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Leadership 2013: An All-Star Female Line Up!

January 6, 2014

Malala Another year has come and gone by in a flash. Unexpected events, too many to list, struck from all sides. One of the year’s big events was the human calamity in Syria, which has passed the two-year mark and with over 130,000 civilians killed.

The oil-laden freight train disaster which leveled the core of the village of Lac Megantic, Quebec, in the summer revealed gross incompetence and neglect by the US-controlled Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway.

However, there were many moments of exceptional leadership.

My last two annual leadership selection posts profiled a variety of leaders, from bad to potential to outstanding. For my 2013 selection I’ve decided to go only with outstanding leaders, and to focus on female leaders. Unfortunately, society continues to equate leadership with mainly males. I’ve grown a little weary of reading about male leaders, whether in business or in the public sector. Leadership is more than this. Hence my decision to profile women who have made significant contributions to society.

Before presenting my list, I’ll quickly highlight how some of the Leadership 2012 exceptional leaders did in 2013.

malala cover In Leadership 2012 my top pick was Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen who after recovering from being shot in the head by the Taliban went on to deliver a riveting speech at the United Nations. If you haven’t listened to this speech, here’s your chance. She came close to winning the Nobel Peace Prize which was awarded in October, and was specified as an imminent honorary citizen of Canada that same month in the federal government’s Speech from the Throne, and named by TIME as one of the most influential people in the world.

Malala released her autobiography in late 2013 I am Malala. This book is fascinating; I highly recommend it. Malala, an incredible, fearless young woman, is just entering the leadership arena. We’ll hear a lot more about her in the coming years.


Mayer Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer was given a wannabee rank in my Leadership 2012 post. The 38 year-old new mom had yet to prove herself, though being respected for her brilliant mind while a senior executive at Google. Mayer got herself bad press with her decision to pull back on telecommuting for Yahoo! employees, despite her having made special arrangements with her first-born. It’s worthwhile to note that her decision was not reported accurately in the media.

Mayer has surprised naysayers by moving Yahoo! quickly along the path of reinventing the company. So far she’s making things happen in a company that was spiraling downwards. Since taking the helm of Yahoo! its stock has risen 130%, and it’s competing head-to-head with Google in generating web traffic. In 2013, Mayer was ranked number eight on Fortune magazine’s list of the most powerful businesswomen in the United States.


carney1 One other person to note, who received accolades last year in my Leadership 2012 post, is Canada’s former Governor of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney. The Bank of England and Prime Minister David Cameron were relentless during the first part of 2013 to recruit Carney to the post of Governor of the Bank of England. Carney finally caved and, with a huge boost in salary, moved to the other side of the pond in July 2013. However, with this new plumb post come a much bigger set of challenges than he had as Canada’s central bank governor.

The past year saw many talented leaders pass away. But the leader who impressed me consistently over the years was Nelson Mandela. I won’t restate the obvious, or try to summarize his incredible achievements. However, in memory of undoubtedly the world’s greatest leader and statesman in modern times Take a moment to watch this beautiful video of a mash-up in a South Africa grocery store.

Now, let’s get on with who I’ve selected as outstanding leaders for 2013.

The following five women displayed greatness in their personal integrity and commitment to their followers by maintaining a steadfast focus on a shared vision. They showed resilience and perseverance during times of adversity. And what is intriguing is that they live in different countries and lead in very different settings.

Kate MacEachern Kate MacEachern: The Long Way Home

Former Canadian Army corporal Kate MacEachern is as tough as they come. Before quitting the army in August 2013, the 34 year-old single mom drove a tank as a member of the Armour School at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown, New Brunswick. But that’s not why she’s tough. In the summer of 2012, she set a Guinness world record by walking in full military gear with pack 572 kilometers from CFB Gagetown (just west of Fredericton, the provincial capital) to her home town of Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

What drove Kate to undertake such a punishing trek, which is called The Long Way Home?

