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Chatting with Maryann Kerr -- Another perspective and some great book recommendations!

I hoped you enjoyed Megan’s post last week, it certainly made me think – maybe I should have called this company Blended Good, instead of Balanced Good. Too bad I’ve already ordered business cards. It’s so true though, especially as I’ve started navigating this new journey, it’s all about the blend. The other day, I had a meeting with a client with the kids playing and running in the background, but I’ve also spent days with back-to-back meetings not seeing the kids until after dinner. It’s all about the blend and bringing your whole self to everything you are doing.


Speaking of blend, you are going to love this next interview; I know I always love chatting with Maryann. Maryann Kerr is the Chief Happiness Officer and CEO of the Medalist Group, a mentor to many, a board member with Next Gen Men, past Board Chair of Gilda’s Club Greater Toronto, a Linked In lover, a go-to for book recommendations, and a true advocate for making happier workplaces and stronger leaderships in our sector. Maryann is also very clear that being able to feel fulfilled in both family-life and your career means there must be a blend.


I truly hope that with the more women I speak with and the more perspectives I share we can create a community of support for all women out there. I hope you enjoy the interview below:


1. Briefly tell me about a day in the life of Maryann Kerr, Chief Happiness Officer and CEO of the Medalist Group?


What I love about this work is that it is varied. Right now, I’m involved with a research project on culture and organizational health in the social profit sector. I’m deep into business and brand development work. I also mentor quite a few women and do my best to never say no to someone who needs help with their career. Client work is focused on strategic plans and leadership team development as well as team building. I also read and write a lot.


2. Your girls are older now, but do you recall a time in your life when you struggled most with this whole work-life balance? And do you think this balance is truly possible?


Yes, I have two incredible young women in my life!! Kimberley is 21 and Kaitlin is 17. I think we’ve talked about this before – I don’t believe in the idea of work/life balance. And I want to point out that this is true whether you have kids or not. Sometimes its a sibling or parent that needs your attention. Sometimes it’s a friend or a colleague. Sometimes it is self-care. We need to see people in their entirety not just as worker bees.

I believe we need to support ourselves and our teams to live well blended lives not balanced ones. When my kids were younger my husband was home full time with them. This made a huge difference in our lives. I was able to focus on work, but we gave up a lot too. It was a trade-off we chose to make so one of us was fully present with them. It was a tough decision but the right one for our family.


Today, I’d say they still need us, just in different and honestly more mentally and emotionally demanding ways. I do think it is possible to live a well-blended life if you work in a culture that values this. If you work for a leader who understands that people perform their best when you value them fully and wholly. It’s not about working 9 to 5 or 8 to 4 or some prescribed hours in a day. It’s about giving folks a job to do and trusting them to get it done. It’s about being in service to your teams to support them to be successful. I also believe these kinds of workplaces are few and far between.


3. Having some perspective now, and building a successful consulting business while raising your children, what advice can you offer to those women just starting to build their career and their families?


You know even with a partner at home who cooked and cleaned and made lunch every day, most of the emotional labour fell to me (this is great read on emotional labour). Things like gifts for birthdays and holidays. Demonstrations of concern for family and friends. Staying in touch. Helping the girls with bullies at school and managing other school issues. I think the best advice I can give is to have some great time management tools and include all those things on your ‘to do list’ or spreadsheet or whatever tool you use.

When you operate a small business, you juggle your personal life with business development, client deliverables, administration, book-keeping, along with your own professional and personal development. I thought of it like a Ferris wheel. I used a spreadsheet that I looked at briefly every morning to ensure that the most important priorities were the most important priorities. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.


4. You are very open and clear about your feelings and experiences with leadership in our sector and the challenges our sector is faced with when it comes to leadership. If we were to put a leadership-lens on this topic, what do you think leaders need to do to build an environment of empowerment for women?


Well this will seem self-serving because this is what the Medalist Group does, but the truth is I think organizations need to put more formal leadership, organizational health, and team development programs in place. In my entire career, only one organization offered a leadership program and while it was excellent – it was also not really lived by the organization. I think this happened, in part, because the leaders themselves did not help design the program so they were not getting what they really needed.

I think we need to look at our own organizations and make every effort to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. I think we need senior women leaders to mentor and sponsor other women and not just young women. I’d love a senior woman in the corporate sector to sponsor me. I still have lots to learn and so do most people. If you aren’t learning, I hope you’re dead!! And I truly believe we simply need to be kinder in the workplace.


5. In your opinion, what are the top 3 things our sector needs to do to help empower women as leaders?


1. Provide equal pay for work of equal value.

2. Hire women in leadership roles.

3. Mentor, sponsor and support women to succeed. We don’t need to “empower” we need to provide environments where women claim their own power and recognize their own worth.


6. I know you are an avid reader, so I have two book-related questions for you. What is the best book you have read as it relates to building strong (women) leaders? And, what is on your current reading list?


You know I can’t give you just one, right? The books that had the most impact on my personal leadership and that I still recommend to any leader, no matter their gender, are:

1. Leadership from the Inside Out by Kevin Cashman

2. The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner

3. Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee.

I also love Margaret Wheatley’s work and her book Perseverance is one I gift often.


My current reading list includes (among others begging for my attention…):

1. Becoming by Michelle Obama

2. How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith

3. Brave Leadership by Kimberly Davis

4. Surviving to Thriving, the 10 Laws of Grateful Leadership by Steve Foran

5. The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison.

It takes me years to read a book because I always have many on the go!!


7. And lastly, when you do manage to find a few moments for yourself, what is your go to self-care activity?


A massage followed by an afternoon lounging on the dock with a good book and a glass of red wine! That’s my heaven.


Love the perspective Maryann shared in this post? Feel free to connect with her on Linked In. Chatting with Maryann, along with recently reading The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women has made me realize that this search for “balance” or a happy “blend” is something that never stops, but you can advocate and push for the things you need to be successful in both your career and family-life goals. Of course, there is still work to be done in our sector to help create a more supportive, whole-self focused environment.


Are you enjoying these interviews as much as I am enjoying writing them? Then stay tuned – next up I’m chatting with Deborah Legrove, President of Crawford Connect.


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