Review: The Art of Leadership for Women - Toronto 2015


It is so inspiring to spend the day in the presence of over 1,500 women eager to learn and share about what it takes to be a successful women leader in business.  With every seat in the John Labatt Theatre taken, the audience was captivated and delighted with the incredible line-up of speakers The Art of brought to the Toronto event.

I admit I was skeptical when I heard the first speaker, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, was going to share about the “upside” of stress. I truly thought stress was something to be avoided whenever possible. McGonigal is a health psychologist, lecturer at Stanford University, and her latest book is The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It . She confirmed most of our focus has been on the negative impacts of stress.  McGonigal laid out some powerful research and the brain science behind her assertion that stress, can actually improve our productivity and success.  Her tips on how to shift our mindset and engage in stress more productively, were really illuminating. I’m putting her “Tend and Befriend” tip up on a sticky note next to my computer to remind me!

Tara Mohr took the stage next and tackled an issue that seems to be an Achilles heel for women in leadership: the inner critic. As a coach and author of Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message , she has worked with thousands of women who struggle with minimizing their abilities and self-doubt. Mohr distinguished the common characteristics of that small voice that harps at us no matter what you do, which alone helps to break away from the analysis paralysis that the inner critic can create. As you step out into the world into great leadership, you’ll likely have to deal with the inner critic more as it stems from a primal instinct to keep you safe. But by engaging with that inner critic with compassion and getting playful with it – like creating a character for it – we can recognize “it’s just a voice” which doesn’t need to hold us back or keep us second-guessing ourselves.

Next up was Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and her latest book, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives . Her delight and enthusiasm in sharing what habits help people change and sustain better choices was infectious. She made a great point that when you “choose once” and stick with a habit, you avoid getting caught in the perpetual cycle of internal negotiation and re-choosing your habits that can be very draining in the long run. Her matrix of four personality types – Rebel, Obliger, Upholder and Questioner – was very helpful. You need to know yourself when creating habits and each type has a very different way they respond to expectations. Very helpful not just to know for yourself, but also for those you work with and live with too!

Host Ron Tite moderated an Entrepreneur Panel with Jennifer Johnson of PwC, Katy Boshart of TD Bank, and Cheryl Stargratt of Tangerine. While women have made more progress in advancing up the corporate ladder, women are still stuck when it comes to representation at the boardroom table. While it is really important to find mentors and sponsors along the way, ultimately you need to be your own champion.

What struck me most about Suzy Welch’s talk was her humility and humour. Her latest book is 10-10-10: 10 Minutes, 10 Months, 10 Years – A Life-Transforming Idea . As she shared some of the biggest mistakes she’s made over her very successful business career, they were punctuated with stories of her blind spots and humanity. She spoke passionately about finding your “area of destiny” – that sweet spot where what you are really good at and what you really love overlap, and to build your choices from that place.

The final speaker of the day was Leeza Gibbons, author of Take 2: Your Guide to Creating Happy Endings and New Beginnings . She shared her pearls of wisdom gleaned from being an Emmy award-winning journalist through winning Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, and now most recently as a staunch advocate for caregiver’s and supporting families dealing with Alzheimer’s. “Keep it classy” is her motto and it clearly has served her well. Women in leadership need to know what you stand for and run your own race.

Ron Tite masterfully summed up the day’s lesson in his inimitable style and it’s always astonishing how he can weave together key ideas to create a cohesive narrative of the entire day in such a humourous way. Whether sharing ideas and business cards during the networking breaks, snapping photos of the wall where all of the day’s visual maps were hung, or lining up to get a book signed by a speaker, the energy was sizzling. The excitement and engagement of the attendees bodes well for helping women in leadership continue to make great strides in business.

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