Alumna expands leadership skills
That’s how an employee with the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development (AAD) sums up her experience as a delegate of the 2015 Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference, a unique two-week experience that took her from her hometown of St. John’s to the wilderness of the Yukon.
The conference has only been held eight times since its inception in 1983. It’s a prestigious event. Delegates from business, labour, government and the community sector are chosen through a highly competitive process.
Jennifer O’Neill, associate director, AAD, spent up to 18 hours a day “learning and debating,” with other leaders, while “broadening my horizons, pushing my leadership skills to the limit and challenging my perspectives.
“It was truly transformational in how you perceive the country and the scope of innovation across all sectors,” added Ms. O’Neill, an alumna of the School of Music who has worked at Memorial for the past decade.
This year’s conference got underway in St. John’s on May 22 and focused on leadership and innovation. It was the first time in its more than 30-year history the conference was held in the capital city. After an opening plenary that brought together high-level Canadian and international speakers, the 250 delegates broke out into different study groups for an eight-day immersion experience in one of 15 regions across the country. They then reconvened in Ottawa, sharing what they learned with other delegates and Gov. Gen. David Johnston.
“It was an intense experience but completely worth it,” said Ms. O’Neill, who was one of 16 delegates from across the country who travelled to the Yukon where they met with industry, community groups, governments and First Nations. There, they examined the role leaders play in stimulating, driving, managing and diffusing innovation within their organizations and communities.
They discussed socio-economic issues with local businesses, saw examples of economic development in the North, discussed the importance of research and development and explored the diverse history and heritage of the region – an area of the country Ms. O’Neill describes as “starkly beautiful.” The itinerary was full with back-to-back meetings and constant discussions with her team.
“That group consisted of senior leaders in their own fields,” said Ms. O’Neill. “We had some very intensive group dynamic situations where perceptions were definitely challenged.”
When she and her group met up with the rest of the delegates in Ottawa, they gave a presentation on the “fragility and fascination of the North.
“The conference provided me with the opportunity to push myself and stretch myself in different directions,” noted Ms. O’Neill. “A lot of my professional development has been focused on fundraising – and rightly so because that’s what I do – but I wanted to push myself to examine leadership on a national level and this was completely the right move.
“I really wanted to grow as a leader, step outside of my comfort zone and have a different perspective,” she added.
Several other participants from Newfoundland and Labrador – many of whom are Memorial alumni – also took part and travelled to other areas of the country.
Despite the non-stop action, Ms. O’Neill says she feels she has grown as a leader.
“I have already begun implementing what I’ve learned to be a stronger leader into my career here at Memorial,” she said. “I feel privileged to have been selected as a part of the conference.”