Dianne Watts, the former mayor of Surrey, British Columbia, was the closing keynote speaker at the Vancouver Regional Construction Association's Construction Leadership Forum (CLF) at Whistler, B.C. on May 9.
Watts began by asking the audience "what kind of leader do we want to be?"
She started her career in the private sector, in the construction industry, but later moved to the public life of a politician.
Watts said the lessons learned apply across the board.
To her way of thinking, the reason to get involved is to effect positive change.
But, positive change comes in many forms and means different things to different people.
Leadership, she said, means understanding human nature and how to interact with people.
However, the first thing a leader must do, Watts said, was engage in self-evaluation and self-reflection.
"The foundation of any leader has to be solid and unshakeable, but also flexible, understanding and compassionate," she said.
When looking at the intent behind decisions made, making a decision while angry or upset or punitive is not defensible, she said.
Watts said when she first became mayor of Surrey in 2005, she walked into a toxic environment of fear with staff being berated for making small mistakes.
The result, she said, is that people are risk averse and nothing gets done. There's no innovation, no free thinking and that is a problematic environment.
As leader, she said, it was her to change that environment. She had to demonstrate she would support staff, and the first thing she implemented was whistleblower legislation and supportive staff policies.
Communicating what she was doing was also important, and "good communication skills are one of the most important skills a leader can have," she said.
People want to know that they are heard and are relevant, and it's up to a leader to set that tone.
"Your team needs to understand your vision and be a part of it," she said.
She also referred to the "language of 'we,'" which she said empowers the people around you.
Watts pointed out that you can't do it alone. You need a strong, cohesive team to implement your ideas.
Finding commonalities with those you're leading is important, she said, and highlighted an interpersonal relationship with another councilor in Surrey whom she didn't get along with.
Watts said by talking to her she found out the councilor had personal difficulties she was dealing with, and by reaching out and finding out where she was coming from, Watts was able to become friends with her.
Watts said listening, which is an important leadership quality, means being "present in the conversation." Having a strong sense of self is also important, and doesn't rely on someone else to make you happy. That makes you able to make decisions on your own.
It also means you can have a certain amount of observable distance, when there are disputes you must manage.
Being "self-realized" means not being defensive, second-guessing or relying on the decisions of others. It is also an evolving process, she said.
"Identify a goal and then let it go," she said. Sometimes people are so wrapped up in a goal that they miss other opportunities, she said.
Every person is unique, Watts said. The question is, "how will you leave your imprint onthis world?"
As leaders, she said, reflection is important and if you lead it has to come back to yourself.
Collaboration is important because "none of us succeed alone," Watts said. Without a team effort, tasks will not be completed.
By using a team, you also play to the strengths of those team members, she added.
In essence there is no real failure, Watts said, as long as you've learned something from the experience.
"If I have trepidation about something, that just means I have to do it," Watts said.