Erica Pinsky



Are We There Yet? - Women, Position, & Power

 available as a PODCAST

Fifth in an interview series... an interview with Janine North - CEO Northern Development Initiative Trust


“Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.”

 Albert Schweitzer

I had the opportunity to meet Janine North, CEO Northern Development Initiative Trust when I attended the 4th Annual Leadership Lessons from Influential Women in Business conference co-hosted by Business in Vancouver and the Professional Women’s Network on November 1, 2012.  After hearing her speak as a panel member, I knew I wanted to include her in this series.

I would describe Ms. North as a respectful, heart-centered leader.  Her calm, focused and confident energy permeated our conversation.  I left my recent interview with Ms. North feeling reflective and inspired.  She is the kind of leader I aspire to be.


Here are the highlights of our conversation.  I invite you to listen to the podcast and hear the entire interview.  Or at least everything we discussed before the recorder got turned off.  As sometimes happens, our conversation continued and I’ll be sharing more from Janine North with you next month.


On Her Career Journey

Ms. North has spent her career working in ‘male dominated’ industries.  After graduating with a science degree from the University of Alberta, she moved to central BC and embarked on a career in the public sector, progressing to become a senior manager in Forestry.  Her next opportunity was in the private sector, managing a consortium of logging, trucking, hauling, and construction companies.


Ms. North described her position with Northern Development Initiative Trust, a regional economic trust with a mandate to build a stronger North, as “the world between” in that she is managing a large trust of money for the benefit of both the public and private sector.  In her current role she interacts with 49 communities and regional districts, as well as 88 First Nations in about 75% of the Province. “We manage a trust that is over 200 million dollars, fully geared towards offering grants and loans that will help business grow and allow communities to take advantage of opportunities created through the 70 billion dollars of projects that are either currently underway or  are in the process of being planned.  The trust is a unique corporation, with 13 Board members and a very compelling mandate around building a stronger north.”


On How Gender Has Affected Her Career Progression.

I was most intrigued to learn Ms. North has not found gender to be a barrier to a C-suite position, particularly given that she has built her career in male dominated resource based industries.


Lessons for Women

“To be successful as a woman in a ‘man’s world’ you have to be very credible and very focused on leadership.  You will be really noticed because you are a woman. In fact you are probably more noticed as a woman dealing with a smaller population base.”  Although Ms. North’s responsibilities as CEO require her to interact with communities in 75% of the province geographically, the population base is small, only 375,000 “so your reputation has to be credible, hard won and it is easily lost.  You are under the microscope because it is a smaller population base and a smaller leadership base.  You are less anonymous than you would be in a major metropolitan area.”


Lessons for Leaders

“One of the most valuable lessons I learned in my career was basing my family in a small town while I would travel.  You learn the leadership lessons of small towns where maintaining relationships is so important: not to burn your bridges, understanding how to motivate and align people with goals, how to extract accountability.”


Given that one of the dominant cultural norms in a respectful workplace is accountability, I was very curious to hear more about how a leader can “extract accountability.”  Here’s what I learned.


There are four things that a leader does to extract accountability:


1. Recruit the right team. That is the first mandate of a leader.  Having motivated, talented people working with you makes it much easier to extract accountability.

2. Manage your stakeholders well. Have a supportive board that understands what you are trying to accomplish.  The team will feel that strength behind them and will be naturally motivated.

3. Provide vision and strategy.  Ensure that the organization executes those strategies well.  You have to be crystal clear on what you are planning to do and your team has to have a hand in developing it.  If they develop it and own it, they will be accountable to it.

4. Foster a unique culture, one that is based in some way on doing good, on contributing, on service: where people feel like they are enhancing other’s opportunities, or quality of life.  Whether the business is for profit, in the public service or not for profit – it is that notion of service, having a service ethic, that will drive both personal accountability and high performance.


Two of the things that are most important to people are making a difference and finding their own unique contribution to making a difference.  Bring that out in each member of the team so that everyone values each other’s different strengths and appreciates that together you are making a profound difference – that is the basis of the culture that you want to set within the organization.”


