Kathy McCrum on setting benchmarks, being real, and bringing More You to leadership.
Kathy is a Creativity Cultivator who tenaciously explores the relationship between personal responsibility and up-leveled action to activate a team's full potential in a family, community or organization. She believes in non-typical interactions, creative thinking and courageous speaking to bring "More You" in life and work.
Kathy’s career has placed her squarely within seemingly serious industries such as transportation, heavy equipment, petroleum-refining, and now utilities. The common thread throughout each experience has been an opportunity to lead differently.
Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken. ~ Oscar Wilde
Be More You.
PH: Tell us about The Leader Path for Kathy McCrum thus far.
The best way to describe My Leader Path so far … A wild, supported, terrifying and very rewarding ride!
I have been extremely fortunate throughout my life and career to have had several amazing mentors and champions who helped me carve out and develop my Leader Path. What I reflect upon years later is the influence my parents and grandparents had on the type of leader I have become, and I believe this is where my deep-rooted values started to grow.
I was set up to succeed as a child and later as an early adult. Personal accountability was instilled in me early on. Through a few trying accountability failures as a teen, coupled with a relentless mother who was not my friend, I ended up learning valuable life lessons that later translated into career lessons. I grew up with high expectations, unconditional love, and a whole lot of music constantly playing in the background. These three things contributed greatly to my Leader Path.
Early in my career, I realized how special these amazing mentor relationships were to me, and I vowed to strive to be a future champion for others. I can still remember thinking, “Why are these leaders so supportive of me? Why are they giving me so much rope and opportunity to use my creative side and really be me?”
I eventually figured that out and saved it in my ‘leadership drive’ and often think back to the young career me when I am trying to help others now. I have remained in contact with many of my sponsors and mentors who continue to help me today.
PH: Can you discuss the values that guide you on The Leader Path and how you use them?
My values have always been my guiding light, and I hope I can continue to set an example for others. I will not stray from my deeply rooted values. So much so that a few times I have arguably risked my job to keep my values and morals intact, and consequently was recognized after the fact for my values-based leadership. This approach has never failed me, and I continue to lead by example and help the younger generation recognize and stick to their values. There is a direct link for me between values-based leadership and being REAL.
- Be Real. This is natural for me. I have rarely felt throughout my career that I have needed to be 'someone else'. This has attributed to my success.
- Be Open. I honestly have never stopped wanting to learn – about others, my surroundings, and most importantly about myself.
- Shoot higher. I have learned the importance of continuing to test my limits by raising the bar higher. I set benchmarks that are a stretch to achieve.
- Embrace discomfort. I have learned to thrive in that state of strain and unease. I manage it. I learn from it. I grow with it. Sometimes, I actually crave the uncomfortable feeling, and usually go looking for it….
In the early stages of my career with CP Rail, I was very lucky to have leaders (mostly male) who allowed me to test my limits and be totally uncomfortable. I smile when I think of a leap I took out of HR while I was with the railway. I had a mentor relationship with the VP of Strategy and Business Development (Dave) while working in an HR role. Dave helped me to realize that stepping outside of HR 'someday' would be a great experience for me, as I was always interested in the core business and craved to get more deeply involved. It was that same Dave who tapped me on the shoulder to take a Business Development Manager role in his area.
My first reaction was fear.
I could not go to my current manager and tell her about this, as she would not be supportive of me leaving the HR world. I sat on it and was very close to quietly turning the opportunity down. The Real ME leaned into the un-comfortableness and woke up to realize I would only be hurting myself if I didn’t take this challenge on. And let’s be honest – I WANTED IT. It was a stretch for sure - a stretch that surprised many and turned out to be a great ride for me with experiences and growth I would not have otherwise enjoyed. It strengthened my love for operations and the business that continues to pluck at my heart strings; and may just mean a future leap into the business or operation 'someday'!
This was the most uncomfortable I had ever felt in my career, and it was this experience that set my new benchmark to want that feeling again. It prepared me for much more significant discomfort later in my career.
PH: We call men like Dave (former VP of Strategy and Business Development, #MENWHOMOBILIZE.
They are our champions and a key ingredient to mobilizing successful women leaders by, at times, pushing us beyond what we believe is possible. Can you speak to the current initiative you are leading as the VP HR and Safety at SaskPower alongside your team that also includes #MENWHOMOBILIZE?
SaskPower, along with the electricity industry, is going through a time of unprecedented change and we want to ensure we have the right leadership and workforce in place to lead us successfully into the future. Our next decade moves us toward cleaner energy with a more competitive environment requiring a mix of skillsets and competencies.
Moving the dial on our Diversity and Inclusion strategy plays a significant part in our future success. SaskPower leaders will be more dynamic, innovative and inspiring! People Power: Powering Up Your Purpose, Performance & Potential with SaskPower is our mobilization initiative that is a foundational part of our strategy and will help us accelerate our desired outcome of supporting, stretching and inspiring women at SaskPower. We are – quite literally – Powering Up Our People with Purpose, Performance & Potential alongside PowHERhouse. As we prepare for the next decade, we will have a larger representation of women in leadership and senior leadership roles, bringing a different perspective to our business, our industry, and our future. Our President and CEO, Mike Marsh is a ‘champion mobilizer’ and is on board to lead us there through true commitment and leadership. He has spent most of his career at SaskPower and understands our environment is changing, which will require us to champion more women leaders to rise up the ranks as well as improve our ability to attract women leaders to the organization.
