Hedge-Fund Billionaire Says Children Kill Women’s Focus

Billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II says children are a “killer” to a woman’s focus which explains why there are only a few women in the world of macro trading. The Greenwich-based hedge fund manager issued his controversial statement in a symposium held April 26 at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce when asked why the panel only consisted of “rich, white, middle-aged men and what it takes for someone different to have a seat at the table and finally share their voices from a powerful place.”

Jones said that while women are very capable investors, there will never be as many of them in macro trading because having children will make them lose their laser focus—a necessary trait for those in this industry. “As soon as that baby’s lips touched that girl’s bosom, forget it,” he says. “Every single investment idea … every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience … which a man will never share, about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.”

He cited two women who had worked with him in the seventies at E.F. Hutton: “They both got married,” he said, “and then they both had — which in my mind is as big of a killer as divorce is — they both had children.” Jones apparently thought that his statements were not going to be made public as Dean Carl P. Zeithaml of the McIntire School of Commerce had earlier directed everyone not to record, quote, or describe the event in order to facilitate an “open and candid discussion.” The Washington Post, however, obtained a link of the video of the event which the school of commerce recorded through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

The billionaire’s remarks drew the ire of some of The Post’s readers. Florentine wrote: “Welcome to this millennium Paul. Some of the best minds in the business are mothers. And female traders tend to [be] less emotional and more disciplined as they tend to be more risk averse.” Another reader, cococo observed: “He’s simply working out of his own narrow focus: because there aren’t too many women in macro trading, he hasn’t seen them and therefore is coming up with dumb ideas as to why they aren’t there. Wait a few years, Paul. Remember when there were hardly any women doctors?”

KJ Dell’ Antonia, lead blogger for Motherlode in The New York Times, meanwhile, acknowledged that “that what Mr. Jones was willing to put into words is a prejudice that lurks unspoken in many hiring decisions (and isn’t limited to men).” Instead of criticizing, she exhorts: “What we really need to do is think harder about why this particular prejudice about women and work still holds such sway.”


Mars and Venus at work

Partway through a presentation to a CEO of a mid-sized company, I noticed him look down and away from me. He stopped asking questions and turned quiet.

I’ve lost him, I thought, and went home feeling dejected that I bored someone I tried hard to impress. When he followed up a week later to continue our dialogue, it took me completely by surprise.

I am convinced that people rarely understand each other fully and these misinterpreted cues often occur between men and women. Anyone who has lived or spent any considerable amount of time with a member of the opposite sex knows that misunderstandings frequently occur. In my household, it’s daily.

So when the world-renowned gender intelligence expert Barbara Annis recently published Work With Me: The 8 Blind Spots Between Men and Women in Business with co-author, John Gray, of the famous Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus series, I eagerly read through it, searching for clues.

The insights were, literally, eye opening. Apparently, men turn away during a conversation to concentrate whereas women focus on each other’s eyes (Lesson 8.) When I list the many challenges I face in a day to my husband, I’m alleviating my stress, not complaining (Lesson 3).

The startling realization of the book suggests that despite all of our progress, men and women still do not know how to act around each other. Can we reduce the lack of advancement of women in the workplace to a colossal case of misunderstanding? Perhaps.

“I do believe that men and women have very different styles of communication,” said Jennifer Reynolds, president of Women in Capital Markets.

“I have been in many meetings where a woman comes up with an idea and the idea is barely acknowledged until moments later a man throws the very same idea out and it is picked up by the group,” she added.  In these occasions, observed Ms. Reynolds, men will often take ownership of the idea by restating and perhaps adding some element to it, demonstrating a more competitive dynamic. This results in the loudest voice “winning” the discussion.

“It can leave some of the most innovative ideas on the boardroom floor because they weren’t presented in a traditional male communication style,” lamented Ms. Reynolds.

