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Top Millennials From Odgers Berndtson’s CEO X 1 Day Program Weigh In On Qualities Of Effective Leaders


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Madeline Millsip, Simon Fraser University student with BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) CEO Jim Lightbody during their CEO x 1 Day

The face of leadership is changing. Fueled, in part, by the availability of more flexible work structures, record numbers of people under the age of 35 — so-called “millennipreneurs” — are looking to build their own enterprises from the ground up. What makes them unique is that these business leaders are starting out at a younger age than their Gen X and Baby Boomer counterparts (at 27 years of age versus roughly 35 years for earlier cohorts). They tend to be more ambitious, too. They are starting more companies, managing bigger staffs and targeting higher profits than their predecessors. We also know that these top millennials can be a significant catalyst for transformation within established organizations.

To understand more about the values and motivations that drive these millennials to the top, we asked the participants from Odgers Berndtson’s CEO X 1 Day program to weigh in on what they learned through their experience of shadowing Canadian CEOs for a day. These high-achieving undergraduate students, who were selected after going through a rigorous recruitment process, spent the day with senior executives, learning about their organizations and observing leadership in action. Based on this experience, they shared the following five leadership qualities that they believe create successful companies:

1. Nurture a hunger for learning — before, during and after you take over the corner office.

Leaders aren’t built in a day, and the most successful entrepreneurs often recognize that learning comes in many shapes, sizes and opportunities, and not just through workshops, conferences, and other similar experiences. Said Kabir Nadkarni of his experience in shadowing Gianna Manes, CEO of ENMAX Corporation: “You have to purposefully put yourself in uncomfortable situations, this is where you grow.”

2. Believe in yourself and those around you.

Nabaa Alam shadowed ATB Financial’s Dave Mowat for his CEO x 1 Day experience and realized that the first step to becoming a leader is believing that you can be one. Added Simon Bibeau of his experience with Yannis Mallat, CEO of Ubisoft: “The key to success for any CEO is surrounding yourself with a strong team of individuals with complementary skill sets.”

3. Keep an open mind.

There are many paths to the top spot in any organization, so it’s important to think about all advancement options in front of you. Said Ryerson University student Samantha Sim of a major lesson she learned while shadowing the former head of Twitter Canada, Kirstine Stewart: “You can cross disciplines if you keep an open mind when opportunities arise.” Likewise, Buruç Asrin, who was matched with Hubert T. Lacroix, CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada, recognized that “many, including Lacroix, came from diverse academic backgrounds,” which helped to underline for him that more than one path leads to the C-suite.

4. Engage your soft skills.

As a people-driven person, Alyssa Spagnolo had already learned the value of surrounding herself with a diverse group of thinkers, planners and doers. But her experiences in shadowing CFL Commissioner Jeffrey L. Orridge reinforced the importance of connecting with people — and not just with fellow staff members, but in every interaction throughout the day. “I witnessed Commissioner Orridge’s ability to connect with those around him in meaningful ways. From top-level executives to cab drivers and restaurant servers, he acted with utmost integrity, kindness and respect for every individual he came in contact with. It underlined the fact that exceptional leadership never turns off.” Added Brandon Sun, who spent the day with Cineplex CEO, Ellis Jacob while the company released its annual earnings, “I learned a great deal about delivering a company’s key messages, seeing Ellis interact with a variety of people, including his executive team, the media and analysts throughout the day.”

5. Be passionate.

Business smarts and communication skills will only take a leader so far. The most successful leaders harbour a deep passion for their work. As Mr. Alam learned in his dealings with ATB Financial CEO Dave Mowat: “One of the most important qualities we spoke about was having passion for what you do. The best leaders are passionate about improving their company, people and society.”

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Alicia Hayre, Western University student, with Campbell Company of Canada CEO, Ana Dominguez during their CEO x 1 Day.

About the CEO X 1 Day Program: With the goal of developing Canada’s next generation of leaders, the CEO X 1 Day program matches third and fourth year students enrolled in a university or college degree-granting program with CEOs from across the country for a day of job-shadowing and mentorship. Odgers Berndtson first launched the CEO x 1 Day initiative in Germany 12 years ago, subsequently rolling it out across offices around the world. Today, almost 350 organizations and over 700 CEOs and students have taken part, generating a wealth of insight on the changing nature of leadership and workplace culture


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