Geoff Smith's Blog

Posted OnApril 04, 2022

Everyone loves talking about leadership, which seems particularly appropriate right now, everywhere in our world. ‘Leadership’ seems kind of like opera, or art, or jello, or maybe lighting a match. Describe all you want the structure or the chemistry, you’re still not half way there.

And then one day you see it, it just happens, and then it’s gone, and you want to jump up and down and yell “Did you see that? Hey! Did everyone just see that?”

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to participate in the International Women’s Day webcast organized by EllisDon’s 2gether team. ‘2gether’ is a group of EllisDon people of various genders who came together to fight sexism at our company and in our industry, and they are already having an impact in both awareness and policy.

The session started off with a ‘Fireside Chat’ discussion between EllisDon’s SVP People and Culture, Paul Trudel, and me; this is where a small - but notable - leadership moment happened. We were given a list of questions to ask each other over half an hour, but about two thirds of the way through Paul realized we were running out of time. Maybe too many questions, possibly I talk too much. Paul immediately said, “OK, I’m out, I’m just going to ask you the questions, that way we’ll be able to finish.” It was spontaneous, decisive, selfless. I got to make the rest of my points, Paul got to make none of the rest of his.

The webcast got way better after that. Moderated by Chloe Derksen, four EllisDon women - Lorinda Spencer, Ursula Tauers, Chinyere Johnson and Daniela Xavier - and a highly accomplished Paralympian named Karolina Wisniewska told their stories. Karolina was great but in my humble opinion the EllisDon people were the stars. They talked with disarming candour about their experiences, their thoughts about the issues, their successes and failures and the injustices they’d suffered. They acknowledged some hurt but displayed not one bit of resentment. It was very powerful, not to be missed as a display of simply courageous leadership aimed solely at improving their and our industry.

That’s when I noticed something else. 2gether has been led since its inception by a Vancouver ‘EllisDonner’ named Kristine Szeto. In less than two years, in addition to several events like this one, this team has created discussion at every level of EllisDon around the recruitment and promotion of women at the company, have worked to improve benefits and to examine at why women are leaving EllisDon and the industry.

Neither Kristine nor the other people spearheading 2gether took a major role in the webcast. Aside from accountably explaining why she had invited two aging males to kick it off, Kristine was invisible. Except for this: From time to time she would be one of the viewers that you could see on screen. And every time she came on she had a huge uncontrollable grin on her face. You just couldn’t miss Kristine’s happiness at seeing these other women express themselves so effectively. It was plainly, irresistibly visible to everyone. For me, that was the big leadership moment.

And so here I am, at an advanced age, still learning. The lesson I picked up was simple: Talk a whole lot less, smile a whole lot more.

Finally this: I was compelled to write this by an old book I just happened to pick up later that night about a guy named Joseph Campbell who wrote: “The ultimate aim of the quest must be neither release nor ecstasy for oneself, but the wisdom and the power to serve others. The distinction between the celebrity and the hero is that one lives only for self, while the other acts to redeem society.”

There was heroism at that meeting, though it occurs to me that grinning ecstasy is perfectly OK if it arises out of the service itself.

Thanks for reading.