Inspiring leaders see their role as a responsibility not a job.
Melissa once met a speaker who was also the CEO of a marketing agency. This leader was sharing an experience he had when one of his biggest clients unexpectedly did not renew their contract. This particular client accounted for a huge chunk of the company revenue and so this leader knew that if that revenue wasn’t coming in, he would have to lay off dozens of people who had their own bills to pay.
As soon as he realized this, he got to work on the phones all night, calling up past clients, current clients, non clients, all trying to book new business. Apparently he was in the office all night writing emails, leaving voicemails, and having conversations so that he would not have to let his team down.
It resulted in him winning enough new business that he did not have to lay anyone off.
Melissa said that hearing that story was such a privilege early on in her career because she saw what it meant to take true responsibility for your team, your company, and do what needs to be done to ensure that everyone is taken care of.
Now that Melissa is in a place of leadership as Executive Director of LOI, she has vowed to herself that she will always be there fighting for her team, fighting for the company, and fighting for the mission she is on.
So how can we cultivate responsibility in our work?
- Have compassion – Looking outward, take the time to connect and care for your team and stakeholders who are on this journey with you.
- Connect your work to your Why – Looking inward, how does the work you do enable you to be the person you want to be
- Understand what’s at stake – Looking broadly, reflect on what is at stake of being lost if you or your team do not deliver on your “promises” or deliverables. If you’re not the one to take on this challenge, what is the impact that could or could not take place.
Melissa began her career in digital marketing first interning at Foreign Affairs Canada in Paris, France, and then working with tech companies such as Torstar Digital and Google, before pivoting to an award-winning career in financial services at Desjardins.
Combining her passions for tech and finance, Melissa became an angel investor and Limited Partner in 2019 and after selling her financial practice in 2020, began lending her expertise in advisory and leadership roles at startups such as Alo Solutions and Bay Mills before joining the League of Innovators as the Executive Director and LOI Venture as a Venture Partner.
Sarah: Hello, Melissa. Thank you so much for being here. I am so pumped to interview you today. Really appreciate having you on the show.
Melissa Allen: It’s so amazing to be here, and to see you again, Sarah. You know I love our chats.
Sarah: Yes. Me too. So Melissa, you are the executive director of League of Innovators. You have had a career that has taken you in many different directions and roles, and I have no doubt that you’ve seen a lot of how people have developed ideas, how people have refined their leadership skills. And so I am really curious, based off your experience, what would you define as inspirational leadership?
Melissa Allen: That is such a good and important question. So inspirational leadership is leadership where, in my opinion, you, number one, lead as a servant leader. So you’re really there for not just your team, but also all of the stakeholders in your organization, from customers, to vendors, suppliers, and of course your team. So there’s that. It’s putting the needs of others as a priority, as well as your own, but definitely putting other needs before your own, as you are leading an organization. So I think that’s one part, and another aspect of it, too, is being a compassionate and empathetic leader, especially in these post-pandemic times. It’s been so difficult for everyone. There’s a lot of discussion now around mental illness, around work-life balance, hybrid work situations. So really having compassion and empathy, again, for all of your stakeholders is another important aspect, to me, of inspirational leadership.
Sarah: I love that. And I think that they really do kind of go hand-in-hand of inspiring leaders act in service of others, but the only way you know how to do that appropriately is by being empathetic and really listening to what it is they need so you can serve in the right way.
Melissa Allen: Exactly.
Sarah: I love that.
Melissa Allen: Absolutely.
Sarah: That’s a really, really wonderful perspective. In your own experience, who has role modeled that for you, and maybe if you can remember a time where you remember experiencing that, what did that look like? You can say their name, or just their first name, but yeah, tell us about a time you’ve experienced that inspirational leadership.
Melissa Allen: For sure. And you know, this happened ages ago. I was really early in my career, probably like two years into my career. I was at some kind of conference for those in marketing and advertising. And I wish I could remember who this leader was. If I dig back far enough, I can, but I’ll never forget this because he was talking about, and it was just like a side anecdote for him, but it impacted the entire audience. He talked about how … It was an advertising agency. One of their biggest clients had not renewed their contract last minute. And they accounted for a huge percentage chunk of their revenue, and if that revenue wasn’t coming in, then this leader would’ve had to lay off a large portion of his team, and he refused to do that.
Melissa Allen: So instead, and this is actually, now that I remember it, it was another colleague telling the story about him, but he was in the room too, so as soon as he heard that this client would not be renewing their contract with this advertising agency, the leader of this advertising agency got on the phone and spent the whole night on the phone calling up past clients, current clients, non-clients to book new business. And apparently he was in the office all night writing emails and leaving voicemails and having conversations. And he ended up winning enough new business over the next, say, couple of months where they did not have to lay anybody off.
Melissa Allen: And I’ve seen another founder do that before. And that’s my friend Rhiannon. When she had to book a certain amount of sales in order to keep her team, she got on the phone, along with the rest of her team, and was calling all of her past clients and customers, and she successfully fundraised. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget it.
Melissa Allen: And as a young professional who was aspiring to be a leader at that point, I think it was such a privilege because I got to see behind the scenes of the nitty gritty, unglamorous part that nobody talks about, about taking true responsibility for your company where you work and for your team and doing what needs to be done to make sure that everybody’s taken care of and that the company’s successful. I’ll never forget it.
Sarah: Oh my gosh. I love what you just said there about, it’s almost like another definition of inspirational leadership here is about taking responsibility for your team.
Melissa Allen: There you go. Yes. Yeah. As I was thinking, I was like, yes, that’s on the point.
