Top 5 Leadership Guide

Our Health Lead Crystal Phillips offers her 5 Guiding Lessons on Leadership for International Women's Day

1388 Business Article Series (March 2021)


Women today are better positioned to become industry leaders than ever before. We’re at the forefront of a movement to advance diversity, equality and inclusion; a movement that is creating opportunities for women to truly make a difference in their chosen career.


My own career spanned across sport, the charitable sector and now venture capital. I started as a national-level speed skater, and, after a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, I founded a neurological charity focused on funding gaps in the health care system. Now, as Health Lead at Thin Air Labs, an investment and innovation firm, I work with inspiring founders, helping them ‘build a healthier next’. While I’m still learning and practicing, as I reflect on my career, these 5 guiding lessons stand out:


1. Mental Training For The Win

You talk to any successful athlete and they’ll give credit for their success to the mental resilience they built, not the amount of weight they could lift, how much protein they ate or how fast they could run. More than any sporting equipment or fancy tech, goal setting, mindfulness, leading with my personal values, and visualization were the most valuable training tools that propelled me to an elite level.


Since retiring as an athlete, the same mental training tools that increased my motivation, and strengthened me against distractions are now the most relevant training tools for achieving my personal and career goals.


2. You Be You - play to your strengths and outsource the rest

When I started the Branch Out Neurological Foundation in 2010, my dream was to accelerate innovative neuroscience research. The only problem was that up until this point, my expertise was “skating in circles”. I was a speed skater, not a neuroscientist. There was a major gap between what I needed to know and what I didn’t. This forced me to learn the valuable lesson of playing to my own strengths and outsourcing the rest by finding the strengths of others.


My personal strengths are motivating a team and throwing epic parties! By leveraging those strengths, I was able to create fundraising experiences and a shared vision that attracted others to want to join and help Branch Out’s cause. Those people filled my neuroscience expertise gaps and propelled Branch Out forward. Rather than focusing on what could be considered ‘disadvantages’, a simple reframing allowed me to focus on personal advantages and opened my eyes to the strengths of others.


3. Collect Unlike Minds

Another benefit of finding strengths in others is the completely different perspectives, values, talents, and interests they provide! Challenging your inner status quo by exposing it to these unlike minds creates the environment for new thinking, growth and innovation.


Finding people who think differently than you requires purposefully expanding your network by putting yourself in different situations and with different groups of people. Some of my greatest ideas, best friends, top donors, and most valuable mentors have come from the least expected places.


It’s worth noting that dissimilar people can often, at first, seem strange, unintelligent , wrong... keeping an open mind and acknowledging them for their differences takes practice and is necessary for overcoming our own unconscious bias.


4. Actively Seek Female Inspiration and Mentorship

For the longest time, all of my professional mentors were men. All were amazing and I am still grateful they volunteered their time to share their experience, but it created an environment that made it difficult to envision successful professional women.


A chapter of UN Women, SHEInnovates Alberta says “if you can see it, you can be it.” Taking that to heart, I very intentionally started building relationships with successful female leaders from politics and business to art, science, tech and engineering. Surrounding myself with incredible female leaders has me believing I, too, can be that successful professional woman that I couldn’t see early in my career.


5. The Love that you Give is The Love that you Feel

I got that quote from an old Billabong t-shirt… but it’s so true! Reciprocity is a powerful tool for creating good.


In social psychology, reciprocity is a social norm of responding to a positive action with another positive action, rewarding kind actions.


Enough said. Don’t we all want to live and do business in that kind of reciprocal altruistic world!? Let’s make it happen by continuing our acts of kindness, giving back, volunteering and mentoring.


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