Expect to make a difference, be an authentic leader and have integrity

Kathleen Taylor at Friday's Fall Convocation ceremony

The secret to success lies with people’s expectations, Kathleen Taylor told graduands during York University’s Fall convocation ceremonies.

Kathleen Taylor
Kathleen Taylor

“You should have high expectations. In fact you should expect to advance through your careers making a real difference in the world, bringing change for the better,” said Taylor who received an honorary doctor of laws degree from York during the convocation ceremony for the Joint Kellogg-Schulich Executive Master of Business Administration program.

“So in this next phase, that’s what I want you to do – expect better. I want you to expect a world that delivers more opportunity for more people, where innovation is harnessed and developed to create growth, where business operates with a level of representativeness and ethics that can make the citizens proud.”

The catch is, she said, that in order to “expect better of the world, you need to expect better of yourselves”. To be successful in business, people need to bring their best selves forward, especially to effect great change.

“You’re not passengers of your careers, you need to be the CEO of your destiny,” said Taylor. Taylor is the first woman in Canadian history to lead the board of a major bank. She is currently chair of the board of the Royal Bank of Canada. Formerly, she was president and CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “Don’t count on things to happen, on opportunities to arrive. Go out and make them happen. Our country needs leadership in the business community more than ever. Strong leaders are change agents and that is what this education and your lives have prepared you for.”

She challenged the graduands to do business globally, despite the challenges. It’s imperative to harness the country’s diversity and meet international competition head on to succeed.

From left, York Chancellor Gregory Sorbara, Kathleen Taylor and President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri
From left, Gregory Sorbara, Kathleen Taylor and Mamdouh Shoukri

“All the data indicates that the business leaders understand the need to diversity into new markets, but are not yet fully acting on it and that’s where you come in. You the next generation of leaders will have to do that,” said Taylor.

“Success, prosperity and jobs will depend on it. In relative terms, global exports increased just nine per cent of the last 12 years, while the annual average for Canada hovered at just over four. Earlier this year, a Delloite studies told us the emerging economies are accounting for almost 80 per cent of all real GDP growth in the world and yet less than 12 per cent of Canadian business are focused on exporting to those groups.”

Being a successful leader, a change agent, requires being authentic and acting with integrity. “Authentic leaders use their minds to the fullest, no question, but they also lead with their hearts, with passion, with emotion, by showing their real selves, by acknowledging error and vulnerability, by constantly demo empathy,” said Taylor. “Authentic leaders build meaningful relationships that yield far better results than command and control of the past.”

Kathleen Taylor and Dezsö J. Horváth, dean of the Schulich School of Business
Kathleen Taylor and Dezsö J. Horváth, dean of the Schulich School of Business

Building good teams of the best people and fostering good relationships is crucial to success. “Right here at this school, I learned that people are the heart of business strategy. That business is about people and in fact business is personal.”

She suggested the graduands find people who will support and believe in them, who will push them to do different things, and who will believe in them even more than they believe in themselves. “No one of us is ever as good as all of us,” said Taylor.