CEOs Talk Leadership: Michele Milan

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Michele MilanAs HR professionals evolve from transactional players to strategic ones, CEOs are demanding increasingly complex deliverables from those leaders. HRD reveals the key expectations of some of Canada’s most influential corporate heads

Michele Milan CEO Rotman Executive Programs

Michele Milan leads Executive Programs at the business school consistently rated as the best in the country. As the head of an organization that trains leaders and executives, Milan is up to date with the latest theory and best practice for being an effective leader.

1. Strong Ethical Foundation
Leadership is more difficult than ever. We are in a period when trust in leaders and our institutions has been eroded. Society is demanding and deserves leaders who are moral and ethical. Leaders with character. Authentic leadership means speaking and doing from a centre of moral conviction. It is personal integrity that cultivates credibility and trust. I also believe this is key to finding real meaning in one’s work, and enabling employees to do likewise -- to find their work meaningful and really believe they are contributing to something worthwhile. This is important not only for individuals, and not only as a driver of productivity, but for society as a whole. Businesses have a huge impact on the world around them. A strong ethical foundation in an organization means it will contribute to society in a way that sustains and enriches the lives of all.

2. Ability to Communicate
It is still true that a good leader has the ability to envision her organization’s future, and to clearly communicate that vision. Clear and straightforward communication allows everyone to understand their individual roles, in making decisions in line with strategy and moving the organization forward. But good communication is two-way and goes beyond formal occasions. In our more collaborative work environments, with rapidly changing demographics, leaders really need to listen and they need to seek to understand what is really going on. I personally meet with everyone in the organization at least once a year and speak with as many clients as possible. Seeking understanding is critical, but can be difficult because the signal-to-noise ratio can be really high. We are all dealing with vast amounts of information. It can be overwhelming. Leaders now need to communicate constantly to translate complexity and to keep people aligned as the pace of change continues to accelerate. Tuning in to and maintaining awareness of informal networks and channels of communication is crucial for a leader since it is these systems that often determine what really goes on in an organization.

3. Strategic Agility
Creating and maintaining a path for advancing an organization’s agenda in a rapidly changing environment requires strategic agility on the part of a leader, both to synthesize and assess vast amounts of information, and to readjust as necessary. This means responding to new circumstances, research and technology in real time. The pace of change is incredible. Leaders must constantly fine-tune their strategy to keep their organizations agile. Clear, two-way communication about changing circumstances and strategy allows employees to respond and realign their own initiatives and roles.

4. Self-awareness
Self-awareness, self-regulation and a habit of self-reflection are essential for a leader’s personal effectiveness; they also determine the tone a leader sets for her organization. A leader must be able to manage her own emotional reactions, and to understand the effect she has on others, both personally and in terms of the organization’s power structure. There are many techniques for developing greater self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate. My personal favourites are journaling and mindfulness meditation.

5. Good Practices and Habits
Effective leadership occurs not just in grand moments, but in daily hourly habits. In addition to a practice of reflection, habits of learning and self-care are critical. Habitually seeking learning prepares a leader for rapid change. Leading also takes a tremendous amount of energy and stamina; a good leader must create habits that foster resilience, practices that recharge and replenish her resources in order to maintain health and well-being. Of course, this is true of everyone in the organization as well and supporting the health and wellness of employees makes the whole organization more resilient and productive

Read the complete feature and more on HRM Online Canada's May Issue.

  Human Resources Management Canada

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