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Steenkamp on courage, empathy and leadership
His wide-ranging discussion with guest editor Ian Chisholm touched on how courage, empathy and leadership intertwine.
Here is an excerpt:
Midway through the conversation with Dr. Philip Steenkamp, the president and vice-chancellor of Royal Roads University paraphrases that inimitable leader Winston Churchill.
“Courage is the most esteemed of values because it’s the one that informs every other,” Steenkamp says.
It’s a hot afternoon in late July, and Steenkamp has joined guest editor Ian Chisholm at the Douglas office to share his insights into leadership, gleaned from a 17-year career in public service, as well as his more recent roles at several B.C. universities.
Whether named directly or not, the idea of courage — and stepping up — underlies the entire discussion.
“If you keep your head down, it can be a nice quiet life,” Steenkamp says. “But you won’t necessarily have the [same] opportunities than if you’re prepared to step in.”
Ian Chisholm: What are some of the core values that you’ve been able to centre yourself around, regardless of the circumstances around you?
Phillip Steenkamp: I would say, although I didn’t really understand empathy early on in my early leadership positions, it was a value for me, just not articulated in that way. And as I’ve gone on in my career, the value of empathy is so apparent to me. Trying to understand what people are thinking and feeling has been absolutely critical in terms of determining what actions we’ve taken and how we’ve responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. So starting with empathy, and starting with a focus on people, has been a core value throughout my career. The other one is collaboration and engagement.
I learned that early on in the world of Indigenous relations and treaty negotiations. Solutions emerge from having a diversity of input. The other one is creativity. Whether it’s government ministries, Indigenous relations or the university setting and the multiple responsibilities involved, you’re often dealing with really wicked problems, and you need creative solutions. Then the last one is something I’ve looked to all my career: courage. That’s why I’m so excited that courage is now at the core of this new Royal Roads vision. I didn’t force it in there, it actually came through organically.
This article originally appeared in Douglas magazine’s Leadership Issue.