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Ethical Leadership: Turning a Curse into a Blessing

Ethical Leadership: Turning a Curse into a Blessing

Thinking about the theme of the 2018 CSAE Conference, Future Proofing, reminds me of that oft-quoted phrase: "May you live in interesting times.” It’s said to be a Chinese curse from ancient times, but it sure feels relevant today.

Everything is shifting. In business, in politics, in world events, and in our social and economic lives.

New technologies and scientific breakthroughs have disrupted all manner of businesses, from communications to manufacturing to food security.

Political upheaval has meant more uncertainty in markets, more distrust of our leaders and institutions, and more refugees seeking safety.

The #MeToo and Times Up movements are redefining the way we interact with each other at work and at so-called play.

It’s a disruptive world out there, but that ancient curse can also be a blessing of opportunity.


My Experiences with Disruption

I’ve been fortunate to be in leadership roles at large corporations during times of massive change. For example, as luck would have it, my arrival as the first female president of Sony Music Canada coincided with the arrival of a disruptive little upstart, Napster. He and his file-sharing friends begat a digital revolution in the global recording industry, quickly becoming Davids to the industry’s Goliath, and devastating the business as we knew it. It’s tough to compete with ‘free,’ and it’s taken almost 20 years for the global music business to recover.

Similarly, shortly after I became GM of CBC English Radio, the corporation was faced with a $171 million dollar shortfall. It was a devastating situation that required not only ‘transitional efficiencies’ (as downsizing is euphemistically called), but also a radical redeployment of resources to serve Canadians with quality content when, where, and how they wanted it.


What's to be Done?

In both instances, we were looking to modernize and expand our offerings while simultaneously contracting our workforce. It’s not easy to shrink and grow in the face of technological disruption. It takes steely-eyed leadership and courageous innovation. There are several helpful Do’s and Don’ts I’ll share from those experiences, as well as from my early days in the extreme world of entertainment.

We’ll talk about succeeding in a culture of innovation, transparency, and authenticity; about empowering your employees; inspiring motivated teams; and building resiliency when change is hard (and when isn’t it?) I’ll share some celebrity stories, some tall tales (I'm 6’1”), and hopefully a giggle or two but, ultimately, we’ll get down to business.

If you’re looking to Future Proof your organisation, two of the most important lessons are: A) Do not let a good crisis go to waste, and B) Lead ethically. Ethical Leadership is the only course for true success, and I’m sure you’ll agree, there’s never been a time when we’ve needed smart, principled leadership more.

It’s the only way to turn that curse into a blessing for the benefit of us all.




Ethics, Leadership, Denise Donlon, CSAE Conference & Showcase


Guest Contributor, Governance / Leadership



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