On Women and Power

Ms. North’s perspective on women and power struck me as affirming and positive.  An aspiring female leader can challenge gender based biases and stereotypes by being authentic, self-aware and strategic.    It is about developing a healthy relationship with one’s own power to become a leader that others will want to follow.


“I have found that women in positions of power are those that know themselves exceptionally well and who are able to bring out the best in others exceptionally well.  They possess a dose of humility, as well as a strategy to work through and around any obstacle.  Powerful women are very good at strategy.  They have a clear vision and are very clear at communicating that vision.”


Lessons for Leaders

“Power is not leadership: leadership with ‘followership’ is what gives you the peer to peer influence, the ability to do great things, the ‘positional power.’  You don’t ever aspire to power – power is something that is granted out of respect from others.  It is not because you aspire to power, it is because you demonstrate the skills that you can shepherd power wisely.”


Lessons for Women

“A woman in power has to be herself: to be natural and authentic, able to laugh at themselves, to tell the personal stories that inspire others.  Know yourself, know what you do well, hone your leadership style and craft as well as your vision.”


On Being a Mother in the C-Suite

Ms. North has been a working parent for much of her career.  She has 2 daughters and a step-daughter, all of whom are now in their early twenties.  Consistent with what I heard throughout the interview, it is the choice to be strategic and self-aware that has allowed Ms. North to successfully manage career and family.


Lessons for Women

“Raise your children the same way you approach you career – with some humility, a calm, quiet self-assurance and knowing yourself and your own abilities.  Make sure that you have enough time to think about what you need to bring around you to support yourself to achieve your life goals.


You have to be prepared.  You have to sacrifice financially to allow for those in your life, to allow you to progress and to be able to focus enough to progress in your career.  Think about what it is that you are going to do to provide a great balanced home life for your children and spouse while dealing with the pressures that a professional career can bring.


I don’t think it is as important for men who want to progress to the C-Suite to have the perfect partner as it is for women who aspire to senior leadership positions to have strategies.  It may not just be about having a very supportive husband.  The strategies may include having family support, having a nanny or in-home support.


Once you have that in place, then it is the self-assurance that your children will likely grow up to be very independent, responsible adults because they have been handed responsibility earlier in life.  If you have that self-assurance that is likely what you will see in the end.  If you are always second guessing yourself, and trying to cope and over compensate, then you may find that you have needier self-reliant children.”


While Ms. North did not take an extended time away from work to raise her children, she negotiated a flexible work schedule when her children were young.  Three days a week she worked normal business hours and two days a week she worked from 4 pm to 11 pm.


Ms. North believes that an individual who wants that kind of flexibility has the primary responsibility to   demonstrate how it can provide a better value proposition and be more productive for the corporation. (Great advice in light of the media frenzy sparked by CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to end telecommuting at Yahoo.)


On days she worked from 4 to 11 pm the office was quiet and she had no disturbances.  She used that time to focus on solitary activities like writing.  The other 3 days were structured with activities that required interaction.  “It has got to be a win/win.  The arrangement should provide more value to the corporation.”


She advises young women “to think of the employer first before you think of what you would like.  How do I make it palatable?  It’s always about the value proposition: it’s never about the whining.”


Something else Ms. North shared that really resonated with me, as a single working parent, was the importance for working parents to “be strategic and conscious about managing your emotional baggage.  Remember that if you have to keep it together in the workplace, keep it together at home.  Don’t go home and fall apart in front of your family or relive all your stress of your day on your family.  Have an outlet, exercise or whatever, that lets you blow off steam.”


On Workplace Bullying

Ms. North affirmed something I often share with my audience: as hard as it may sometimes be to believe, those that engage in bullying behaviour are often either unaware of their behaviour or unaware of the impact of their behaviour on others.


“Often bullies are that way because they have not received feedback.  I have found that a great way to stop a bully in their tracks is a 360 degree feedback tool.  It is a great tool, not an expensive tool.  The value is in getting feedback from those that report to you, your peers, and those you report to in one package delivered by a skilled facilitator.”


Echoing what I heard from Jane Sillberg, former VP of HR for Intuit, Ms. North chooses to “Start from a belief that people don’t want to fail.  They want to succeed.  That person may have been mentored in bullying tactics.  They may have seen them work for someone else.  They may not understand the consequences in their workplace.  To have a fairly neutral way of having informed feedback go to that person is effective to encourage them to see how others respond to them in the workplace, how they use the power they have.  They can choose to become a better person as a result.”