Part of the appeal of emphasizing the value of gender intelligence in the workplace is that it avoids the blame game. It’s a refreshing change in the conversation about women’s advancement not to have anyone suggest that men are trying to hold women back or that women are actively choosing to opt-out. Rather, the culprit comes down to both socialization and our biology. The book argues that men and women are actually hard-wired differently and that means they communicate and process interpersonal information differently.  It’s because of biology, not some universal plot, that male and female perspectives and communications are often at odds.  And the authors argue that that is a good thing.

This approach is “incredibly freeing for men and it is incredibly validating for women,” said Ms. Annis.

“It’s liberating because it ends the blame game, the male dominated paradigm goes away and it focuses on you and me working together for the best solution,” she added.

The mantra that we are all different and that difference is good serves at the basis for many enlightened companies and it serves its employees well. But it’s not an easy route to travel.

“We all have to recognize that there is a predisposition in all of us to gravitate towards someone who is just like us,” explained Ms. Reynolds, and “we have to welcome the inconvenience of someone who doesn’t think just like we do or communicate just like we do.”

If we accept that we are hard-wired differently, what are the long-term repercussions? Ms. Annis and Mr. Gray advocate emphasizing how the differences between men and women compliment each other and I couldn’t agree more.

But I can’t help but fret that some will view these divergent leadership characteristics in more sinister ways, arguing that one or the other characteristic is simply better suited to leadership roles, yanking us back to Victorian times.

While Ms. Annis and Mr. Gray cite considerable scientific research throughout their book to emphasize their point, not all social scientists are in agreement.

The authors of a study published in February in the journal of Personality and Social Psychology called Men and Women are from Earth, re-analyzed data found from 13 studies and concluded that it is impossible to divide traits along gender lines. Women misunderstand women all the time in a professional setting, as men do men. If you add divergent cultural and economic backgrounds to the mix and try to decipher the meaning behind our language, it can get incredibly complex.

Are men and women different? Certainly. Should we celebrate these differences as we learn to work together? Absolutely. Are men always from Mars and Women always from Venus? My instinct says no.  But the conversation about how and why we miscommunicate and how to work around those disconnects can be enormously useful if we don’t get too caught up in the minutiae of brain biology and ensure that it never gets used as a weapon to disqualify the inclusion of a particular stripe.

Parents spend more time in teaching activities with daughters, study reveals

Daughters get a lot more parental time investment than sons in reading, storytelling, and teaching of letters and numbers. This was the finding of a study done by Michael Baker of the University of Toronto and Kevin Milligan of the University of British Columbia called Boy-Girl Differences in Parental Time Investments: Evidence from Three Countries released this March. The researchers found that moms and dads in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom engaged in these teaching activities more with their little girls as early as 9 months old.

The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, also revealed that the gender difference is apparent in such activities as taking the kids to the library, giving them books, and reading to them. In these areas, parents gave more time to their daughters than their sons.

In an NPR interview with host David Greene, Baker says: “When we looked at specific activities – what we call teaching activities; so this would be, how often do you read with your child or, how often do you teach them the alphabet or numbers – systematically, parents spent more time doing these activities with girls.”

The researchers found that “the observed differences are not due to a direct preference of parents for children of a specific sex at these ages.” In fact, the researchers found that the disparities in time investment exist even when parents of fraternal twins aimed to treat them similarly.

So if it’s not preference, what could possibly explain the difference in time inputs? One reason is the high cost of teaching sons. Cost here does not refer to money but to the effort involved. Baker explains: “The costs of providing these inputs are different for boys and girls. So for example, it is just more costly to provide a unit of reading to a boy than to a girl because the boy doesn’t sit still – you know, doesn’t pay attention, these sorts of things.”

Although still a hotly contested topic, another explanation is that girls are more inclined to cognitive activities than boys. Moreover, the “cultural scripts and unconscious biases” that parents follow which basically entails doing more active play with their sons can also explain the reason for the disparity. These, however, still need to be further studied.

