Lina Duque | Lessons learned from CEO Mary Jo Haddad

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I just received an e-mail from Lina Duque, a marketing and social media strategist, and advocate of women's leadership, telling me how inspired she'd been by meeting Mary Jo Haddad.  Lina's conclusion:  to be a leader, she must be true to her self.  If you enjoy Lina's post, tweet her at linaduquemba.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Mary Jo Haddad, president and CEO of the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), the most prestigious hospital in Canada and one of the world’s top pediatric healthcare facilities. Mary Jo’s story is especially fascinating because she started as a nurse and worked her way up to the role of CEO. She is a renowned leader with countless achievements and accolades to her name, including the Order of Canada.

I had read about Mary Jo’s hard work and dedication; for example, she completed a master’s degree in health science administration and had her third baby in the same year without a missing a day of class, writes Cynthia MacDonald in the University of Toronto Magazine. Having had my baby while studying for my executive MBA, I know how hard this undertaking is, but unlike Mary Jo, I missed four days of class.


While she wasn’t aspiring to become a chief executive, Mary Jo was a leader before she was CEO. She pushed her boundaries and routinely got out of her comfort zone. By the time an opportunity to climb the ladder came along, she was already “tooled” for the next role, as she put it. “You don’t have to be CEO to lead,” she said over breakfast. “You can lead in the way you manage a project or in the way you interact with others.”

Upon meeting Mary Jo, I immediately realized that she had the ability to connect with people, from her chief of nursing to the volunteer saleswomen at SickKids’ 555 store to staff passing by as she took me on a tour of the hospital.

If you’re going to lead, it is important that you be authentic. Mary Jo shared the story of one of her female mentees who was eager to make partner in her firm but thought she had to project a certain image that wasn’t true to herself. Mary Jo’s advice to her mentee: “You don’t have to change who you are to achieve your career goals… Make your own way.” As for Mary Jo, every encounter is a learning opportunity; learning what to be and what not to be.

As I flipped through her retirement book, I saw pictures of Mary Jo with country presidents, prime ministers, staff, family members and children of SickKids. It was like watching her entire career unfold before my eyes. After a rewarding career at SickKids, including 10 years as CEO, Mary Jo is stepping down today. She’ll be taking some time off before deciding what’s next for her. I suspect she’ll be one of the most sought-after executives to sit on corporate boards, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

Who do you admire?
What lessons have you learned?
How do you lead?


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