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  • Writer's pictureMark Crocker

Moving from Positional to Relational Leadership - Lt Gov Janet Austin

The position of Lt Governor is one of prestige. As the legal representative of the crown in British Columbia the role is a combination of ceremony and influence. The difficulty of positional leadership is ensuring followers are truly sharing what they need to say to a person in a position of power. How does a leader of this stature ensure they are leading with trust?

Lt Governor Janet Austin in Conversation with Mark Crocker.

The pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone and for the Lieutenant Governor, it has forced her to look at things in a new way. The unused physical assets of Government House have been put to use by growing organic vegetables on a part of the lawns. The ‘Victory over COVID Garden’ has helped ease food insecurity by contributing to Victoria’s food share network. In addition to that, her chefs have been offering cooking lessons and takeout services out of the Teahouse lawns.

The 30th lieutenant governor of British Columbia, the Honourable Janet Austin took office in 2018 and has been serving the province with her exceptional service leadership since then. The early seeds of leadership were sown by her parents in Alberta, where she grew up with an immigrant father hailing from the Caribbean, and a seventh generation Canadian mother with deep roots in Nova Scotia. Her parents taught her to value strong ethics and be fair-minded as well as appreciate arts and culture – some of the values that she has used to guide her in her leadership journey. Named after both her grandmothers, the Lieutenant Governor remembers the inviable lessons learnt from helping the community in her childhood which has sustained her belief in being the kind of community leader who can help others that are less fortunate and give them a sense of belonging.

“There is no such thing as a weekend for a lieutenant governor.”

Her Honour has stayed busy during the pandemic – trying to be as helpful to the community at this time as possible whether physically or through digital media. Her team has been using social media to promote social cohesion, public safety, mask-wearing and encourage arts and culture that enrich our lives. She has recently promoted an anti-racism campaign to oppose incidents of Anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. Other than that, she has been part of several virtual graduation and convocation ceremonies as the academic year came to an end so her activities have not ceased.

“[Community leadership is] stepping up, getting to know your community, and [understanding community] issues… and what makes the community healthy. It’s important to be engaged.”

As she reflects on her positional leadership, Lt Governor Janet Austin has built in practices to ensure she is empowering people to challenge or disagree with her perspectives. She believes a varied set of opinions adds to a good decision.

The Lieutenant Governor believes that she has two main strengths as a leader – she is good with people and good with strategy. She believes in taking an initiative and implementing it to achieve greater equality in society.

Since she did not have a formal mentor or leadership training, she has relied heavily on her instincts and her life experiences to guide her leadership style which she calls ‘instinctual’. She is a lifelong learner and keeps an open mind. She believes in the mantra of “Listen First” - listening to others, being more patient with people, understanding and acknowledging mistakes and owning up to them to help create an environment of trust.

She aspires to be a leader who inspires others to do their best, something that she imbibed from an ex-boss – ‘Good leaders inspire others to have confidence in them, but the best leaders inspire others to have confidence in themselves.’

“It’s often not what you say, it’s what people see you do”

She wants to model and demonstrate empathy to those that are less fortunate so that not only can her team learn from her, they can also understand how to build those connections themselves.

Trust, for her, is at the core of building any relationship – whether personal or professional, but especially in leadership. The three parameters of trust for her are - competence, ethics, and communication. Quoting an ex-boss, she says “Be nice to people on your way up, you never know when you meet on your way down.” The way you treat people stays with you, she urges everyone to make the effort to reach out to others. She reminds us that we don’t need to be in a formal leadership position to help others, anyone can engage in meaningful ways.

“Step Up”

Even though the pandemic has been challenging, she is hopeful that some of the positive impact on the environment can be sustained and that this experience will redesign the way we build our cities, our work-life and our transport systems among others. She sees hope in the random acts of kindness and generous behaviour seen across the community and the world-at-large. An unprecedented level of collaboration in society with the business community and government has led to positive changes. and public.

As she ends the interview, the Lieutenant Governor invokes the quote she inherited from her father and had installed on her Coat of Arms - Mens Conscia Recti (a mind conscious of rectitude).

With that reflection on morally correct behaviour firmly in mind, our Lt governor urges everyone to explore their own leadership qualities by asking each of us to reflect on the following three questions:

1. What is most important to you?

2. Who are the leaders that you most admire and why? What qualities and characteristics do they possess that makes you admire them?

3. What is the most important attribute of leadership?


By Chandrima Mazumdar, I write on topics related to leadership, diversity, media and gender equality.

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