The parental investment in cognitive activities may help explain why girls in elementary schools in the United States generally perform better in tests. While there is a modest difference in the preschool cognitive scores of boys and girls in the study, the researchers conclude that the “the impact may cumulate at older ages if learning deficits and advantages are cumulative.” Furthermore, they acknowledge that “parental teaching may embed behavior patterns that children need to excel at school… [and could even] precipitate patterns in children’s own use of time at older ages.” 

Inability to self-promote holds women back: Conference Board of Canada

While women are equipped with the necessary skills to perform well as leaders, they are not exercising “the ability to self-promote.” They hesitate getting their accomplishments known to the people in the highest rungs of the organization resulting to their inability to get the support they need to advance.

This was one of the findings of the latest Conference Board of Canada report released May 2013. Donna Burnett Vachon and Carrie Lavis authored Women in Leadership: Perceptions and Priorities for Change which is based on the results of a national survey of more than 800 men and women as well as in-depth interviews with female leaders and women who are aspiring for these positions.

The research revealed that the problem does not stem from a women’s leadership style which is anchored primarily on consensus, collaboration, and teamwork. In fact, they receive high marks as leaders, with 74 percent of women and 73 percent of men in both management and non-management roles agreeing that “women and men make equally effective leaders.” They even perform better than their male counterparts in business-oriented and people-oriented competencies.

The issue lies, in part, with a woman’s confidence or lack thereof. Compared to men who are more aggressive in putting their names forward for positions where they do not have the requisite skills or experience, women tend to “self-select out.” That is, they don’t generally take on projects or positions that allow them to advance “unless they feel certain they already have all of the skills required.”

But women are also walking a tightrope when it comes to self-promotion, the research points out. Current cultural norms don’t look too favorably on females who are proactive and aggressive in flaunting their qualifications to advance as “she runs the risk of alienating her audience.” Not speaking up, on the other hand, will also mean not getting noticed as “it’s likely that no one else is going to do it on her behalf.”

The study authors stressed that this is where mentors, sponsors, and advisors play a crucial role. They give women visibility by allowing them to “let their skills shine in front of the people who make decisions about advancement and career growth opportunities.” 

Aside from leadership abilities, the 2013 CBC report also examined the leadership attitudes, organizational opportunities, and career advancement motivation that affect women’s ability to ascend to the ranks of senior management. Their findings show that “attitudes about the need for more women in senior management are still polarized along gender lines.” Some strategies for change include getting the board of directors involved by making woman’s advancement a priority; making sponsorship programs of emerging women leaders transparent; and providing more family-friendly policies in the workplace. Still, the researchers conclude that more women are needed in senior management roles before significant change is felt: “A shift in attitudes will only come when we stop seeing a woman in senior management as the exception and start seeing her as the norm.”

Distilling the value of networking

I may have to say good-bye to coffees.

Not the caffeinated beverage, per se. I subsist on 5 to 6 of those a day, but the activity of “having coffee” in an effort to network with a potential business associate. In my mind, enjoying a cup of coffee while engaging in stimulating conversation remains one of my favorite activities of all times. Add to that equation an iced caffeinated beverage on a patio in the summertime and you have my personal definition of nirvana. Why wouldn’t I try to turn that into a productive, work-related activity?

Yet, after some quick calculations it appears that these coffee meetings cost me much more than the few thousands of dollars I’ve certainly spent on the actual beverage in the last year. It’s the reason why at the end of week, I sometimes grapple with where my time went.  So clearly, I need to either make the time count or cut back on these meetings.  I decided on the latter.

Few dispute the value of strong connections and the hard benefits they result in. According to Harvard Business School, 65-85 percent of all jobs are found through networking.  Social (or relational) capital provides value that translates into economic gain for companies and individuals alike.

Yet creating these networks – or even networking effectively — can be challenging and may require more effort than simply having a coffee.

