A letter to my daughter on what makes a great leader

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to effective leadership, and there's no single roadmap to career success. Every leader carves their own path, building on their unique experiences and influences to develop and grow. In this four-part series, I'm proud to share the inspiring stories of four of my female colleagues who are featured in the recently published book, The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women: Leadership Lessons from The Judy Project.

Below is the first story in the series on leadership by Jane Russell, who served as Executive Vice President and Head of U.S. Customer Experience at TD.

– Ellen Patterson, Group Head, General Counsel and Chair of Women In Leadership, TD Bank Group


Dear Kiera,

You’re still only nine years-old. But when I think about your future, there are so many things that I wish for you: a life of health and happiness, fun and laughter, strength and support from great friends, colleagues, and family, and a career that inspires and motivates you.

I’m sure your personality, determination, sense of humour, innate curiosity, and clever nature will serve you well in whatever you do. But I’d like to offer a little guid­ance. While I’m not someone who dwells on the past, hindsight can be the best kind of wisdom. I’ve learned many lessons over my career — lessons I hope will help you when you embark on your own journey. And though you may not want to hear it now, I hope this advice will come in handy in a few years.

Be decisive, but not inflexible

This is the most important leadership lesson I can share. The ability to make a decision quickly and confidently is a trait that I appreciate in other leaders, and it has helped me succeed and grow as a manager and a leader. I’ve had to make many decisions—sometimes difficult or unpopular ones—but I don’t hesitate to voice my opinion and decide. To do that, I use my judgment and rely on my profes­sional experience to guide me so that I don’t waver or hesitate.

But you have to know the difference between acting with conviction and just being stubborn. If additional information becomes available, if the landscape, environ­ment, or facts change, be flexible and willing to revisit your decision—whether you made it a month ago or even a year ago. And if you refuse to take other factors into consideration, if you’re rigid and unwilling to yield, that’s being obstinate, not purposeful.

Take chances

Relocating for new jobs is something I’ve done a few times. I started out working in Toronto, relocated to western Canada, where you were born, and returned to Toronto. A couple of years ago, when I was the head of our mortgage business in Canada, I was asked to take on a new role in New Jersey. The easier choice would have been to stay put: our lives, routines, friends, and extended family were in the Toronto area. And I knew I didn’t want to travel back and forth, working in the U.S. during the week and going home for weekends. But I was up for the challenge. So we pulled up roots again and moved here, ready for another adventure.

The new role was challenging in many ways. For one thing, the competition in this industry in the United States is extraordinary. Plus, I’ve had to learn how we do business in the U.S., how to best engage with customers, and how to handle the regulatory environment. On top of it all, most of my new colleagues didn’t know me, and I didn’t know them.

However, my desire to learn quickly proved to be valuable, and it paid off. In 2017 and 2018 I was honoured by American Banker as one of the “Women to Watch” in the industry (and in 2017, was even featured with eight other women on the cover!)

The move has been an adventure for all of us. I’m so glad you quickly made friends in your new school and have learned to play field hockey and lacrosse. We’ve travelled and explored here together, and we’ve seen and experienced so many things. It’s been remarkable and rewarding for your dad and me to see you enjoying everything.

If I hadn’t pushed out of my comfort zone and made it a point to seek out other opportunities, we might all have missed out on so many amazing things. So be open, be willing to get a little uncomfortable, and you too will find inspiration.

Never stop learning

TD is the only company I’ve ever worked for; it’s been 30 years. These days, staying with one company is becoming more and more unusual. Most people have different jobs at different companies, and I suspect you will, too. But I’ve stayed here for so long because I’ve continued to learn, at every stage and in every role. I’ve moved into different parts of the organiza­tion, each time having a better opportunity—and I don’t mean only professionally.

So I say, keep learning. Challenge yourself, ask ques­tions, be curious, and always live in the moment. When you have knowledge, you’re ready for any opportunity that comes your way. My career has had its fair share of twists and turns, so don’t simply focus on getting from point A to point B, but on the experiences in between. If you aren’t learning and enjoying the ride, reconsider your path.

I hope you take many chances in life and find your path. I hope you always look around, stay energized and inspired, and keep your sense of excitement. I hope you dream big and think outside the box, but still remember to find joy along the way. I know you’ll do amazing things!

Jane Russell retired from TD in June 2019, following an extraordinary career in both Canada and the U.S. During Jane's time with the bank, she was highly regarded as a talented leader with a focus on driving results and building winning teams. Jane's daughter Kiera, the recipient of this letter, is now 10 years-old and was recently declared cancer-free after battling Ewing's Sarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

Learn more about The Judy Project, and its work supporting women who are ascending into executive leadership and C-suite positions.