University of Calgary

President Cannon outlines her top five lessons in leadership and life

UToday HomeFebruary 28, 2013

Elizabeth Cannon, University of Calgary president and vice-chancellor, speaks at a Deloitte Women of Influence luncheon at The Westin Calgary on Feb. 21, 2013. Photo by Angela Wiens, OF ImagesElizabeth Cannon, University of Calgary president and vice-chancellor, speaks at a Deloitte Women of Influence luncheon at The Westin Calgary on Feb. 21, 2013. Photo by Angela Wiens, OF ImagesTwo and a half years into her job as University of Calgary president, Elizabeth Cannon shared the top five lessons she has learned in leadership and life as she delivered a keynote speech Thursday, Feb. 21 at a Deloitte Women of Influence luncheon in Calgary.

Speaking to an audience of about 325 people — mainly professional women — at The Westin Calgary, Cannon made a distinction between “power” and “influence,” saying she believes influence better reflects how women lead.

Cannon said her role calls her to promote the university’s reputation, encourage stronger partnerships, and act as steward over resources from public and private sources. “A president must inspire, engage, communicate, and create incentives in order to influence both individuals and our organization.”

She also said that her career, like most, had taken many twists and turns, and that she never envisioned herself as a university professor or president. “There is no doubt that this is my greatest leadership challenge yet, and it is truly a privilege,” she said.

Cannon described five key lessons she has accumulated as a woman involved in academic leadership, teaching, and the engineering profession. Before becoming president and vice-chancellor in July 2010, Cannon was dean of the Schulich School of Engineering, a professor in the Department of Geomatics, and a community leader.

1: “As a leader, you set the ethical and integrity ‘high bar’ in your unit and organization.” Values you project as a leader and through your actions resonate with employees and stakeholders. Cannon referenced The H Factor of Personality, a recent publication co-authored by psychology professor Kibeom Lee, which highlights the impact of a sincere, unassuming character on others.

2: “Know your political capital and when to use it (or not)!” Build and draw from your reputation, credibility, popularity and network as you make decisions and roll out changes.

3: “Build and nurture a high-performance team.” Know your own style of work, then build and nurture a team aligned with “operating norms” such as having a passion and common vision for the university, showing solidarity, appreciating differences in roles, and giving open and honest feedback to each other.

4: “Be patient and celebrate success.” Filter out the distraction of daily “noise” while patiently managing expectations and articulating clear long-term goals and desired outcomes.

5: “Be prepared in times of crisis.” Harness a sense of calm, creative energy and orientation toward solutions when your leadership is tested.

Cannon credited her grandmother and mother for setting examples of pursuing meaningful life goals while tending to ignore traditional barriers. “I grew up being happily oblivious to the limitations that society had place on many girls at the time.

“I saw the women in my family go after their goals and live their lives in ways that were meaningful to them, without thought as to whether others would approve. This grounding has served me well as a foundation for my own career in studying engineering and pursuing a career in industry and academia.”

The Deloitte Women of Influence Luncheon Series is hosted by Women of Influence, a Toronto-based media business focused on inspiring, connecting, and advancing women professionally.


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