Conference Summary: The Art of Leadership - Toronto 2014


In a fast-changing world, the ability of leaders has never been more challenged and never been more needed. The Art of Leadership and its roster of world-class leaders and academics attracted attendees representing leadership from all sectors – corporate, government, non-profit, education and more. We lined the hallways of the Metro Toronto Convention Center well awaiting the official opening of the doors much like rock concert aficionados waiting to hear their favorite band. With my sketch book and pens in hand, I was eager to doodle note the wisdom and tips offered by some incredible examples of vision and leadership in action. 

The day began with Harvard University professor, Linda Hill, sharing about the results of her research on building innovation and how to tap into the collective genius within companies and organizations. She argued that leaders must see themselves as “ideapreneurs” and develop creative agility. She shared a more in-depth look at companies like Pixar who are excelling in their field because they understand that “Innovation is a team sport.”

The second keynote speaker, Robert Sutton from Stanford University, explored the challenges of how to scale up and spread excellence in your organization, without undermining what made you successful in the first place. According to his research, pay close attention if your team grows to more than six members! It seems there is a tipping point where greater attention and new structures are required when teams grow to ensure people can stay connected and be able to “cascade excellence.” Bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better if you aren’t re-tooling your structures and processes as you grow.

After hearing the wisdom of academic research and case studies, Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post offered her personal “case study” of the impacts of stress and burnout on her personally. She shared the tenets of her latest best-selling book, “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well Being, Wisdom and Wonder.”  As leaders we compromise our creative and decision-making abilities if we are sleep-deprived, stress and constantly multi-tasking. She noted that we are diligent about ensuring our cell phones are plugged in, but not ourselves. Ever since hearing that analogy, I am reminded of the important of self-care every time I plug in my iphone!

Host Ron Tite moderated an Executive Panel with Penny Partridge of PWC, Bryan Benjamin of Knightsbridge, and Greg Secord of ADP Canada.  The panel was very generous and thoughtful in sharing their own challenges and success in leading and fostering leadership throughout their companies. Leaders need to bring strong communication skills and empathy into play, particularly when you want your teams to develop change agility or you need to engage a diverse workforce.

It was a great follow-up to the Executive panel’s observations to then hear from keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel Goleman. His seminal work on emotional intelligence shows what a critical and distinctive ingredient it is in successful leadership. There continues to be more brain science showing how mirrored neurons get fired and we start to form a social circuitry with those around us. The mood and outlook of the leader definitely impacts the mood of those around him or her. Dr. Goleman stressed the importance of rapport, awareness and self-management to develop strong competency in emotional intelligence.

The final speaker of the day was Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who won the audience over immediately when he opened by expressing his heartfelt gratitude for Toronto’s and Canada’s response and support to New York City after 9/11. He believes that leadership can be taught and then spelled out his six principles every leader must embrace. He shared a mesmerizing story about how the principle of “Relentless Preparation” served him on that fateful day so he could calmly and effectively marshal a massive response to a horrendous emergency situation of the Twin Towers coming down that no one had truly planned for before.

By delivering an outstanding day of wisdom, stories, case studies and lessons, The Art of Leadership offered attendees practical and thought-provoking ways to foster innovation and creativity, build community and strengthen both personal and professional leadership.

Photo of Bob Sutton courtesy of Mira Budd Photography

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