Between off-line events and social media options, it sometimes feels that all we do is socialize and network with little result. According to one report, Americans spend 16 minutes out of each hour on social applications.  So while it appears we are more social than ever, the return on investment for these activities can be difficult to define.

Women in particular struggle with networking.  They don’t always have access to informal, male networks and their strategies. 

For example, women’s networks tend to be strong but smaller in size and men’s broader networks helps with their upward mobility.

“Women and men tend to network differently,” observed Anne Day, founder and president of Company of Women, a network for entrepreneurs in the GTA.  “For women it is more about building relationships, while for men it is much more transactional,” she added.

Ms. Day believes the key to successful networking is listening. Find out what interests the other person and then figure out how to help them to open the door  for future reciprocity.

And don’t forget your own ask.  Dr. Athena Vongalis-Macrow, a senior lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia analyzed the networking behaviors of 74 working women and discovered that while they demonstrated an “ethos of sharing” they were less likely to collaborate on work-related projects. They also were ineffective at clearly articulating their goals. These two components remain critical to building a relationship.

“The key to successful networking is developing a strategy of win-win,” explains Leigh Mitchell, president and founder of Women in Biz Network, an online and offline community.

“You should be always thinking of how you can help the person you are connecting with and let the natural progression of how that person can help you evolve. I believe those who help others always win in the long run,” she adds.

Perhaps an even more daunting obstacle that both women and men face – which brings me back to my coffee conundrum – comes down to a lack of time.

Toronto-based Katy Pedersen, who formerly worked for AOL in a product management role but is currently in-between jobs, laments the lack of networking opportunities during proper business hours.

“I struggle to network because of my family obligations,” admitted Ms. Pedersen. “My husband and I both have or had incredibly demanding careers. We’d run home from work for 2 hours with our son before his bedtime, and then both of us would be back to work at 8 p.m. to wrap our respective days.”

To work around the time crunch,  Ms. Pedersen  is a huge fan of LinkedIn. (As proof that social media plays a strong role in business networking, I discovered Ms. Pedersen through a tweet published to my Facebook page, which she responded to and engaged in our interview exclusively via Facebook chat.)

Ultimately, the strength of networks – digital or physical – comes down the strength of individual relationships. While I may have over 1200 LinkedIn contacts, I’m not sure how many I could turn to if I needed support.

“(Networking) is not about is how many business cards you collect,” insisted Ms. Day.

“I would rather chat to two or three people and get to know them than flutter around the room trying to connect with lots of people.”

Clearly, successful networking comes down to finding the right platform where you can both find ways to connect and assist others while articulating your own goals and needs.  The recipe will be different for each person, but it needs three parts: meet, get support and reciprocate.

Warren Buffett: “Women are a major reason we will do so well”

One of the world’s richest men finally offers his perspective on women and the workplace. In an exclusive essay for Fortune Magazine, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett calls himself an “unqualified optimist” and believes that “women are a major reason” why the American economy will continue to prosper.

While he acknowledged that the American “political and economic system that unleashes human potential to an extraordinary degree” is the main reason behind the country’s current progress, the 82-year old tycoon also pointed out that this was done with only half of its workforce. He writes: “For most of our history, women — whatever their abilities — have been relegated to the sidelines.”

He cited examples from his family where his sisters were led to believe that for them success was to be equated with “marrying well” while he was told that the opportunities of the world were his for the taking. He also wrote about the late Katharine Graham, former CEO of the Washington Post Co., who Buffet describes as having been “brainwashed…. to believe that men were superior, particularly at business.” While Graham was able to get past the brainwashing to eventually hold the reins of the Washington Post, Buffet relates that “her self-doubt remained, a testament to how deeply a message of unworthiness can be implanted in even a brilliant mind.”

Thankfully, these “funhouse mirrors” are slowly being shattered, and Buffet calls on the self-interest of fellow males to help shatter the remaining barriers that women still face: “Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We’ve seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you’ll join me as an unbridled optimist about America’s future.”

