22Kellie Garrett describes herself as an accidental executive who’s recovering from corporate life. She’s a coach, speaker, and consultant on leadership, business strategy, internal culture change. She’s also a certified board director and delivers workshops on board effectiveness, diversity, and governance. She is currently completing certification in Brené Brown’s work (Certified Daring Way Facilitator). Kellie has numerous awards under her belt, including Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women and 25 Top Women of Influence. The Canadian Red Cross named her Humanitarian of the Year in 2014 for her voluntarism in the area of autism.
Describe your Mission. What’s it all about for you?
My mission is to help others shine.
I do this by:
- Helping others to appreciate their own brilliance (so they can shine)
- Giving my time generously to causes with volunteering and to individuals with mentoring
- Accepting and managing my powerful presence
- Downplaying attention as appropriate
- Looking for the light in everything: people, events and the everyday
- Burnishing my talents with discipline and continuous learning
What life lesson did you learn in your career?
There’s a saying that goes, “Fortune comes in many disguises.”, and I’d say that’s my life lesson. I auditioned to do a classical flute degree in Montreal and was rejected. I applied to be in journalism school and didn’t get in. I was crushed both times. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life so I took off on a sailboat with five men when I was 22 for two years.
That experience taught me things that I could never have learned elsewhere. I ended up working in advertising and communications in Toronto before abandoning my career to have babies, and move to the Prairies when I was 32. I only lasted at home for five months – I just wasn’t cut out for it. Work is wayyyy easier than being a stay-at-home mother. I was promoted rapidly despite arguing that I wasn’t ready and was named a VP at age 37. By 46, I was ready. I was groomed to compete for a CEO position and sent to Harvard Business School for a couple of months. I was one of 15 women in a class of 150, from 37 countries. I held my own during strategy debates and presentations. I didn’t get the CEO job and had to learn how to genuinely support the guy who did. It was humble pie, and it gave me amazing learnings. (Fortune comes in many disguises!)
I was completely unaware of what I was capable of. Along the way, I discovered that I can accomplish pretty well anything that truly matters to me.
So I was an accidental executive. I never aspired to be a senior businesswoman – I just wanted to have a happy personal life after a difficult childhood.
How would you describe what brings you the greatest joy in your current role?
Helping individuals and teams see how they’re getting in their own way and finding ways to help them improve and grow. That includes learning how to be curious about criticism because perception is reality.
What is your ultimate dream for your role/business/mission and where you’d like to take it?
I’d love to write a book that inspires others to get out of their own way.
Describe your success strategy in one sentence.
All of my business comes via word-of-mouth or referrals.
Best advice you ever received
“Take a time management/productivity course. You’re creative and brilliant, but if you don’t get your act together, you’ll die in this job.” Louise Neveu, then-VP who promoted me to Assistant VP when I was 35. I still use the principles I learned from Franklin Covey to this day.
How do you balance between being an impactful community leader, a busy professional, volunteer and so much more without dodging your own self-care?
Busted. What’s self-care? Seriously, I didn’t really look after myself until I turned 48. My husband sent me to a wellness ranch because that’s the age my mother died of breast cancer. I always thought I’d expire by then too. I was blessed with a strong constitution: I’ve had too much iron all my life, which meant that I had too much energy. I had to wear myself out so I could relax enough to lie down and sleep. I see a personal trainer at the gym twice a week and try to get 10,000 steps a day. I decompress by playing in my gigantic flower garden in the summers (my absolute favourite thing to do), and journal in the mornings with one of my cats.
What would you say your Top 3 Excellence Habits are (i.e. habits that ensure your success)?
- I treat others from all walks of life fairly and with respect.
- I work my a** off.
- Continuous learning.
Describe your Top 3 Time Management Tips.
- Every Sunday, I look at the past week and evaluate what went well and what didn’t in my journal. This includes all aspects (exercise, diet, work, goals). I then plan the week ahead after looking at what’s due that quarter. I choose exercise classes and plan leisure activities too (art classes are one of my new passions). I have a beautiful Erin Condren planner and I’m like a kid; I use stickers and washi tape, and different colours for different activities (green is work, blue is volunteering, etc.).
- My energy is highest in the morning, so I do work that requires the most thinking then and plan most meetings in the afternoon.
- Every hour, I get up and walk around for at least five minutes.
Describe a favourite hobby or adventure.
My favourite joy is flower gardening. I love everything about it: clearing away debris in the spring to reveal perennial shoots, weeding, planting annuals, deadheading, pruning. I never get tired of it and wish I lived in a warmer climate where I could garden more of the year. (Saskatchewan isn’t the most hospitable climate for my fave hobby.)
Favourite energy meal or snack (healthy).
Chicken breast, tzatziki, chopped cucumber, and cilantro.
Do you have a morning ritual or primer that you use daily to set your state positively and powHERfully? We’d love to hear about it!
Ideally, I have 40 minutes. I make a cappuccino and sit with my cat. Then I draw a soul card (Denise Linn) and journal (morning pages as recommended by the author of ‘The Artist’s Way’ Julia Cameron). I end the journaling with what I’m grateful for. Then I make a list of must-do priorities. Surf twitter, facebook and catch up on latest Scrabble games with my hubby.
Favourite indulgence or treat.
Red wine with dark chocolate. Dry white wine (Sauvignon blanc) with old cheddar. Hmmm. My favourite indulgences involve wine. I am from Montréal …
Top 4 things on your Bucket List.
- Travel to Asia, New Zealand and Australia.
- Write a book.
- Start a home for adults with autism to live independently. (I have a grown son with autism.)
- Get the lifetime membership with Weight Watchers. (I’ve been going for what seems like a lifetime, and never got the darned thing.)
Your thoughts on mentoring young women? What do you feel your most valuable lessons to pass on are?
Stay true to what truly matters to you. When you fall in love, don’t lose yourself in the process. Love is one of life’s loveliest treasures but not the only one. What do you want to accomplish independently of a relationship or motherhood? Men don’t think they need to choose between a career and marriage/parenthood. Neither should we.
Figure out your talents and gifts. If you do what you’re good at, it won’t feel like work. Treat absolutely everyone you come into contact with as if you find them interesting (even better if you adopt a mindset that everyone IS interesting). Everyone is connected to someone. News travels quickly (and even across the country) about people who are good eggs and people who aren’t. Your brains and track record won’t save you from a reputation for being hard to deal with or disrespectful.
Oh, and don’t forget to have fun. Most things we get bent out of shape about aren’t worth it in the long run!