Leadership reimagined

On the opening day of convention, delegates had the opportunity to hear three distinguished panelists discuss leadership during a time of crisis. The Honourable Janet Austin, Lieutenant Governor of BC; Kim Baird, former Chief of the Tsawwassen First Nation, and; Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Provincial Health Officer joined with Mayor Maja Tait to reflect on their experience as women in leadership, including Dr. Henry’s recounting of significant threats made against her and her staff during the pandemic.

“There are many people who don’t like what I do, don’t like the way I say it, don’t like my shoes, and feel quite able to send me nasty notes, to leave phone calls, to harass my office staff. I’ve had to have security in my house, I’ve had death threats – how do we deal with that? I sense people think it is ok to do that with a woman who is ‘up front’.”

In the face of negative experiences as female leaders, and in acknowledging the positive relationships each has had with mentors and others, the panelists agreed that the best path forward in leadership must be laid with a foundation of togetherness, diversity, role modelling and knowledge. Ms. Austin commented on her perception that the crisis has brought with it a new “receptivity” to such responses, as well as increased collaboration between parties and across levels of government.

The panelists provided encouragement for local government and other community leaders to balance competency and evidence-based information with empathy and a genuine desire to listen. This was evidenced in response to Mayor Tait’s reference to Kathleen Gerson, a sociology professor at New York University, who stated that in order for a culture to respond to the anxieties of a crisis like COVID-19, a leader “should display decisiveness and strength, and also empathy and caring.”   

Delegates posed a number of questions to the panelists, including topics such as BC’s concurrent overdose crisis, social media, climate change, and information over-load. Ms. Baird spoke to the way in which so many issues are overlapping and intersecting in real time, including Indigenous rights, and offered her hope that future policy decisions will reflect the need to balance many challenges.

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