Sarah: Yeah. No, it’s so great because, and that can come in so many different ways of taking responsibility to serve your team in terms of like, make sure they have their needs met from getting their paycheck to feed their families. But also probably, like you have a responsibility to create opportunity for your team. You have a responsibility to connect to your team.
Melissa Allen: To empower them, yes.
Sarah: Yes. And responsibility to empower them. I just, I love the power of that word, responsibility, for a leader. And if you really embodied that and embraced that, as your mandate, your role, how powerful that can really be.
Melissa Allen: Absolutely. Because I’ve seen also leaders that cut and ran when the going got tough, and the demoralizing aspect of it on the team and on the business and on the clients, it’s just, it’s awful. It truly is. And so I vowed to myself that when I step into a leadership position, I would always be there fighting for my team, fighting for the company, and the stakeholders too.
Melissa Allen: There’s way too much at stake with what I’m trying to do in this world and what other people who benefit from what we’re doing as a whole, say for example, we at League of Innovators, there’s way too many people to benefit to not really make sure that I am taking responsibility of how everything happens, and I’m staying there through the tough times and the easy times. So through being like a wartime CEO and a peacetime CEO, you know?
Sarah: That’s too funny. And when you just said that about how, like, what is the driving force behind your ability to take responsibility? I think you kind of alluded there to it just now, but I want to hear it in your words.
Melissa Allen: That’s good questions, by the way. But I would say it’s two things. Number one, it’s just me personally, and maybe it’s just my personality or the way I was raised, was to care about others and to do everything to the highest quality possible, and to make sure that there’s no one left behind. So there’s that aspect of it too.
Melissa Allen: But another why, on top of just being a compassionate, good person, is sometimes to get through tough times, you need more than that. You need more than that to get you through. And so therefore, you need to really understand the why of what you’re doing, and that’s your North Star. And I talk about it a lot. And so your North Star is like the overarching vision of what you’re trying to accomplish. And it’s what’s at stake to be lost. Like, what’s at risk of being lost if you do not stay and power through, say, a difficult situation? So for example, at League of Innovators is the fact that we nurture a community of hundreds of young entrepreneurs. And so that is my why, is they have all this amazing support and resources they can’t find anywhere else. And as a result, it’s just creating this culture of entrepreneurship across Canada. And I really do believe that entrepreneurship is the pathway to economic empowerment that can really resolve issues of racism, of exclusion and things like that. And so once I ladder up to my why, I mean, it’s a no brainer at that point.
Sarah: Amazing. It’s almost like we can build responsibility by, yes, being a compassionate leader, genuinely caring about others.
Melissa Allen: Exactly.
Sarah: But not just looking outwardly about caring about others, but also inwardly, like what is your purpose, your North Star, your why? And then what are the gaps between that external and internal? Like, what if you don’t do it? Asking yourself that question, like who would, if not me? And what’s going to be lost if I don’t?
Melissa Allen: Exactly.
Sarah: I love that. That is a brilliant nugget here.
Melissa Allen: Thank you.
Sarah: I’m going to run with this one. So then my final question here is really about if someone wanted to show up tomorrow, and you’ve already given us some really great action items here, but what if I wanted to show up more inspiring tomorrow to my place of work? And I said, okay, I can do one thing tomorrow. What would that one piece of advice be for that person?
Melissa Allen: Wow, another good question. And this is something that even now in this stage of my career, I’m still learning, is that you have the power. Or actually, let me phrase it this way. You have way more power than you think you do. You have the power to create movements, to create waves, to pioneer a new way of doing things, to be the first, but definitely not the last of doing something, if only you realize your voice and your power. So what I would tell people is that when they walk into their place of work, whether they’re working at home, so when they’re going to their laptop in the morning-
Sarah: Into your kitchen.
Melissa Allen: Exactly, exactly. Is to understand your power. And I promise you, take it from me, you do have it, where you can stand up for what you believe in and have people listen to you and come on board with you, because what you’re doing is so important and you are so important. And I’m honestly, I’m realizing in the past couple of months, is that if everybody had this mindset, there could be so much to dismantle a lot of negative things that are going on in this world. But people don’t understand fully their own power that they have within them. But if they did, oh my gosh, we could move mountains.
Sarah: Right, out of this world.
Melissa Allen: Yeah. Yeah. We could move mountains.
Sarah: And do you, I know I already said that was my last question. Clearly I lied. Do you do an activity or something that helps you cultivate that power? What does that look like for you?
Melissa Allen: I know. So I do a lot of personal development, but on top of that too, is make it a best practice to start speaking up for yourself and advocating for yourself. That is the best way to get confidence in and develop your own voice. So that’s what I say. If there’s opportunities for you to speak up and speak out respectfully, but with passion and conviction, do so. Have your voice be heard because your voice counts and it matters. So find opportunities to be able to do that. And on top of that, too, not only will you develop your voice, but you’ll be contributing something too, because you have a lot to offer.
Sarah: Ugh, this lady is full of wisdom. I think that your encouragement for people to see their own power will kind of bring them back to that, them understanding that because they have that power, they have that responsibility to show up as [inaudible 00:12:31].
Melissa Allen: Oh yes, exactly.
Sarah: And ultimately come to the table with all the other pieces of advice, as you said [inaudible 00:12:36]. Have that sense of compassion, understand that North Star for yourself, understand what’s at stake. And as soon as you can activate that power yourself, the ripple effect is endless.
Melissa Allen: Exactly. Boom.
Sarah: Oh my goodness. To have you here has been such an honor. I really, really appreciate this conversation. I know that this is going to touch a lot of people, and I think really speak to how they can build up their own leadership skills. And so thank you for giving us your wisdom, sharing your experience here. Melissa Allen from League of Innovators, everyone. Thank you so much for joining us.
Melissa Allen: Thank you so much, Sarah.