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Rebecca McKillican (left) is the CEO and Erin Young the CMO of Well.ca.
Rebecca McKillican (left) is the CEO and Erin Young the CMO of Well.ca.

LEADERSHIP LAB

How to cultivate a ‘no apologies’ leadership style Add to ...

This week’s series of Leadership Labs is being published in conjunction with International Women’s Day.

“I’m sorry.” It seems like an innocuous phrase, but too often it makes leaders seem weak or insecure, even when they aren’t.

And since research shows that women are generally more prone to apologizing than men, this can be a particularly damaging habit for women leading companies. We face enough challenges every day – why add to them by starting at a disadvantage?

That’s why we have worked hard to cultivate a “no apologies” leadership style in our workplace. We find this especially relevant when balancing our busy personal and professional lives.

Instead of apologizing for having lives outside of work, or having demanding working lives, we celebrate the fact that we have exciting careers and engaging families at the same time. We acknowledge that we love both our families and our work. We recognize that we do both jobs well – and even that we’re better parents because we work, and we are better leaders at work because we are parents.

At Well.ca, a Canadian e-commerce company, we’ve worked hard to both personally embrace this “no apologies” mentality and embed it in our corporate culture. Here are a few tips that help keep us on track:

Be true to yourself

Encouraging an open dialogue at work is critical to making everyone feel comfortable. And it starts from the top, with the leadership. We don’t have separate work personas – we are who we are, with employees, board members, customers, and peers. And we encourage our employees to bring their whole selves to work, melding the personal and the professional. We recognize that when people feel comfortable bringing 100 per cent of themselves to work, they’re able to deliver 100 per cent at work.

Bring your work home and your home to work

We’re not suggesting that you bring your child to a corporate meeting or never put your laptop down, but pretending that you aren’t trying to balance the various parts of your life is a recipe for disaster. Sharing your family with your colleagues will help them understand why you can’t miss a doctor’s appointment or special school celebration. And letting your family know what’s going on at work will help them know when you need to spend some extra time preparing for a big presentation or celebrating a big win with colleagues.

Book everything in one calendar

Work and family are equally important and deserve equal recognition in your calendar. We book every board meeting and dance recital in one calendar to make sure that we are where we need to be – and that there’s no two-tiered system. It also provides some transparency for your colleagues, who can easily see when you’re available.

Be supportive

No man or woman is an island – and there’s no reason to behave like you are in the workplace. Asking others for help and offering to help get work done is an important part of our organizational culture and a key to our success. We’ve been lucky to work closely together for several years, and have managed to have three kids between us over this time period. We have developed a system for collaborating and sharing work that requires no apologies and delivers strong results. We encourage our teams to do the same.

We’re not saying it’s easy, but openness, honesty and transparency on both sides of our personal and professional lives means that everyone has a better sense of the big picture, makes us better leaders, parents and partners and ensures that we don’t apologize for having full lives.

Rebecca McKillican is the CEO and Erin Young the CMO of Well.ca.

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