When Rowena Pinto looks back on her career in public policy and administration, she distinctly remembers the managers and supervisors who mentored her early on.
“Some of the best bosses I've had made a big point of becoming very interested in where I wanted to go, what I wanted to do and what my skills were,” Pinto says. “I've been really lucky to have a lot of really great mentors during my time, who I would never have been mentored by had they not engaged with me at a junior stage.”
Pinto brings this same leadership style to her current role as the chief program officer of UNICEF Canada, leading a team of 25 employees across three different departments – marketing and communications, international policy and domestic policy.
“A big part of what I do is to really get to know people, their motivations and where they want to go,” she says.
Here’s what fuels Pinto’s mornings
With a host of allergies that Pinto jokes could “take up a whole article,” her morning meal of choice is simple and energizing: fresh mango with almonds.
“It’s fresh and sweet,” she says. “It gives you that bit of sugar in the morning.”
But if Pinto happens to miss breakfast or needs a mid-morning boost, she’ll stop into JJ Bean, a cafe at the base of her Yonge and Eglinton office building.
“If the mango and almonds are just not meeting expectations, I'll come down to JJ Bean and it’s usually the croissant I go for,” Pinto says, which is often accompanied by a cup of dark roast coffee, served black.
At the UNICEF offices at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto, Pinto finds that mornings are an ideal time to forge these relationships with her staff, taking advantage of what tends to be a quieter time in the day. “I’ll walk around and ask how things are going,” she says. “I’ll talk to them about their work and about how their weekend was.”
But even before Pinto reaches the office, she has a different team to inspire. Her first priority in the mornings is her children. A mug of black, dark roast coffee helps gets her up and moving at 6:30 a.m. and stays by her side during the five-minute walk she takes with her teenage son to his bus stop by 7 a.m. “It's very portable,” Pinto says of her morning coffee, which she can also sip while she’s doing her twin daughters’ hair.
Busy mornings at home mean that Pinto usually waits until she reaches her office to eat breakfast. She’ll read the news and get updates on any major global events, weather systems or conflicts that may have occurred.
“We work for a global organization at UNICEF so things happen 24 hours a day,” she says. “I'll catch up on the things that might have happened around the world, or any kinds of press releases that went out in Europe while we were asleep.”
Often, the nature of Pinto’s work at UNICEF can be challenging to face – children dying of preventable diseases and struggling with poor access to education. It can be difficult to keep motivated under these circumstances, but Pinto is often reminded of the value of her work. “You never have to question whether your job is fulfilling or not,” she says.
To pass this energy and motivation onto her staff, Pinto encourages them to take risks when they brainstorm new ideas. “It’s hard to breed creativity if you’re okay with how things are,” Pinto says. Instead, she’ll work with her staff to craft new ideas while helping to plan what elements are necessary to execute it, how they’ll measure their progress and how they’ll know if things aren’t working. This brainstorming process “gets people very motivated,” Pinto says. “They feel in control of their own destiny.”
Another way that Pinto encourages creativity is to bring her three teams together.
“I never want to be the centre, where all these people are coming to me and I’m the integrator myself,” Pinto explains. “Even though I have very different departments, part of my approach is to get them to work together and come up with some really creative solutions. When people feel like they can contribute and be a part of the solution, that’s another huge retention opportunity.”
The formula has been a success for Pinto and UNICEF Canada so far, which has earned a Nonprofit Employer of Choice Award for the past two years. Pinto is quick to give credit to the company’s human resources department for fostering a positive work environment. One of their initiatives is to hold regular staff surveys and share their findings – both good and bad – with the entire team. “We’ll celebrate the good results but we also look at where we didn't do as well,” Pinto says.
Celebrating her team’s wins is another key to successful leadership, according to Pinto. While cakes, parties and mid-meeting acknowledgments may be an obvious way to do this, Pinto reminds us that recognition can happen in many different ways.
“Part of it is understanding how people want to be recognized,” she says. “Not everybody wants a party. Some people just want a thank you. My goal is to make everybody feel valued and recognized.”
Special to The Globe and Mail