Purolator CEO John Furguson & Queen’s University student Vanessa Lin

PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER KATSAROV/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

By Vanessa Lin

On Friday, Feb. 23, I became the CEO of a leading Canadian company with more than 10,000 employees.

After being selected as one of 18 postsecondary students across Canada to participate in a unique job shadowing program called CEOx1Day, I was paired with John Ferguson, the president and chief executive officer of Purolator.

My objective for the day was to learn as much as I could about Mr. Ferguson's leadership style and how he created the momentum for the company's record-setting performance in the last two years. However, I was able to take away so much more. The experience has inspired me to really think about what type of leader I strive to be, how I want to embrace my future, and how I can use these learnings to change my corner of the world.

HUMBLE AND EMPOWERING

While attending executive meetings with Mr. Ferguson and speaking to him throughout the day, it was clear he trusted his team and encouraged a collaborative culture. Every single person at the meetings contributed their own expertise and perspective to the conversation.

We learn about the value of diversity in my classes at school, in books, and in the media – diversity of thought, of expertise and of perspective, among other forms.

At Purolator, I got to witness a real leader in action leveraging diversity. At a "Straight Talk Lunch" where Mr. Ferguson chatted with randomly selected staff at all levels about the future direction of the company, his transparent and down-to-earth leadership style became very apparent.

I want to embody a leadership style that empowers a team to put forth their best efforts, internalizes the values of diversity, and understands when it is someone else's turn to shine.

AN OPPORTUNISTIC FUTURE AND AN OPEN MIND

I have learned from my favourite female writers, Shonda Rhimes, Sheryl Sandberg and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about how important it is to lean in to my career and seize every opportunity.

It seems to be a common thread that where someone starts their career is not where they usually end up – in terms of company, industry, or even function. Learning about the various interesting and diverse career paths of many executives within Purolator reinforced the idea that I am too young to shut doors and opportunities - in my career and elsewhere in my life.

The funny thing is, that no matter what age or stage of life we are at, I think we are never too old to maintain an open mind to present and future opportunities.

THE POWER OF SPONSORSHIP

Long before my CEOx1Day experience, I knew I wanted to make a meaningful impact in my career. I had not quite figured out how I was going to do that, and am still unsure; however, some pieces of advice I received throughout my day at Purolator have helped sharpen my focus on the path to make this dream a reality.

There is a lot we can achieve and undertake on our own, but in order to truly reach our full potential, a mentor or sponsor is invaluable.

I believe this is especially important for female leaders today. It is hard to argue against the facts that the majority of top executives in almost all industries are male.

Without seeking mentorship or sponsorship from male leaders within the company, we are stuck in a standstill in the classic chicken-and-egg story.

We are at our best when we are empowered with the resources we need to succeed. While at Purolator, I learned the best leaders are willing to help others succeed, as they have the foresight to see how individual accomplishment brightly colours the bigger picture.

There are many ways to learn about leadership – from reading books to taking on leadership roles. This experience has taught me not to discount the value of observation. Observing and learning from leaders at every level, in our careers and elsewhere in our lives, is a priceless everyday opportunity that we should not forget to seize.

Originally Published in The Globe and Mail

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