Summit reveals the inner workings of leadership

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Bracebridge Examiner

GRAVENHURST — Being at the helm can be a bumpy ride.

Along with disclosing some of their best advice to area municipal staff, three local leaders spoke candidly about the emotional hardship and isolation that often coincides with their positions.

“It’s actually very lonely,” said Natalie Bubela, CEO of Muskoka Algonquin Healthcare, one of three panelists to participate in a leadership summit held by Mohawk College Enterprise at the Gravenhurst Opera House on Jan. 7.

Sitting between District of Muskoka CAO Michael Duben and Sawdust City Brewing Co. CAO Rick Dalmazzi, Bubela described the stresses of not being able to discuss the details of her decision-making with those around her.

“Sometimes in a leadership role you’re not in a position to tell the whole truth to the public or your colleagues,” said Bubela, noting privacy issues surrounding disclosure of information.  “You have to stay true to yourself and what you know is right.”

As an example, Bubela gave a frank account of a situation she was faced with earlier in her career.

While holding a vice-president position at Rouge Valley Health System, Bubela said a whistleblower brought to light another employee’s false invoicing scheme. She said investigation revealed $2 million had been pilfered from the organization.

“This was a person that I had respected,” Bubela said of the man she had to fire after 35 years of employment with the group. Through a town hall meeting the rest of the employees were told the man had been let go, she said, and they weren’t happy.

“There was so much venom,” she said. “It was horrible.”

Bubela said she began receiving hateful and threatening notes to the point additional security needed to be brought in. The worst part, she said, was that due to legal reasons she couldn’t reveal the facts of the case, which would have proven she was in the right.

“Sometimes you need to do what you have to do and the truth will come out eventually,” she said, noting the media caught on to the scandal and finally the information she couldn’t disclose went public.

“No one apologized for the hurtful things they said,” she remembered.

Similarly, Duben, former general manager with the City of Windsor, described the emotional toll of having your qualifications or integrity questioned. He said this is a common occurrence when working in a government setting, which was something attendees of the summit – all being employees or elected officials of area municipalities – could relate to.

The intention of the session was to help potential leaders develop their skills by first determining which skills were imperative in being a great leader.

One trait all three speakers agreed on was emotional intelligence.

“You have to be able to gain people’s trust and show them they are important and have a role to play,” said Dalmazzi, a Gravenhurst Chamber of Commerce board member who previously worked with the Canadian consulate to promote the country to the Silicon Valley business community.

He said leadership is not merely holding a managerial position.

“Management techniques are a lot easier to learn than true leadership skills,” he said, adding many people don’t have enough direction in their jobs and end up leaving a company because of it. Dalmazzi said a good leader wouldn’t leave their team members guessing.

Duben gave a list of key attributes, which included setting an example, inspiring a shared vision, and enabling others to act.

“It’s all about relationships,” he said, noting a show of appreciation for your team goes a long way.