PH: I understand that this mobilization initiative even has a national component to be a leader within your industry. Can you tell us more about that too?
I want to continue to engage other women in senior leadership roles in my industry across Canada to join the conversation; to also share their success stories and the challenges they have faced along their leader path. I feel strongly about looking both inside and outside of SaskPower’s borders to provide more learnings for our employees from various role models in leadership. I want to start a conversation with other women in like-industries to explore if there is opportunity to do more and be more as a coordinated group – with a goal to inspire and mobilize women across Canada.
PH: That's fabulous! As a woman in an executive position, what would you tell emerging leaders who ask what got you here?
What got me here?
- An unwillingness to settle for less.
- Know what you want and go after it with relentless drive.
- Practice resilience, and patience and stay true to yourself no matter the cost.
- Being REAL and rare is an underplayed attribute of a memorable leader.
Don’t get hung up on status and title. When asked to step up, step up! This is your chance to learn and shine.
There was no one thing or a silver bullet that landed me here. It has been a collective of crazy, fulfilling experiences, people and growth that are all the culprits. Most importantly, find what fuels the fire in your belly and allow that to bring More You into how you lead regardless of your title or role, every day.
PH: What is your relationship with fear and how do you manage it?
Each time and every time I took on a new role throughout my career, I was terrified. When I changed organizations, I was terrified. Despite the fear, I embraced the change, jumped in with both feet, and later realized that fear an ingredient necessary to build powerful strength within. I now expect to feel scared when faced with a big opportunity. It has become a great indicator!
My rule I follow: Don’t ‘fear’ fear. Lean on your champions! They will catch you if you fall and help you learn to move on.
PH: You have a young daughter and are surrounded by emerging leaders in your organization. What would one thing be that you hope to instill in them as part of your own leadership legacy?
What I know for sure both as a parent, and an organizational leader: How I have handled adversity and challenging situations have been true testaments of my character as a leader. Believe me, I have led my way through some very adverse and difficult situations.
I believe it is my role to help others realize there are gold nuggets in every adverse situation and sometimes the best judge of a person’s character and ability is how they handle adversity. Having the courage to call More Me in to help lead through adversity has stretched me to new heights of achievement and fulfillment.
I view my leadership role as a great privilege. I want to continue to be a role model for my children and those I work with by stretching the traditional way of thinking and using my influence to spread infectious hope for others. I plan to take a more active role in waking up other leaders and helping them to realize that we need to support and lead differently if we want to be successful both now and into the future. I have the privilege to be in a role where I can do more to push both my industry and my community. I think Canadian leaders specifically need to band together and talk about this collectively – we all own and are responsible for creating the pathways forward in each province and unity between these pathways.
I will continue to instill the “More You” in my daughter, who will have endless opportunity to shine wherever she wants to shine because of the pathways I have been able to help clear for HER. I will never make my son feel inadequate as we push this agenda and will ensure he is confident and knows how to support and mobilize as a leader.
PH: One of your key insights and leadership learnings has been what you call More You. Can you tell us about that?
Bringing “More You” to your leadership encourages us to stop worrying so much about the traditional norms and whether we are swimming with the current. We will not be remembered for what we didn’t say; like Wayne Gretzky's famous advice, “You will miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
So many of us get stuck in our own heads and convince ourselves not to speak up. Fear gets us nowhere. I want to encourage other leaders to bring “More You” to everything! People figure out ‘phony’. They know it doesn’t feel right. Let’s stop worrying so much about how a message may be perceived and trust our gut. My gut is rarely wrong, and I have learned to trust it more and more throughout my leadership journey both as a parent as well as an organizational leader. It truly has become my primary compass.
In general, leaders take themselves too seriously. In doing so, our creativity risks get squashed, and we snub out the potential that true connection and rich relationships play in the success of our people.
I have an ability to lighten the room and have been told I need to keep doing it. I love laughter both in life and in business. As a Creativity Cultivator, it’s important to me to also create space for others to lighten up and bring More You into our working environments.
PH: If you were writing a letter to Canada and future leaders in Canada over the next 50 years, what would you say?
Dear Canada, I believe in you.
I will work to have impact within and beyond my borders, starting at home within my own walls. In the words of Simon Sinek, “leadership is no different than parenting”. It is my mission to instill in each of my children that first and foremost to “BE YOU” and to explore how they can continue to grow and be real. As a parent, if I can teach my kids to be personally accountable starting at the root, I have made an impact.
In the workplace and outside the walls of my home – it is about bringing out ‘MORE YOU’ in others through leadership – ‘bring our personalities, creativity, and quirks to work'. I hope my efforts ripple out and shift how we lead in the future.
It is my hope to make a world-class impact by continuing to foster my relationships built across North America and learn from leaders across different industries, influencing other women to do the same. We are better together, and how do we share, plan and partner better to build each other up models the way for future leaders. Let's start now!
I believe that I am making an impact within my current organization by influencing my peers, standing up for other women who are capable of much more, and accessing other leaders from outside of our walls to help grow and motivate our female leaders at SaskPower. Working alongside PowHERhouse to bring visibility and take action on goals of diverse leadership at SaskPower places us as a leader in Canada and calls other organizations across provinces and industries to review their own priorities and commitments to powering up their people.
More You, Canada. More fire in your belly.