Acceptance doesn’t always come easy, but by expecting it from others, you may be one step closer to success.
Such was the message delivered by Joanne Alexander, who was the keynote speaker at the Women of Today awards luncheon last week.
Alexander, a native of the Estevan area, was recognized last fall as one of the Women’s Executive Network’s 2014 most powerful women in Canada award winners. At the time, Alexander was Precision Drilling Corporation’s senior vice-president, general counsel and corporate secretary. She is now executive vice-president and general counsel with Encana Corporation.
Alexander spoke about hearing Debra Benton speak. Benton has authored a number of books about leadership and has best articulated Alexander’s experience in what being a leader means.
“She was the first person who I’d ever heard speak about those intangible qualities of leadership that really resonated for me. I am a little bit curious about how is it that I will join an organization, and a couple of years later, they’re dragging me into the executive,” Alexander said, noting she doesn’t mean to brag about her success.
“She articulated it this way: she said that it’s a common trait amongst people in leadership roles that they expect acceptance. It’s a really interesting concept if you think about it. If you go into a group and expect not to be right or dictate, but to be heard or treated on par, it is a characteristic of leadership that gets you a long way.”
Alexander said she may have developed that sense of expected acceptance by growing up in the Estevan area, in tight-knit communities where acceptance is necessary to maintain neighbourhood harmony.
Those expectations helped her in a number of ways, from Calgary boardrooms to the Middle East.
When Precision was looking to expand business into Saudi Arabia, Alexander prepared for the culture she would be visiting in order to be respectful.
Wearing a long coat over her tank top and shorts, she met with the Saudi reps. However, the Arabic-speaking Australian translator she was supposed to meet them with was sick and unable to attend. The meeting went well, and the next day she connected with the Australian.
“He said, ‘That’s a meeting they’ll never forget.’ He said they had never had instructions from a female before, and they couldn’t stop smiling. They thought it was interesting.”
Alexander went into the meetings expecting acceptance, and she was accepted. Precision now has hundreds of people working on rigs in Saudi Arabia.
Alexander also spoke about what it means to make a difference, and acknowledged, it’s “a lesson people in this room certainly are sharing every day.”
She talked about the Chilean mining rescue in 2010. Precision had a rig in Chile and was part of a rescue plan. The company was Plan C.
“There were two different applications of mining going on at the same time to try to affect a rescue. We were supposed to drill an elevator shaft. We had the biggest bore-hole drilling capacity,” said Alexander.
Precision had a rig available in northern Chile.
“We were contacted and asked to bring that rig down. It was quite an exercise,” she said. “I had no idea how long Chile was, until we had to try to figure out how to get the rig from northern Chile to inland, southern Chile.”
While the situation was ongoing, she would get regular e-mails about what could and could not be said about the status of the drilling, so no information would get out to the families of those trapped that they hadn’t already been aware of.
“I just thought they handled that with such dignity and grace,” she said.
For the younger women in the crowd, Alexander said the pressure of choosing a permanent path through life doesn’t need to seem so daunting.
“You don’t have to get it right. You don’t have to know what you’re going to do. You could look at my career and say I’ve been a lawyer the whole time, but I don’t feel like that’s what I’ve done,” Alexander said, noting she has not practiced law in, probably, a decade.