But not all, however, view the billionaire’s opinion in the same light. In the Roosh V Forum, the thread about the said piece showed varying negative reactions. Exactaking thinks that the whole essay “basically supports the whole feminism=cheap labor theory.” Hades agrees, writing: “Like a lot of people he does not give much of a shit about laborers, only that by increasing the labor pool it makes labor cheaper. Spot on.” Meanwhile, n0000 mentions five downsides of “employing 100% of people as worker drones….1. Massive healthcare costs due to lower quality of food because the mom isn’t home to cook for the family. 2. Lower iq due to poor nutrition means less innovation, more crime. 3. Single parent families cause increased crime, poverty. 4. Weaker families due to kids spending less time around parents. 5. A culture focused on instant consumption instead of saving for the future.” 

Other sectors, like the Women in Manufacturing, however, lauded Buffett’s piece. Calling it “motivational” the group also thanked him “for taking a stand for women and reminding the country how important we are for the future of America’s prosperity.”

Get rid of guilt this Mother’s Day

I recently fulfilled my annual, obligatory field trip with my son’s class. Each year I attend only one and it marks the beginning and end of my involvement in his school. On this trip, my son’s friend sheepishly admitted to me that he thought our nanny was my son’s mother. Many mothers would wince at those words but I laughed and realized how comfortable I am with my role as a full-time working mother. Our nanny makes a great surrogate in my absence and I feel no guilt over my early morning meetings, the occasional travel or even my lack of culinary skills. Not even a bit.

This wasn’t always the case and statistically speaking, many women feel torn with their dual roles. A 2009 Pew Study showed that a large percentage of men and women alike believe that the ideal scenario for young children is a mother who works part-time or not at all.

I often dwell on this notion of mother’s guilt, why we have it and why it appears so many working fathers do not. The prevailing logic behind it appears to suggest that working full-time hurts children but that theory falls short. A comprehensive report by the American Psychological Association analyzed research conducted over the last 50 years on the impact of full-time working mothers on children and concluded that they were no more likely to have academic or behavioral issues.

In fact, working mothers are often healthier and happier than their stay-at-home counterparts.

With all the overwhelming evidence, it’s time to put an end to working mother guilt and when better to do this than on Mother’s Day.

I’m not the only one supporting this. In Finerman’s Rules, CNBC TV personality Karen Finerman recently published book of business “secrets” for her daughters, she advocates letting yourself off the hook more often by giving yourself permission to fall short on some of your ideals. She doesn’t cook, doesn’t clean and doesn’t care about it. “Figure out what it is you do a half- assed job at, or hate, and let it go,” she wrote.

Petra Kuret, managing director of Accenture in British Columbia acknowledges how difficult it can be to let go of guilt but believes that it helps if to have insight to know what your priorities are at different points in your professional and personal life.

“Give yourself permission to make the other things a priority or focus at a later time,” advises the mother of a 9-year old son and 6-year old daughter.

“As women, I find we are hardest on ourselves (and unable) to let go of the guilt, be comfortable with the decision we have made and move on,” Ms. Kuret added.

Some of her ease with her dual-role derives from the perspective that parenting has inherently helped her professional life. Being client-centric, argued Ms. Kuret, shares many similarities with being children-centric. “If I walk in my client’s shoes, I am far more effective in partnering with my clients and delivering value,” she explained, adding that walking in her children’s shoes allows her to figure out how to better engage them.

Alleviating guilt carries many benefits, but most importantly it allows you to enjoy your professional choices and more actively embrace ambition.

“I’ve always been ambitious, which should not be seen as a “dirty word” when associated with women,” admitted Lisa Kimmel, general manager of Edelman in Toronto and the mother of a 9-year old son and a 7-year old daughter.