If the 360 degree tool is not effective then “a person who is senior can use the information to set expectations and provide professional development support, reset behaviour and work towards supporting that person’s success.


The other great tool I have seen is to find a person that the bully respects.  It could be someone in the workplace, it  could be their mother!.  There is always someone that will reach a bully and reach them in a way that they will listen and learn from to recalibrate their behaviours.”


And if those tools don’t work, Ms. North articulated the most critical piece in dealing with and eradicating workplace bullying.  “It is important to have a workplace that is accountable to its staff and deals with issues like bullying, a workplace that uses progressive discipline to move those people out.”


Lessons for Targets

Something else I always share with my audience focuses on those that may be targeted and the power of choice.  We may not be able to control someone else’s behaviour, but we can always control our response.


“It is always at the core of your being to be self-assured and to have control over what you can have control over. If you’re bullied chances are you’re not the only one.  Find a peer group.  This could be  something that is asked of the organization that is constructive and motivated by a desire to help someone learn about themselves, perhaps to get past those bullying tactics.”


Again, if that doesn’t work, it comes back to power of choice. “Always find that reserve of what is within your control and deal with it. At the end of the day if you’re not in a workplace where you will be happy, find a workplace where you will be happy.”


Her Message for Ambitious Gen Y Women

Once again Ms. North’s message is about being self-aware and strategic.


“Conduct yourself and dress more conservatively that you would in your peer group.  It is about making an impression among another generation. Those are the people that you want to mentor you. You don’t want that person to say that is not appropriate in a workplace in terms of provocatively dressing or   coming across with a voice that is uncertain – that drifts up at the end of a sentence.  That is not the way you want to come across. Spending time on social media is not the way you want to come across.

Rather, focus on the value you bring: your value proposition. How can I demonstrate that in terms of what I accomplish, who I am, how I dress? How can I reach out to those individuals that can mentor me?


You can suggest things but you have to have an audience that is in power that will be open to you, that will listen to you.  Start off being true to the expectations of the culture of the workplace, rather than your peer group.  Start by working within the norm.  When you have the power you can change it.”


Her Message for Male CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies

Ms. North models respectful, relationship based leadership.  Her message to leaders and those they lead is about both parties getting out of their comfort zones, learning from each other and using that knowledge to change.


“Know yourself and help each one that you touch and work with know themselves better.  If you have a high performance team of people who are very comfortable with and know their strengths as well as each other strengths, then you can reach out and pull other people up the ladder and into that high performance team.


There are many ways of reaching down 2 to 3 levels within your organization and starting to notice and affirm those bright young women (and men) that may not be in your senior management group but are going to be growing the strength of your organization.


Get out of your comfort zone in the C-suite to become very comfortable with that age group. Engage with that age group (late 20s, thirties).  Find out what is important to them.  Listen to them to determine how your organization can shift to take advantage of their talent while still coaching and mentoring them on how to move forward in your organization.


Mentoring has to be part of one’s leadership style.  Mentoring is helping people to know themselves and how the world responds to them and helping to provide feedback and opportunities whenever you can. Not all of those opportunities will be within your organization: some may be on a not for profit board position or outside or your organization.  It’s about opening other doors.


And finally, some additional nuggets of wisdom from Ms. North that can support all of us who desire to live our purpose and make a difference in our world.


Do more of what you love and less of what you don’t love.
 You have to love what you do.


I always believe in following happiness,
 rather than expecting anything less in your life.


It is a journey for all of us.
 We have an obligation to help people we can along the journey:
 everyone that we meet that has a gift to give.


"Erica Pinsky’s book, Road to Respect: Path to Profit approaches a range of difficult topics in an honest, direct and non-threatening manner. This book will stimulate readers to think about their own values and behaviours and to question those that are operating in their workplaces. Erica shares personal stories and best practices to clearly show why adopting respect as a core value is a requirement for any business interested in being designated as an Employer of Choice in our multi-cultural workplaces.  I highly recommend this book!"

Susan Rubin Mulder,

Principal - McKinsey & Company