Terry Cooke is the President and CEO, and Annette Aquin is Executive Vice President Finance and Operations of the Hamilton Community Foundation

Rather than likeability being a goal, Annette says it’s an outcome of the work they do—and how they do it. Because community foundations engage in potentially divisive issues, Terry and Annette say decisions must be firmly rooted in research and their organization’s values. Relationships past, present and future drive their work as they acknowledge their debt to those before them. They work hard at building trust, inclusivity, and true collaboration with their community and look to a solid future by hiring well, mentoring, responding to emerging opportunities, and, as Terry says, “creating space for the next person to do what is best.”

John Neufeld 

John Neufeld is the Executive Director of the House of Friendship. 

Building strong rapport is important to John because of his personal story as an immigrant. “I just didn’t fit in. That’s why I’m passionate about House of Friendship—because we make sure everyone belongs.” Investing in relationships and culture, connecting at a human level and tapping into the strengths of his team are key elements of likeability. But John recognizes that rather than seeking to be liked, leaders need to harness courage and passion to make tough decisions, work hard and deliver on their promises. Likeability is a proxy for that kind of integrity. He says, “One of the best pieces of leadership advice I was ever given was to look for ways to add value to other people’s lives.”

Jim Moss and Dave Whiteside

Jim Moss and Dave Whiteside are longtime colleagues, first at Plasticity Labs and now at YMCA of Three Rivers's YMCA WorkWell where Jim is the Leader of Community Development and Dave is the Director of Insights. 

YMCA WorkWell has a mandate to build healthier, thriving organizations and their work offers relevant, evidence-based, recent Canadian data on how organizations can help their people find the right stretch. In their work, Jim and Dave engage in practical and fresh thinking on depletion, burnout, managing your own and your employees' energy. "An elastic needs to be engaged to be useful," says Jim while Dave adds that the last few years have been "a natural experiment that's allowed us to know where we could stretch and where it's not optimal." 

Emma Rogers 

Emma Rogers is the CEO of the Children's Foundation of Guelph and Wellington and the co-founder of the community philanthropy charity Guelph Gives. 

In a social good sector devoted to making every dollar have impact and where everyone is working harder than ever, Emma has a new appreciation of the currency of energy. "It's the most valuable thing I can give someone, and vice versa." Her own energy is admirable and is fueled by her passion for innovation and by the stories of impact from her work, but she leads her team with more than inspiring stories. Instead, Emma implements innovative practices and knows that enabling team members to show up as their best selves is an excellent investment in accomplishing their mission.