It’s called PTSD–post traumatic stress syndrome. Now well documented in the Canadian Armed Forces, and especially the U.S. military, Kate wanted to bring attention to this problem and to raise money for veterans. Her 2012 trek raised $20,000.

This past year she decided to go even bigger: to march from Nova Scotia’s Canso Causeway to Ottawa, Ontario (the nation’s capital) – 1,860 kilometres. In the summer of 2013 she requested from her superiors to repeat her trek. Go for it, they replied, but not in uniform. This time you’ll do it as a civilian.

What’s bizarre about this story is that former Conservative Minister of National Defense, Peter MacKay, sought Kate out during her first march, excitedly commending her tenaciousness and commitment to a vital cause for Canada’s enlisted men and women, telling her that she “epitomized leadership.” Mackay (from Nova Scotia) even walked with Kate during part of her march.

And then the Government of Canada abandoned Kate in 2013 when she wanted to undertake a more onerous march. Military brass refused to give her time off (45 days), citing operational needs. Kate never requested any form of assistance from the military.

But Kate MacEachern is tough and focused on an important societal issue, one that she wants to broaden to beyond the military, such as police officers, paramedics and fire fighters. And she had to give up her military career to pursue her cause.

Military Minds, an organization dedicated to helping soldiers and vets suffering from PTSD connect with mental health services, drove Kate’s support RV. In addition, the Canadian Army Veteran Motorcycle Units, a network of bikers, provided moral support.

It took Kate 45 days to complete her trek, just has planned. She arrived in Ottawa on October 19th. I followed her on Facebook, reading about her emotional rollercoaster, from the wonderful people she met to being laughed at by one group of soldiers. And she endured shin splints, rain, cold and the dangers of walking on highways. This is her first step in her journey to address PTSD, both as someone who suffers from it and who wants to place it front and center in the public arena so that it is dealt with properly.

Take a moment to watch this video which captures Kate’s ongoing journey.




As a young female leader, Kate has much more to explore and offer Canada–and the world.

Postscript: Not long after Kate completed her trek, Canadians were shocked to learn that in the space of just one week in early December four Canadian soldiers committed suicide on different military bases across the country. All had served in combat, from Bosnia to Afghanistan, and are believed to have suffered from PTSD.

The morning after the news report on the fourth death, highly respected Canadian Senator and retired Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire crashed his car on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. A PTSD sufferer for the past two decades, resulting from his experience in commanding Peacekeepers in Rwanda, Dallaire admitted that overwork, lack of sleep and the deaths of the four Canadian soldiers caused him to fall asleep at the wheel. He received a standing ovation from his peer Senators when he explained his car accident and his ongoing struggle with PTSD.



sarobi1 Dr. Habiba Sarobi: Former Governor of Bamyan Province, Afghanistan

Being a male politician in Afghanistan, a primitive country with a long history of foreign government interference and violence, is no easy gig. But try being a female politician in this male-dominated society, one where the Taliban is re-emerging as the coalition partners (led by the U.S.) have mostly drawn down. Courage is one word that quickly comes to mind.

Dr. Habiba Sarobi, a 57 year-old hematologist, became governor of Bamyan Province in 2005, the first female governor in Afghanistan. She worked hard at instituting reforms in a post-Taliban environment. However, during the frightening period of Taliban rule pre-911, she and her children took refuge in Pakistan.

Dr. Sarobi’s work has been especially aimed at strengthening women’s rights. Consider that just four years before being appointed as governor by President Karzai, women were forbidden to wear lipstick or be educated. The burka was a common sight. However, she used the burka as a tool to sneak into Afghanistan during her self-imposed exile to see her husband (who stayed to care for his parents) and to open a network of underground schools for girls.

Rather than accept President Karzai’s offer to be an ambassador when she was minister for women’s affairs, she insisted to be appointed governor. Her first few months as governor were a little rocky, especially when a snowstorm prevented her from reaching Bamyan. Then some 300 males staged a noisy protest shortly after she arrived. However she got past those obstacles, and it wasn’t long until she won over the male contingent, notably when 1,000 men gave her a standing ovation at a sport match.

