Five leadership lessons from an executive with a career spanning over two decades in banking

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to effective leadership, and there's no single roadmap to career success. Every woman, every leader, carves her own path, building on her 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 fourth story in the series on leadership by Linda MacKay, Senior Vice President in Canadian Personal Banking.

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


Linda MacKay
Senior Vice President, Canadian Personal Banking

I can boil down the leadership lessons I've learned over the last 25 years into five pieces of advice:

Dwell in possibility

That’s the title of an Emily Dickinson poem I love. Most people don’t know the whole poem, but many know the title as a quote in and of itself. I think it speaks to the idea Judy Elder articulated when she gave her speech on declaring your ambition and then going for it.

Much of leadership is about believing in yourself and your potential and, even more so, the potential of others. For me, it’s about helping colleagues expand the boundaries of what they believe to be their personal potential. While careers can start out by balancing your emotional quotient (EQ), your curiosity, and your intelligence, over time the intelligence piece isn’t the differentiator. EQ and curiosity become the differentiators for leaders — how you relate to people; how you communicate, solve problems, and help those on your team be better and do better than they thought possible. Believing in possibility, along with helping others to see and achieve it, is a powerful leadership lesson and attribute.

Be early, and honest when faced with problems

When something goes wrong—and it will, often—my mantra is to be early and be honest. Deal with tough issues head on. As hard and as awkward as those conversations can be with your boss or colleagues, it’s far better to solve problems quickly than let them linger and possibly become worse.

READ: How one leader used the advice given to her to connect with her colleagues in a deeper way

Early in my career, when I made a mistake or a problem emerged, I’d spend a lot of time thinking about how to fix it. That’s quite a bit of pressure for one person, and often the situation gets worse day by day. Bringing in a colleague or boss early and asking for help means getting to a better solution, faster. It also demonstrates your character, integrity, and commitment to doing the right thing. It ensures that you’ll have the chance to get help before the situation becomes unsolvable, and takes more time and resources than it ever should have in the first place.

Help others succeed

Good leaders recognize that helping others speaks to their own leadership. You won’t need to showcase what you’ve done; those around you will quickly make the connection that you have a high-performing team or are a key contributor to the team. And I’ve found that recognizing people on a daily basis bolsters their success, whether you give them a handwritten card, send a thank-you email, have an encouraging chat when you pass in the hallway, or say thanks in front of others in a meeting.

Recently, we were going into what promised to be a lengthy, difficult meeting. Ahead of time, I got the team member who’d be leading the meeting a thank-you card and gift card. And at the end of the meeting (which went well, as I’d thought it would), I gave her the recognition she’d earned and deserved—in front of the person heading up the project. Those things mean a lot to people. Recognition and gratitude are too important to be left as an afterthought.

Stay authentic

I have a philosophy of demonstrating fun and a sense of humour, especially when things are tense. It helps people work better together. As you reach senior levels in an organization, people often feel they can’t approach you; they’re intimidated by you simply by virtue of your position. So it’s important to stay true to who you are.

READ: Why one leader's big leap of faith led to a successful life and career

I also make it a priority to be transparent. Before or after meetings I have really honest conversations with folks on my team — about what I’m worried about, or how I think it might play out. But I get them to share their views, too. I encourage people to disagree with me. In fact, I often assign someone the role of devil’s advocate in important meetings; I’ll challenge someone to be the dissenter. Because we have to know how something can go very right, or horribly wrong, before we execute.

Hire for will, train for skill

In my business, we exist to help customers so it’s important to make sure you have a great team that can deliver the experience the customer expects and deserves.

To that end, I hire for will, and train for skill. That means I put a lot of importance on hiring people with the right attitude, passion, and alignment with our values. That’s critical. I’d argue that it’s almost impossible to create a great attitude (or passion or values) where they don’t naturally exist.

People who might not necessarily tick every box in terms of qualifications are often great assets on your team because they’re curious: they ask terrific questions and they question things the rest of us might take for granted. It’s easier for someone to grow in skills and competencies than it is in attitude and will.

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