What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received? We asked 23 of B.C.’s top executives

The people behind some of the province's most influential companies offer food for thought

We asked 23 B.C. business leaders a simple question: What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever received? As you’ll see, answers varied quite a bit. We had to cut some of the longer ones, but there’s enough fantastic insight here to plaster the office bulletin board a few times over. (We’ll settle for your Notes app, too.)

Telus president and CEO Darren Entwistle

Darren Entwistle

President and CEO, Telus

For the past 23 years, our team has drawn inspiration from a quote by luminary novelist and playwright George Bernard Shaw that hangs in the Telus boardroom:

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.”

BC Hydro CEO Chris ORiley

Chris O’Riley

President and CEO, BC Hydro

The importance of values in guiding conduct and decision-making in an organization. For me, the concept of values-based leadership was best articulated by Bob Elton, a longtime BC Hydro CEO and a great student (and teacher) of leadership. As an executive and as CEO, I’ve drawn on his wisdom many times, especially during challenging and difficult situations where the way forward wasn’t particularly clear. In such instances, the application of core values such as safety, teamwork, accountability and integrity can help illuminate the path forward.

Amar Doman: owner, BC Lions; founder and CEO, The Futura Corporation; CEO, Doman Building Materials

Amar Doman

Owner, BC Lions; founder and CEO, The Futura Corporation; CEO, Doman Building Materials

Never quit, as the road to success is always under construction.

TC Carling, president and CEO of Canadian Men’s Health Foundation

TC Carling

President and CEO, Canadian Men’s Health Foundation

Always continue learning and become comfortable with change because it’s the only constant. Demonstrate the ability to adjust while staying on course with a clear focus to achieve the end goal. Risks and mistakes are part of the dynamic and taking smart risks and continually learning must be embedded throughout the organization.

BBTV CEO Shahrzad Rafati

Shahrzad Rafati

Founder and CEO, BBTV

I’ve received a lot of advice over the years, and I think you also need to be selective about the wisdom you take onboard. One piece of advice that stands out to me is: “Always do the right thing, personally and professionally. It may not be easy, but you will never regret it.” I use that at all levels of my life, and it’s helped guide many of my decisions over the years.

Ujwal Kayande, dean, Beedie School of Business, SFU

Ujwal Kayande

Dean, Beedie School of Business, SFU

Your role as a leader is to enable your people to try to do great things but take full responsibility for the risk of failure.

Pat Davis, president and CEO of BCLC

Pat Davis

President and CEO, British Columbia Lottery Corporation

Be okay with being vulnerable. Vulnerability engenders trust, and as senior leaders we are already placed in a bubble of perceived and hierarchical barriers that make it difficult to create connections and lines of honest communication. Being vulnerable about your flaws, mistakes and what is truly happening in your company for me has always helped strengthen our level of trust and contributed to a high-performance team.

Clint Mahlman, President and COO, London Drugs

Clint Mahlman

President and COO, London Drugs

There are a few principles that have impacted and influenced me—keeping in mind being a leader is a never-ending journey of learning and growing:

• Be honest, authentic and be yourself. People must trust you are genuine to earn the right to ask them to follow. They may not like what you have to say, or even like you, but you must have credibility relative to the people or group you are trying to lead.

• Trust your people and take risks in their favour. I’m always humbled at just how far people will go to follow you if you trust and share key information with them. It is important to explain what is needed clearly, remove roadblocks for them and get out of the way to allow them to do their very best work.   

• Be curious and listen. Understand the people you are leading as individuals and be clear on what is important to them.

• Leadership is a privilege, an honour and a humbling experience. You are there to serve your people through your actions and support. Your people are not there to serve you.

Anne Naser, CEO of WorkSafeBC

Anne Naser

President and CEO, WorkSafeBC

Be humble and learn from your mistakes.

Sabina Russell of HTEC

Sabina Russell

Vice-president of clean fuels, HTEC

The best advice I received was, “Make sure to put as much focus on the team you are on as you do on the team you lead.” This advice was given to me when I first joined the senior leadership team at Ballard [Power Systems] as director of engineering. It was my natural tendency to spend all my time building, growing and guiding the engineering team. I came to realize that by developing strong relationships with other directors across the company, I could identify and foster important linkages between groups and be able to help resolve bigger issues when they arose.

Zymeworks CEO Ken Galbraith

Ken Galbraith

Chair and CEO, Zymeworks

I was once told that it takes a great idea to start a company, but it takes a great team to turn that dream into a reality. As a leader, it’s important to build a strong team and take time to recognize and appreciate their dedication and energy. For all of us working to develop therapies for patients with difficult-to-treat diseases, there will be frustrations and setbacks that make celebrating and acknowledging outstanding work even more important.