A pragmatist in contrast to ardent feminist, Dr. Sarobi gets things done. Recently, she has moved to national politics where she was one of five female candidates for vice-president. The presidential election is to be held in April 2014.


Sam Nutt Dr. Samantha Nutt: Physician and Founder of War Child Canada

Samantha Nutt was only 25 years old when she visited Somalia in 1995. A new medical school grad, she witnessed the armed renegade gangs roaming at will, women holding dead babies, and over-worked volunteer workers. Her startling experience served as the catalyst to create Warchild whose mission is to help rebuild communities that have been devastated by war.

Dr. Nutt is a physician at the Women’s College Hospital in Toronto and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto. She’s sometimes part of CBC National’s panel discussions on policy and international development issues. Nominated by the Globe & Mail as one of Canada’s 25 most influential people, she is highly articulate and knowledgeable on the desperate plight facing children living in war zones around the world. She was awarded the Order of Canada in 2010 and the Order of Ontario in 2011.

Dr. Nutt has experienced several lifetimes for someone just in her forties. The following quotation of one particular hair raising encounter is a poignant reminder of the inherent dangers of overseas work:

“Shortly afterwards, it sounded as if the rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) were landing dangerously close – so close that I immediately dropped to the floor, prompting an unflinching Congolese man in the lobby, who’d obviously endured much worse, to jokingly say, ‘I see you do not enjoy the beautiful music we play here in the Congo.’ It is still one of the most reassuring things anyone has ever said to me in the midst of a crisis.”

When Dr. Nutt is interviewed or participating on panels on TV she comes across as reserved, articulate and humble. Yet she is steadfastly focused on her mission and has worked tirelessly for many years to improve the conditions that children affected by war face. She is a true Canadian leader.


SisterFarrell Sister Pat Farrell: Taking on the Vatican

She worked with war refugees for some 15 years in El Salvador. She witnessed the horrors that the accompanying violence of war inflicts on civilians, unfortunately frequently children and the elderly. But her next battle would prove to be fierce and protracted.

Meet Sister Pat Farrell, Past President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (founded in 1956) and Vice President of the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque, Iowa. Sister Farrell went head-to-head with the Vatican on the role of nuns in the Catholic Church. Representing around 57,000 nuns in the U.S. (there were 165,000 nuns in the U.S. in 1965) Sister Ferrell took on Cardinal William Levada, who in 2012 was accused of ignoring priests who have been guilty of pedophilia and who marched in protest in San Francisco that same year against gay marriage.

Change comes hard, especially so in long-established, male-dominated institutions.

At issue was the accusation from Cardinal Levada that the organization that Farrell led–Leadership Conference of Women Religious–was promoting “radical feminism” and ignoring the Vatican’s hard line on gay marriage and abortion rights. Levada wanted to rewrite their statute and introduce programs to re-educate nuns. The Leadership Conference replied that the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment was founded on “unsubstantiated accusations” which could undermine the ability of nuns to “fulfill their mission.”

Americans protested the Cardinal’s actions and submitted a petition. However, nuns, who take vows of chastity and poverty, were placed in a tough position. The 65 year-old Sister Farrell’s effort to resist the Vatican’s desire to take control of this organization faced a huge challenge. Yet the nun from an Iowan farm, second oldest of six children whose ailing father died at only age 48, and who left home at 14 to attend a boarding school run by the Sisters of St. Francis, persevered. As a nun, she learned Spanish in Mexico, was sent to Peru to help the poor in a remote area, and then went on to Santiago, Chile. From there it was on to El Salvador in 1986, which was in the midst of a civil war, and where four nuns were raped, tortured and beaten in 1980.

In a March 2013 interview with National Public Radio, Sister Farrell reflected on the recent selection of Pope Francis and her hopes for the future direction of the Catholic Church on the issues of social justice, charity and the role of women. For an additional perspective on the new Pope’s challenges and Sister Farrell’s ongoing fight for fairness, take a moment to watch this CBS 60 Minutes segment.