“As a mother to a young daughter, in particular, I think that it’s important to demonstrate to her that you can find it rewarding to be both a mother and a successful professional.  When she asked me recently why I couldn’t be her a nanny, I explained that, when she’s older, if she so chooses and finds a career about which she is passionate, she’ll also want to make time for both,” said Ms. Kimmel.

Jennifer Witzel’s children also sense her enthusiasm for her career, which positively impacts their perception. The vice president of taxation at Scotiabank said her 10-year old son and 8-year old daughter think it’s “cool” that their mom is a vice president, even if they mistakenly believe that means she works with President Barack Obama.

Ms. Witzel herself drew inspiration from strong female role models, including her grandmother, who along with her husband managed one of the first convenience stores in Canada, located in Kitchener, Ontario in the 1950s. Works, she recalls, was as much a part of her grandmother’s life as baking or playing card with her grandchildren.

“Although my career slowed down a bit when my children were younger, the lessons learned from being a parent have propelled me further along my career path than I would have gone had I not had children at all,” added Ms. Witzel.

So instead of falling prey to the guilt-induced marketing opportunity presented by commercialization of Mother’s Day, I suggest waking your mother up to the following words: You are doing everything just right.

Are You a Good Colleague? Answer These 5 Questions

We all worry about whether or not we’ll get along with our colleagues. Will they be friendly, will they be mean, will they be fair? But did you ever turn the question around and ask yourself if you are a good colleague? Here are five questions to help you figure out if you are a fun person to work with.

Are You Open?

Your colleagues have to know about you, your temper, your preferences and your habits in order to be able to adapt themselves to you and to build a pleasant working relationship. Try and be open with them. If a situation poses a problem to you – your colleague’s music is too loud, you don’t like the way someone speaks to you, you feel that a situation is unfair, etc. – , try to address the problem immediately. If you can, avoid telling on a bothering coworker. Try and talk him of her out and see if there is any way you both can settle your problem without getting a manager, supervisor of boss involved.

Do You Gossip?

You saw the new girl extremely drunk in a bar last week-end… You’ve heard that this guy from that department just recovered from this terrible disease… And apparently, that woman just cheated on her husband with someone from the office… What do you do with such stories? Do you tell them to everyone or keep them to yourself? We all committed the sin of gossiping at some point, but try and think: What if it were me that people gossiped about? While you shouldn’t kid yourself (people probably did, do and will gossip about you) try and show some respect and keep rumors to yourself. Stick to the Socrates’ three filters’ rule: Ask yourself if what you’ve got to say is either True, Good or Useful. If it’s neither one of those, don’t bother saying it. Not only is gossiping creating a negative work environment, it also makes you look bad.

Are You Fair?

Will you be tempted to take credit for someone else’s idea if the situation presents itself? If someone made a mistake, will you bring him or her down in front of others? Will you have the same standards for yourself than you have with others? Be careful! Being fair in a work environment in crucial.

Do You Treat Everyone Equally?

Naturally, we’ll have a tendency to show better manners and to present a more polite face to supervisors or superiors. But that doesn’t mean that you have to treat every one else badly. In fact, show the same regards to your coworkers, no matter what their status is. You never know how the situation can turn out to be; someone you misjudged may get an unexpected promotion, or you might just get downgraded. Be kind, friendly and pleasant to every one: It’ll pay off.

Do You Do Your Work Effectively?

There is nothing more annoying than a lazy coworker, especially if your job involves a lot of team work. Make sure you do your homework, so to speak, and that you do not rely on others to perform task that are assigned to you. Try and be proactive, and to come up with new ideas frequently. Meet your deadlines and work hard.

In Conclusion: Be Yourself (And Don’t Sweat It)

Do not overstress yourself with getting along with your coworkers. It is impossible to be liked by all and vice versa. Don’t try too much. Just be yourself: It’s the best – and probably the only – way to be a great colleague!

