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“Millennials In Business” get advice from Manitoba’s top professionals

Athena Leadership's changeleaders conference 

Nearly 500 people attended the Athena changeleaders conference in Winnipeg on Wednesday evening, dedicated to the celebration of Winnipeg Millennials in business. The conference featured a series of powerful and engaging talks, including a panel discussion and speeches from a variety of influential business leaders. And in true Millennial fashion, Twitter lit up with the #athenachangeleaders hashtag.

How do leaders define success?

The evening began with a welcome from Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, who was thrilled to see so many male and female leaders in attendance, fostering a spirit of learning and mutual empowerment.

“We don’t build a better city by tearing each other down; we do it by building each other up,” he explained, before handing the microphone over to the evening’s emcee, Chrissy Troy, co-host of The Ace Burpee Show on Winnipeg’s 103.1 Virgin Radio.

The first speaker was Paul Soubry, President and CEO of New Flyer Industries, who shared his knowledge on leadership and ways of engaging others. Soubry expressed the importance of self-reflection in the assessment of one’s leadership abilities, advising attendees to take the ‘Leadership Test,’ designed to determine a person’s leadership strengths and weaknesses. He also stressed the significance of a leader’s ability to inspire team members — suggesting that those in attendance should ask themselves whether others “follow you because they have to or because they want to.”

“In order to be successful, you need to learn if your strength lies in your IQ (intelligence quotient) or in your EQ (emotional quotient), and then surround yourself with people who can fill the gaps where you lack.” He encouraged audience members to seek out mentors, whose wisdom and insight often prove invaluable, and to value their time and insight. “Do you want to drive the bus or ride the bus?” he asked, encouraging attendees to ‘take the reigns’ in their lives.

Do you feel like an ‘imposter’ at work?

Kim Ulmer, Regional President for RBC, whose territory includes Manitoba, Saskatchewan and North Western Ontario, was up next to provide advice for dealing with negative self-perceptions.

She spoke about a concept referred to as “Impostor Syndrome,” a person’s inability to internalize praise and personal accomplishments, instead believing they are “frauds” who are undeserving of their success. This is an issue that can plague many in the business community and her frank and thoughtful talk clearly resonated with members of the audience.

“It was like she was talking right at me,” said an audience member, Ashley who works in marketing. “Every time I do something right I think, ‘I just got lucky — eventually they’ll find out that I’m a fraud.’ Hearing someone like Kim echo the same sentiments was really affirming.”

The reality, she explained, is that many business professionals feel this way at all stages in their career, and it’s important to recognize your successes and move forward with self-confidence.

One of Kim’s suggestions for attendees was to keep a journal that logs your successes and times of happiness or gratitude. In instances of anxiety or fear, you can then have concrete examples to disprove any irrational fears. “My ‘Inner Critic’ looks like a little, chirpy Tweety Bird,” she shared, “but by keeping a gratitude journal and surrounding myself with my tribe of kind, supportive women, it’s easier to ignore its chirps in my ear.”

     Related: SHEday inspires packed house, featuring women leading business           

Never fear: Why failure is so important

Up next was a panel discussion that included four inspiring female leaders:

  • Laurie Bonten, Senior VP, Senior Investment Advisor at Bonten Wealth Management Group
  • Sonia Prevost-Derbecker, VP of Education at Indspire
  • MaryAnn Kempe, Chief HR Officer at Birchwood Automotive Group
  • Kim Jeremic, President of EQ3

Lindy Norris Athena LeadershipThe panel, which was moderated by Lindy Norris, Founder & President of Athena Leadership and Director of Business Development & Marketing at Pitblado Law, covered a wide range of topics including the importance of the mentor/mentee relationship, overcoming failure and the panel’s personal views on leadership.

“I think leadership is about putting others first,” Kim shared at the start of the discussion. MaryAnn Kemple agreed, adding, “I think it’s about helping others succeed and being an inspiration for other people.”

Laurie Bonten shared her thoughts on how her mentors, by being supportive and effective leaders, helped her overcome professional obstacles and self-doubt. “My mentor showed me how to lead, and taught me that women need to stop being so hard on each other and lift each other up,” she explained.

One of the most heavily discussed topics by the panelists was the concept of failure and how it shaped them in their professional lives. “Failure made me who I am today,” Kim explained. “I walked away from a big presidential role, but I didn’t believe in the business and everyone told me I was making a big mistake with my career. But you know what? There’s nothing worse than staying somewhere because you’re afraid. You don’t grow that way.”

Keynote: Technology as a disruptive agent of change

Nicole Verkindt Athena Leadership The evening’s keynote was presented by Nicole Verkindt, the Founder of OMX (Offset Market Exchange). Nicole spoke candidly about her challenges of determining what makes a good leader. “It’s not the Mr. Burns type with the big corner office who doesn’t share what they know and puts people down,” she laughed.

Technologies are disrupting industries which were previously thought to be unshakeable. “Don’t give up because someone says your idea is too niche,” she stated. “The CEO of Blockbuster told the head of Netflix that it was ‘too niche’… and where is Blockbuster today?”

Nicole further outlined why she believes women will lead the way in bringing about disruptive changes that will alter businesses in every industry. Leaders are learning to “manage out, not down like Mr. Burns does,” and 60% of new jobs are for skills which less than 20% of the current workforce have. This translates into a large opening for skilled female workers and leaders.

“Diversity is profitable,” she told the audience. “Governments are more stable when they’re diverse, and businesses do better when they’re lead by a diverse group of people with different perspectives.”

“I believe that this shift towards more inclusive and diverse workplaces is a good thing and will help all of us succeed.”

Stacey, another audience member who works in HR, said that she attends conferences like these in order to learn and network with like-minded people. “My biggest takeaway was that you need to be able to reach out to your team,” she said after the event. “Communicating with the people you work with is so important. I’m so glad that they discussed it tonight.”

The proceeds of the evening went to supporting various community and scholarship initiatives, including raising $20,000 for the Athena Scholarship plus a donation of $5,000 to the United Way and Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Butterfly Club, a program designed to engage and support Indigenous girls age 9-13 in academic, cultural and leadership development activities.

Did you attend Athena changeLeaders? Tell us your highlights of this year’s event in the comments section below.

Up Next: 6 things I would tell my Millennial self

Tweets and images from #athenachangeleaders on Twitter, including @LindyCNorris, @AthenaLeadersMB, @VirginRadioWPG, @SarahAn898, @SchmidtD_Ag and @ChefMikeLevine.

Alyson Shane

Alyson Shane is a writer and business owner from Winnipeg, Manitoba who has been publishing content online for 16+ years. She runs Starling Social, an agency which develops digital marketing strategies that combine social media, paid advertising and content strategy to keep businesses growing and engaged with their customers. Outside the office, Alyson is a passionate urbanist who loves gardening, riding her bike and thinking about the public spaces that bring us together. She can be reached on social media at @alysonshane.

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