Ignore Your Mentors and Ditch the Career Plan: A Conversation with Phyllis Yaffe

Posted December 4, 2014 in Career Management, Latest News & Insights

This past week, 12 lucky members of The Executive Roundtable had an opportunity to get up close and interactive with the inspirational Phyllis Yaffe, corporate board director and former CEO of Alliance Atlantis. Phyllis brought candour, humour and a down-to-earth approach to the conversation that took us through her career path from librarian to CEO.  Here are a few of my top take-aways:

Take risks… when you are moving towards something that excites you and interests you, even if it goes sideways, you’ll likely learn a ton and be better positioned for your next opportunity.

Don’t always listen to your mentors… if you believe in what you’re moving towards, the well intentioned advice of mentors (and parents) may be misplaced. Go with your gut and pursue what interests you.

Chase the experience, not the money… this has come up with other leaders we’ve had on our podium, but throughout Phyllis’ career, she took jobs and opportunities that she was interested in that she thought would be a challenge.  Which leads to the next point…

Don’t worry if you don’t have a career plan… not sure where you’re going to be in 5 years? Don’t sweat it. Phyllis shared a career path that was more organic. By focusing on doing what she enjoyed and – KEY POINT – doing it well, opportunities came to her. She never applied for a job other than her first one out of school.

Be curious and don’t be afraid to put up your hand… opportunities are often given to people who stick their hands up. Don’t wait to be asked. Seek out opportunities that interest you and get on the radar of senior people by showing them that you’re keen to take on more.

Act quickly…lingering on tough decisions is fatal. Move quickly and then move on.

Saying no is harder than saying yes… there are lots of good ideas. Leadership is about knowing which good ideas you’re going to say “no” to in order to keep your focus.

Connect to a bigger purpose… although seemingly a diverse set of jobs on the surface, the thread that tied all of Phyllis’ varied roles together – from librarian to CEO – was a passion for Canadian content and encouraging Canadian’s to support their own authors and artists. Operating from a place of clear purpose infuses your work with passion and inspires those around you.

As with all our View for the C-Suite events, there was so much more to this discussion.  Thanks to Phyllis Yaffe for spending time with us and we were happy to make a donation to her charity of choice, Samara Canada.  Our executive forums will be back in the new year.  In the meantime, check out our e-Roundtables to hear top experts from the comfort of your desk.

Happy leading!


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