Mireille Fiset is a travel, music and theater enthusiast. She wrote for the stage and television, and is now working as a freelance blogger for Standard Life, a leading long-term savings and investment company, providing retirement planning advices.

Zen and the art of understanding leadership

Have you ever used a word so often that it’s lost all meaning?  Leadership has turned into one of those words for me.  Even asking, “what does leadership mean to you?” sounds like a pompous question thrown into an awkward team building session or an SAT preparation test.

A quick poke around the Internet would lead most to believe that leadership remains inextricably tied to Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg or even Pope Benedict – both seen as oracles but for wildly divergent reasons. Women and men both have it, so it seems, but it manifests differently.

So I’ve decided to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch to being to re-examine this elusive word that remains a constant in business jargon.

The first real hint of insight came from candidly written book called Lead Yourself First, by Vancouver-based leadership expert Michelle Ray.

Leadership is a mindset, not a title, according to Ms. Ray. It has everything to do with values and little to do with corporate climbing.

Despite the book’s cover of a business woman donning boxing gloves — which led me to believe this would be yet another management book telling women to fight their way to the top — Ms. Ray preaches introspection. She shares her war stories about turning into a corporate slave, dealing with charismatic managers who fall short on their promises and being subjected to a screaming boss that literally followed her inside the ladies room to continue yelling, while she cowered in a stall. I simultaneously laughed and cringed.

But what do these tales from the trenches have to do with leadership? If you argue that leadership is way of thinking, rather than a job description, the word begins to take shape.

“My premise is that for everyone to view leadership as a state of mind rather than a job title. Especially in these times, it’s incumbent of all of us to see ourselves as leaders of our lives,” suggested Ms. Ray.

In other words, leadership means knowing your own values and being able to translate that into a vision for yourself and others. If you think of it as navigating a ship, there could be a hundred on board or you might be alone but how do you chart its course and keep it from sinking?

Rather than glean inspiration from the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, Ms. Ray draws examples from more relatable individuals, like Stan a security guard at the Regina airport. Stan shared his story about losing his son to suicide, then his job and marriage. Despite this, he set a course to pull his life together, perform well at his role and positively impact those around him. He demonstrated strong personal leadership skills by recognizing the importance of character.

“A leader is someone who is clear about their values and applies them on a regular basis. In other words, having values and living by one’s values are two distinctive propositions,” said Ms. Ray, adding that leadership has little to do with moving up the management ladder or even being in the workplace.

This idea that leadership connotes a characteristic rather than a skill seems to resonate. I asked Carrie Kirkman, president of Jones Group Canada, to describe the essence of her leadership, which she distilled to one word: courage.

“I’ve never been fearful in any job that I’ve had. If I believe something, I am like a dog with a bone,” admitted Ms. Kirkman. To illustrate, she recalls a point in a previous role, as the general merchandise manager of the women’s apparel business at HBC. When the company was sold in 2008, Ms. Kirkman believed that provided the company with a window of opportunity to signal a change to the marketplace and demonstrate how the company could evolve. Some of the company’s leadership was skeptical but Ms. Kirkman stood her ground. The ability to have independent thought and vision under the umbrella of a large corporation stood her out from the crowd, she believed.

That gift of influence is a key component of leadership, according to Cindy Novak, president of Communication Leadership Network, which provides solution to build leaders and their team.

“Managers direct or tell people what needs to be done while leaders achieve outcomes by influencing others to work to achieve a common goal,” said Ms. Novak, who believes that leaders accomplish this through a combination of strong communication skills and the ability to demonstrate empathy.

“The bottom line is that leadership requires a different set of competencies than being a great manager,” asserted Ms. Novak.

Settling on the definition of leadership is a tough riddle to crack. What is missing, Ms. Ray said, is the idea of taking charge of yourself.

“A title on a business card or a placard on a desk or door does not automatically make someone a leader,” she said. “It may give the impression of self-importance and achievement, however, the title alone is not enough.”