The struggle goes on within the Catholic Church on the role of nuns, and more broadly that of women and their contributions. Fortunately, there are extraordinary leaders such as Sister Pat Farrell who are intelligent, articulate and steadfastly focused on what she sees as a vitally important mission.


Lori Patterson Lori Patterson: From the Rat Race to Entrepreneurial Leader

Lori Patterson was once part of the corporate rat race, working long hours as a manager for large companies, watching senior leaders constantly change priorities and objectives, moving the proverbial goal posts that much farther out. Finally she had enough. She quit her job, re-focusing her attention on her family, all the while reflecting on what she was going to do next.

Patterson’s story is inspiring. When she came to the realization that she no longer wanted to work in the corporate world as an employee, having to continually adapt to a corporate culture increasingly based on the bottom line, she adopted a new frame of reference. Patterson stepped out, paused to re-center herself, focused her personal mission and values, and then stepped back into the business world–but this time as the senior leader of her company.

Possessing a huge amount of entrepreneurial drive and plenty of smarts, the mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Illinois co-founded Pixo in 1998. Pixo is a software firm whose designers and engineers create platforms for web and mobile apps, bringing to life the ideas of entrepreneurs. Originally named OJC Technologies, Patterson changed the company’s name to Pixo in September 2011. (“Pixo” is a derivation from a Portuguese expression meaning “giving voice”). As she facetiously notes, it was done to address the “distress” of employees who had difficulty remembering their firm’s name. Such is her open sense of humor.

Pixo may be a small company with only a few dozen employees. However, it has a one-year waiting list of corporate clients who want in with this customer-focused company, where employees work a 40 hour week and the workplace nurtures creativity and innovation. This contrasts sharply with the software world, characterized by excessively long hours and employees being treated as pawns who work marathon hours.

Patterson has lived and breathed entrepreneurship for the past 15 years, during which time she has also provided business consulting services to over 100 start-up companies. Her unique skill at serving as a catalyst to entrepreneurs to turn good ideas into profitable businesses helped her earn the Athena Award in 2011, and more recently the Woman on the Rise award from the Illinois State Treasurer’s Office.

Lori Paterson hasn’t looked back since leaving the rat race.


desloges In Memoriam: A Compassionate Leader Who Died Too Soon

The world watched with horror on September 22 as some 15 radical Islamic terrorists invaded the Westgate mall in Nairobi, mowing down anyone who wasn’t an apparent Muslim. In their crosshairs was Annemarie Desloges, 29, a diplomat who worked at the Canadian Embassy.

Desloges, previously posted in Delhi, was off-duty and shopping with her husband (wounded in the attack). She had worked for both Citizenship and Immigration Canada and was on loan to the Canada Border Services Agency.

The daughter of diplomats, she acquired the travel bug at an early age. Her work had included travelling to refugee camps in Africa to process the applications from refugees who wished to go to Canada. She listened to their experiences, documenting them and determining who met the conditions for refugee status.

Her work was certainly not glamorous, involving at times the horrendous living conditions in which refugees (often displaced through violence) are typically subjected. And her work at times involved clear risks to her safety. The sad irony is that she met her fate in an upscale shopping mall, replete with security, while spending time with her husband.

Annemarie will be remembered by Canadians and the many she so dedicatedly served overseas.


Leadership 2013 is but a tiny sample of great women in leadership. Take some time to reflect on the incredible contributions these female leaders have made to society. If you know of excellent women leaders please take a moment to share a comment. And if you would like to contribute a guest post on an extraordinary female leader you know, please send me an email.


To all the girls who have faced injustice and have been silenced. Together we will be heard.

– Malala Yousafzai (dedication in her autobiography I am Malala



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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 6, 2014 3:58 am

    Reblogged this on theresamaceachern2014's Blog and commented:
    It is fantastic to see Kate being recognized for bringing awareness to PTSD

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