Veronica. Relationships, Role Models, Mentors, Heroes and Leaders

posted March 9th, 2011 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Veronica to tell me about the relationships in her life which she believes had the greatest impact on her and, in particular, her work life and career. She replied: “That’s a very interesting question.  In the early days, people who had the biggest influence on me were the old bank branch managers.  I call them the old managers because when I came to work at the bank, these were the gentlemen who had come back from the war.  The old managers were in the twilight of their careers and were working in every part of the bank branch system. I worked in British Columbia and I met them all over the province. These guys had a gentlemanly approach to their role and their staff and their customers.  They were the model of true relationship banking which were the buzz words of the 80’s. They were being lived by these men. I think from them and  they’re all gone now, I learned that, the customer does come first and even when you are bouncing somebody’s cheque you do it to leave them with their dignity and that you show your respect for them. I think that that has been my model in business all the way through and I learned it there.  Then when I moved up the ranks, I have to say that it was these men who assisted me, who took me aside and said, Veronica, this is not the way we do things around here, that helped me to be successful in various roles. I couldn’t name them all because there are too many of them, however, I would never have got to the executive level without that kind of mentoring and support.  It was one of the things when I worked on the Committee for Women’s Issues at the bank that I observed had fallen away in the bank, that generation had left, moved on to their happy retirement and this type of mentoring and support was not embedded in the organization the way it was when I was growing up in the bank.”


Veronica continued: “Part of what was so interesting to me about the women’s committee I was part of was that when I look at most of the men who were on that committee, they were men with the same character and the same approach.  They were the old soldiers of the bank. Great guys! What they brought to the table really was a huge piece of the success of that work.”


I asked Veronica whether she had role models, mentors or heroes and if she did what she saw in how they behaved that she found admirable and influential, how they helped her to grow and develop personally and professionally and what impact she believed this had on her success. She said: “What I would say is that in terms of the mentoring, I felt that almost without exception, every boss I ever worked for took on that role. I’m trying to think if there were any exceptions. If there were I didn’t stay there long, I would transfer out and there were a couple of those I think.  Part of what I am trying to describe is the old organization and I call the old organization pre-1988 before the Executive Head of Personnel for the bank died. For me, this marked the end of the old organization.  When he died, the old bank died in the sense that we got a new head of personnel, Human Resources/HR they were calling it then and many new faces and policies.  The old bank was where we grew our own replacements and there’s no question that from a business model perspective, we needed external intellectual skills.  We were ingrown, too inbred, no question of that, but that changed many things in the bank.  So mentoring instead of happening, let’s call it naturally, became part of an HR program and the promotion of women was seen to be part of some type of enforced quota system and upon reflection, I believe this approach, killed the desire of many of the men to mentor women.”


She continued: “It looked like men were being mandated to do it and I believe, the  same thing happens when you fast-track any so-called disadvantaged group. The people that had always had the path and might have been ready to share it with people that they approved of and liked the work ethic of, all of a sudden found themselves mandated to share it with a larger group and there was a backlash in the organization. I don’t think they can blame the women for that one.  I think it was naiveté on the part of both the drivers of those initiatives and the organization itself because everybody was breaking new ground and what’s interesting to me, when I reflect on all the angst and challenges of that time, is that I am still seeing 33% representation by women, maybe, in the professions.  Heaven knows when you count the executives across the banking world, there are certainly more women but it’s not 50-50. It’s way, south of that.  So it’s entertaining to me because I have two daughters who are both out of school now and working out there in the world and one of them is very much the Queen’s business person and I see that when she goes to interview it’s the same mix, nothing has changed.  There are still, very, very few women at the senior executive level in these big organizations.”


Veronica says:So here’s the question that I ask myself.  In a world where everybody wants to do “the right thing”, did we make a mistake by thinking ‘the right thing’ was to place women in roles men like? And I don’t really know the answer to the question but I can tell you that we have educated an awful lot of bright, young women who are leaving the so-called ‘powerful professions’.  They get in, they stay for a short period of time, they don’t like it, they hop out and are doing other things and I don’t think as a society we’ve really recognized that we might need to adjust our thinking on this.”


She continued: “There are more women entrepreneurs today and while it’s true that they are running small businesses and no investment banker is ever going to make a killing by taking these companies to market, I don’t think that’s a requirement.  I think the reality is that women are freer today to choose alternate paths and the questions we must ask ourselves is do they have access to education and do they have access to capital and I would say that, yes, that in the last 30 years those things have happened and continue to happen.  For me, the whole issue in the bank was never so much about the women, although there’s no question that at the time that the women’s committee was formed we were woefully under-represented in many areas of the bank, and I don’t think that has changed.  I don’t just mean that for the bank where I worked, I mean for the banking world itself. What we thought was that if the doors were opened women would get in there, we’d like it and we would thrive and that would seem to have been a false assumption. But if we hadn’t tried it, we’d still be banging at the gate.  So I think it was one of those things where you went into this wonderful experiment and you didn’t get the outcome that you thought was predictable and that’s a huge opportunity for learning.”


Veronica says: “I learned my lessons and left the corporate world. I work but I certainly do not work with or for large corporations. And I look at where other women I worked with have ended up and most of us are working, except for one or two, but there are many kinds of work right? There are many ways to contribute, we’re all working, but we’re not working in that box and the people who have stayed in that box that I am still dear friends with are not having any fun. They are making money but they are not having any fun.  So that’s why I concluded back in the early 90’s that, this pond is just not for me.  This is not the way I want to work.  I want to work in a collegial environment with all the things that I felt I had before the  business changed.  I didn’t recognize that as the turning point until years later.”