Westbank founder Ian Gillespie

Ian Gillespie

Founder, Westbank

The best piece of advice I’ve received that I think could apply to leadership or any other area in life, came from Dr. Doug Clement: “Just keep going. Never ever give up.”

Kim Barbero, CEO, Mechanical Contractors Association of BC

Kim Barbero

CEO, Mechanical Contractors Association of BC

I think the best leadership advice I have ever received is to always bring my authentic self to the table and to invite others to do the same—to create a safe space that encourages bravery and differing opinions. I remember being told that it’s easy for leaders to be surrounded by people who tell them what they want to hear but that you should always strive to seek the perspectives of those who feel and think differently—that’s the space for change and innovation and is where I show up best!

John Nicola of Nicola Wealth

John Nicola

Chairman and CEO, Nicola Wealth

Over almost 50 years, I have received great insights and advice from many people. Some I knew personally and others through their books and lectures. As I look back now, I would say that Simon Sinek may have had the biggest influence on me even though I have only read his books over the last 10 years. He effectively articulates what I believe in, better than I could, in a way that allowed me to share it with others on my key leadership team in an impactful way. He, of course, wrote so many great books, but the one that embodies my strongest beliefs and the culture of our company is his latest book, The Infinite Game. Success in business and in many other fields is best played as a game one cannot win (or lose) but rather as one of continuous improvement with no destination.

Darren Dahl_credit Martin Dee
Martin Dee

Darren Dahl

Dean, UBC Sauder School of Business

Great leaders think and focus on building great leaders behind them.

Rival Group co-CEO Jennifer Reid

Jennifer Reid

Co-CEO, Rival Group

The best leadership advice I ever received is “Decide, delegate and disappear.”  It sounds a bit cheeky, but if you unpack it, it’s a very powerful thing for leaders to help remember what their role is. The best leaders are the ones who can confidently make decisions that unblock their teams from getting work done. They can delegate tasks and responsibilities, as opposed to hoarding them in the belief that only they can do it right. Once the path forward has been decided and the team has clear direction, get out of the way!

Denise Praill of Canuck Place Children's Hospice

Denise Praill

CEO, Canuck Place Children’s Hospice

Listen, listen, listen. And trust. Trust the team, they know best. Talk to each other, ask questions. Be vulnerable. You will never know all the answers… and you’re not supposed to! Leadership is about collaboration, uniting a team towards a shared vision, and there are lots of twists and turns along the way. Have an open-door policy but ensure you walk the floors, have the hallway conversations, go to the social events, drop by the kitchen at lunch.

Carol Liao_photo credit Jon Dujon
Jon Dujon

Carol Liao

Associate professor, Peter A. Allard School of Law at UBC; UBC Sauder distinguished fellow

If you are a true leader, it’s not about you. Remember those that are travelling after you. Help clear a path for them and hold them up when they surpass you. The greatest leaders in history are the ones that took care of others.

YWCA Metro Vancouver's Erin Seeley

Erin Seeley

CEO, YWCA Metro Vancouver

Many years ago, my dad gifted me a ceramic plaque. I’m generally not a big plaque lover but the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote inscribed on it has inspired me throughout my career: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Unbounce CEO Felicia Bochicchio

Felicia Bochicchio

CEO, Unbounce

Build relationships in business the same way you build relationships in your personal life. The same rules apply. Humans are humans. Be your authentic self. Align with your values and have tough conversations in a way that is kind and that you can align quickly, make decisions and move forward together.

Matthew McClenaghan, president, Edgar Development

Matthew McClenaghan

President, Edgar Development

From my father: “There is usually only one way, and that’s the hard way.” I was taught not to cut corners and do things the right way. Work hard and success will follow.

And from a former boss in my sales and marketing days: “Being honest won’t get you in trouble.”

Minerva BC's Tina Strehlke
Ankit Chawla @ankitcphotography

Tina Strehlke

CEO, Minerva BC

During the early, uncertain days of the pandemic, a mentor reminded me that I didn’t need to have a perfect plan, I just needed to figure out the next right step, and then the next right step. This advice has helped me make decisions faster and break some of my perfectionist habits.

Oppy Chair and CEO John Anderson

John Anderson

CEO, Oppy

The most invaluable leadership advice I’ve received is that leadership is not about you; it’s about empowering the team. As a leader, my primary role is to provide unwavering support to my team, enabling their success by equipping them with the necessary tools and guidance.

These answers have been edited and condensed.