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Leadership in the 21st Century


ARB attends the “Leadership Lessons from Undercover Boss Canada” conference

By: Liana Crocco, Managing Editor

Image Courtesy of www.vonhealthandhome.ca

Image Courtesy of www.vonhealthandhome.ca

Today’s leaders are operating in the midst of a rapidly evolving business landscape that no longer elevates the leader to automatic hero status or places them at the top of the corporate food chain. This is according to leaders of Canada’s largest and most recognizable corporations, who gathered before a packed audience to eloquently deliver the insights they have gleaned from participating on the hit show Undercover Boss Canada.

“Leadership Lessons from Undercover Boss Canada” was an intensive day of leadership and change management training that blended enlightening presentations from half a dozen undercover bosses with current research on the subjects by the Conference Board of Canada, The Niagara Institute, and Mercer.

Though the leaders hail from diverse backgrounds and are at the helm of corporations ranging from the third largest transit system in North America to the nation’s largest specialty coffee retailer, they had similar advice about what it means to be an effective leader in the 21st century.

In their own words, each leader explained how going undercover and interacting with employees at the front lines of their corporation was a transformative experience – one that taught them more valuable lessons about leadership than the majority of their past years in the business world.

The conference got off to a running start with Donna Burnett Vachon of the Conference Board of Canada and Ross Roxburgh of the Niagara Institute, who explained that the increasing sophistication of technology is allowing business conversations to go global. Business leaders must be comfortable relinquishing the control they may have enjoyed in decades past.

The pair emphasized that this century is beginning to be defined by “eco leadership”, an arrangement in which every member of an organization is connected and equally valued. For this reason, today’s leader must take special care to engage employees and shift the focus of their business from expansion to training and development.

This sentiment was echoed by several undercover bosses who took to the conference microphone, beginning with Brandi Halls, the director of brand communications for LUSH North America. Brandi encouraged leaders to take chances on people and emphasized that one would be amazed at the result of instilling employees with confidence and trust. She commented that a critical aspect of developing leaders is identifying shining stars on the front line and that leaders should make a point of instilling potential successful employees with the desire and drive to develop within the organization.

“Without good people, we have nothing,” said Jane Riddell, COO of Goodlife Fitness Centres, Inc. Like Brandi, Jane emphasized the importance of setting employees up to be successful and starting them off on the right foot.

She strongly encourages today’s leaders to put the right people in the right roles and spend meaningful one on one time with employees, listening with an open mind and heart and creating a corporate atmosphere in which employees feel comfortable contributing honest feedback. Goodlife Fitness creates a culture of feedback by using ratemyemployers.ca, hosting frequent Town Hall meetings, and conducing Membership and Associate Engagement Surveys.

Another fan of creating a corporate culture of feedback was Andrew Clark, executive chairman of the board at Clark Builders. He advised leaders to ask employees for their input because more often than not, employees want their voice to be heard. Andrew keenly understands the importance of fostering a sense of belonging within a corporation by building personal and enduring connections between employees.

By this point in the conference, obvious common threads were beginning to emerge: motivating and engaging employees is crucial to navigating the business landscape and developing tomorrow’s leaders.

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