I asked Veronica whether she saw herself as a role model, mentor, hero or leader. She said: “I think I have demonstrated the ability to lead.  I mentor people whether they ask me to or not as in ‘could I give you a little free advice’. I certainly don’t see myself as a role model because I think women, in particular, we make our own models.  It goes back to the conversation that says the world is structured for the male brain not for the female brain… that’s just a generalization… so successful women everywhere have always found a way to take that model and create their own subversive model within it.  The ones who play the game really well, the men think are like their wives and you have to be of a certain mindset to be able to play that role.  So is that the way that I would like to operate?  No.  For me, I think that having to play that game, I determined early on in my life that I was not going to play it.  But I would never recommend to anybody that they follow someone else’s lead as to how they should behave in a career. We are all made up of so many diverse pieces and experiences that bring us to the places we are in life that it would be presumptuous, I think, to say that this is the path, So I support things like micro-loans to women because I believe that the only reason women work is economic, to have independence for themselves and to feed their children.  Otherwise, our work is really about nurturing the planet because we’re the only ones who have the parts to do it. And to expand the human race, so when they can actually grow babies in test tubes and they don’t need anybody to rock them in the middle of the night, (and I know dad’s are doing a lot more of this but 80% of that work still falls to the women), then they won’t need us any more.  So am I a leader?  I think a lot of people told me in the nicest possible way when I left the corporate world that they were disappointed and I appreciated why they were disappointed but I didn’t really think that they should have had any expectations of me one way or the other on that because we all have to choose our paths.”


I asked Veronica whether it was men or women who told her they were disappointed when she left the corporate world and she responded: “Both.  It was very entertaining.  I would say it was 70-30, 70% guys, 30% women. A lot of people came up to me and said they were sorry to see me leave. They felt that it was very disappointing for the bank. They had admired what I was doing. I said, well, thank you for that but it isn’t the right place for me.  So I don’t see myself as a leader… and I think that the desire of the world to have leaders is a sign of immature development.  That’s very harsh I know but we’re all given everything we need for the most part, and I take the disadvantaged and the people with illnesses and everything out of that, because there is always a proportion of society that needs to be taken care of and nurtured and led and managed, but I don’t think the entire world falls into that category.  For me, it’s the 80-20% rule of life. We all have the ability to take care of ourselves and certainly that was part of the message that they were giving us out of the new HR. We were told you have to manage your own career. And I managed mine but it wasn’t in a way that people expected it to be managed.”


I asked Veronica to, in light of her earlier comments about leaders and leadership, to think of the people she considered to be leaders and what qualities she associated with them and their impact on the world. She said: “Alright.  Well I’m a fan of leading from behind so I’m going with Mother Theresa.  No power but an organization that supported her. She did not do that all by herself because definitely the Catholic Church supported her work because it was women’s work and she never tried to get into the male sphere. She would have been a terrible Cardinal. And that would have been a failure,  even though, obviously, she had the brain and the intellect to do it. So… I’m digressing… I think she was a leader. I think that someone like Kim Campbell is a leader. A huge personal risk taken there and is that the definition of a leader?  Because a lot of people are appointed to be leaders, or put in charge of something so they are called leaders and they have all of the right attributes and competencies to be leaders but they are set up to fail.”


I asked Veronica to think of the people she doesn’t consider to be leaders and what qualities she associated with them. She said: “Who do I not consider to be a leader?  I do not consider investment bankers to be leaders.  I would say that if you look at people who have headed up the big banks in the United States which is a different world than our world in terms of regulation and all the rest of it, I would say that those guys the only thing they led was lining their pockets.  So what is a bad leader?  A bad leader to me is someone who puts, notionally, the betterment of themselves well ahead of and out of proportion to the cost to others.  So if that’s a definition you can go from Stalin to Putin to all of the big dictators right down into organizations whose sole purpose is greed. I would put them in the category of titans of society and leaders of nations but I would say, these are not good human beings.  Greed and power are the two things that seem to go together. If you have power then usually wealth follows. Do you exercise your wealth to obtain power and satisfy your greed or do you do something with it?  So I’d say Bill Gates is a really good example of a leader. I’m kind of fond of Bono, for the same reasons; he does good things. At least, he tries to do good things and he uses his money and influence for good and the fact that he made his money in a non-hurtful way, through artistic or creative means, that to me makes him a leader. I think we’re really talking about the way in which we earn our living and how does the way we earn our living contribute to the betterment of the world.  The first question is how you get your money and then if you are obviously a good person do you recognize your role in the world. For me, as we’re talking about leaders in society, people who have made huge differences, I go with the Dali Lama, I go with Gandhi, I go with the Crusaders.”


What Strikes Me?

Did formal mentoring programs kill the desire of many to mentor people?


In a world where everybody wants to do “the right thing”, did we make a mistake by thinking “the right thing” was to place women in roles men like?


Women are freer today to choose alternate paths. They have access to education and capital and this happened in the last 30 years and those things continue to happen


What we thought was that if the doors were opened and women got in, they would like it, they would thrive there. Did we make a false assumption?


If we hadn’t tried it, we’d still be banging at the gate


Trying something and not getting the outcome you predicted presents a huge opportunity for learning


There are very, very, very few women at the executive level in big organizations


The world is structured for the male brain not for the female brain, so women have had to find a way to take that model and create their own subversive model within it in order to succeed


A bad leader is someone who puts the betterment of themselves well ahead of and out of proportion to the cost to others


What Strikes You?


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