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Paul Mahon speaks to PSLP participants

Paul Mahon speaks to PSLP participants

Why leadership is important in today’s working world

Organizational leaders speak to the impact of the President's Student Leadership Program

February 12, 2020 — 

Trudy Schroeder [MBA/04], Tom Carson and Paul Mahon [BComm (Hons)/96] are leaders in business, non-profit, and governmental realms. What binds them together is their involvement in the President’s Student Leadership Program (PSLP). The program is a unique-in-Canada immersive learning opportunity that brings students together from across subjects, post-secondary institutions, interests, and regions to build on their leadership experience and potential as future leaders in the province. In June and September 2019, Schroeder, Carson and Mahon met with the program’s first cohort of students to share their leadership experiences and beliefs on how effective leadership can help shape the future.

“Every leader we engage with brings their own views and experience to the students. This is highly valuable,” says Dr. Suzanne Gagnon, Canada Life Chair in Leadership Development and Associate Professor and Director of the James W. Burns Leadership Institute at UM, which manages the PSLP. “A common theme is that they often show that there isn’t one way to solve a problem and that collaboration, even at the highest echelons of an organization, is how they choose to create opportunity and resolve the challenges they face.”

Applications for the 2020 program are now open to students of all faculties at UM as well as the PSLP’s partner institutions. This year’s program runs from June 6-13 inclusive and on four Saturdays in the fall and winter 2020-21. It is open to students who have shown impactful leadership in their community or student life and are committed to developing their collaborative knowledge and skills to make positive changes in their environment.

To learn more about the types of leadership that are most effective in today’s organizations, we connected with Schroeder, Carson and Mahon to gain their perspective of the PSLP, the importance of collaborating across perspectives and some of the tough challenges facing the working world today.

Trudy Schroeder is the Executive Director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and has been working and leading in the Winnipeg arts community for over 20 years. Tom Carson is Chair of the St. Boniface Hospital and served for 14 years as Deputy Minister in the departments of Culture, Training and Health in Manitoba. Paul Mahon is the President and CEO of Great-West Life Co. and Canada Life Assurance Co. He also sits on various corporate and volunteer boards including the Misericordia Health Centre.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR TODAY’S STUDENTS TO LEARN ABOUT LEADERSHIP?

Trudy Schroeder: Leadership is important for every generation of students to learn. I think universities, as well as society as a whole, have realized that taking active steps to identify and cultivate leadership qualities in students can yield some important benefits for our community.

Our society is more diverse than ever, so we have to find ways to bring people together when thinking about leadership roles in our community. If we do that, we have the best chance at making the most diverse and healthy leadership grouping possible.

Tom Carson: After graduating from university and in my first five years of working, I noticed vast differences in the leadership styles of the people I worked with. However, my leadership approach took more time to develop. It would have been incredibly valuable had I been part of a cohort of people who were giving deep thought to leadership while still in school. I didn’t understand in those early stages of my career that we demonstrate leadership virtually every time we provide input, thoughts, or suggestions in a group of others — whether they are subordinates or super-ordinates, clients, or friends within the group.

WHAT QUALITIES OF LEADERSHIP DO YOU LOOK FOR IN EMPLOYEES?

Paul Mahon: Diversity is a big thing that I look for. That means diversity in the traditional sense but also in educational background, outlook, and thinking. Good leaders are able to sit at the table and voice their opinions even when they come from a different place and experience than the others. That’s one of the great things about the PSLP: it brings people from different backgrounds, faculties, and institutions together. The participants will be at an advantage when they complete the program because they’ll already be used to this type of collaboration.

Trudy Schroeder: First I look for attitude: attitude to life and community. People who clearly understand the broader context — nothing we do in our organization affects only our organization, everything has an impact. These are the kinds of people who work hard and work towards a goal. And even when we realize that there is more work involved, they really dig deep and can continue working.

WHY DO YOU THINK THE PSLP IS BENEFICIAL FOR TODAY’S STUDENT?

Tom Carson: When I met with the class, I was treated to a highly interesting, variously skilled group of learners who had no fear whatsoever in asking me questions about my own leadership or the challenges in hospital settings. I enjoyed every minute with them and I am certain that on top of what they learned more formally in the program, their interactions with leaders would have been very valuable since this would have underscored the truth that the leaders they met were all quite different people bringing quite different skills. These are the kind of interactions one does not forget, and I am certain that participating students got value for their time. And no matter how different those leaders might have been, they all rose to leadership despite their different styles.

Paul Mahon: Often in work, you have to be able to do things that you might not be used to. One of the great strengths of the PSLP is that participants are not only challenged to solve a problem, but they are also working with others that come from different faculties and backgrounds. That forces students to think outside of their comfort zones and listen and learn from others. These are key qualities students need to be good leaders and good employees.

Trudy Schroeder: One of the most important things you can do as a student is foster a network of people who are your cohort in terms of life and education. And the more diverse you can make that group, and the more engaged and inspired they can be, the better off you are. I think the PSLP is a pretty good commitment of time and energy, and I’d tend to think that this is one of the most valuable things that students could do during their time in university.

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