My Journey Through Leadership Niagara

I can’t even deny I was SO excited to enter into the Leadership Niagara program and completely humbled by receiving the Niagara Community Foundations’ bursary so I could attend the program. I had no idea what I was in for but I knew that whatever it was, I wanted to be part of it.

To begin with, one of the things that started this eye-opening experience was one of the questions in the application process to enter into the program. Why are you personally motivated to explore community leadership? I said:  

I want to explore community leadership because I want to find ways to help the community using my skill-set and knowledge while working with others to tackle issues facing our Niagara community. I want to become someone who can inspire and motivate others to find their form of leadership and teach them how to use it towards bettering our community. I want to explore the kind of leadership I can own, that is beneficial to the Niagara community as a whole.

Although I was taken aback by this question, I quickly realized that the Niagara Leadership Summit for Women was one of the first places I learned that leadership didn’t just mean a title. It didn’t mean you had to be the President, CEO, Executive Director, or manager to be a leader. But although I knew this to some extent, I didn’t realize how much I would learn about what leadership really means. Who could be a leader and how.

Looking around the room on the first day of class, everyone came from different backgrounds, positions, workplaces, and titles. As we met each other, we all had various reasons for being a part of the 2019 cohort but they all stemmed from someone believing in the person. Someone wanted to give them a chance to learn how to be a better leader in a place where they would be able to give back.

I could go into detail about how much I loved the program and what I learned from each learning day because it was a jammed-packed amazing program that I wish everyone had a chance to participate in. But that’s not necessary. I want to touch on a few of the things that stood out to me about leadership:

  • The importance of reflection. We always had a chance to reflect on our learnings throughout the learning days. When we started, I found it frustrating. Why do I need to write down what I learned from the day? Would I ever really need to do this in the future? Do successful people really do this? These questions were answered pretty quickly as every leader that spoke to us always mentioned how important it is for them to take time to reflect on things. Why? Because that’s how you learn and grow. Wow is that ever true. I didn’t realize at the time just how important reflecting on things can change your perspective, your goals, and your future and I see the benefits of it almost every day.


  • Diversity and Inclusion are important. Although I already knew this, the importance of including everyone at the table really hit home during our privilege workshop. Let’s face it, many of us are born with some kind of privilege. It’s really important to acknowledge it and then learn from other people’s perspectives. Although it may take longer to make decisions, the decisions you make will be better informed. I was applauding when Jeffrey Sinclair gave the example of how important it was to have people with lived-experience at the table when deciding how best to tackle homelessness and poverty. Because how can we all make decisions for people when we don’t even understand what it’s like to be in their shoes? I could go on about this for a long time, so I will cap it with…inclusion and diversity in all aspects is incredibly important and should never be overlooked.


  • Leadership isn’t just something to talk about, it’s something to demonstrate. It doesn’t necessarily mean being the leader all of the time. Sometimes it means demonstrating how you can follow someone else’s lead and listen. Sometimes it’s being the person who asks for someone else’s input before giving your own. Sometimes it means recognizing who is the expert in the situation and it may not be you. Sometimes it means just simply listening. But it always means motivating others.


  • Recognizing your defaults and making a choice of how you handle situations. There are a few ways that we were shown how this works. One is that your energy is extremely important. It doesn’t mean you always have to be positive but the way you handle stressful situations can have a huge influence on others. As a leader you have to acknowledge this and then make the choice of how you want to influence others. The second is your default of handling situations whether they are positive or negative situations- you need to find a balance in your default reactions focusing on stability and change.


  • The value of thanking people. This was a huge learning for me as I found it can truly make or break a person’s experience if they feel they are not valued. It doesn’t take much to say or send a simple thank you but it can make all of the difference and it does matter if it’s timely.


  • You are always a leader. It doesn’t matter what you are doing and who you are with, you have the chance to influence people. As a leader you should do that positively, authentically, and intentionally. Being a leader isn’t something that just shuts off, so you have to choose how you want to be a leader. There are simple ways to influence people – by smiling at the cashier in the grocery store, by saying hi to the person sitting on the park bench as you walk by, by waving to the person who lets you merge while you’re driving, by thanking someone who gave you directions or answered a question, by taking a minute before you respond in a negative situation. There are so many ways you influence people every day, make sure you’re influencing people with intent.


Another question they asked in the application process was: In your view, what’s the most important attribute of a leader? My response, and I still stand by it:

One of the most important attributes of a leader is passion because if a leader isn’t passionate then it is difficult to motivate others, and represent something full-heartedly. When someone is authentic, they are able to inspire others with that energy and focus on the task at hand.

Although I still stand by this and think passion is an incredibly important attribute of a leader I also really want to point out that so is compassion. Throughout this course and this year of learning, I’ve found that being compassionate towards everyone will always make you a better, more genuine leader.


Arienne Good is a recent Leadership Niagara graduate and the Fundraiser for the YW

Leading By Listening

My first lesson in listening

My earliest memory of the power of someone simply listening goes back to when I was 11. It was my first encounter with death and grief. My grandpa had just told me rather bluntly that my great-grandma had died, and he had awkwardly shuffled the sad little girl in his arms over to his sister, who we still referred to as the “West German” great-aunt, even though the Wall had fallen a decade ago.  I wasn’t very close to her and yet, it was her whose arms I found myself in in that very first encounter with grief. It was her, who simply held me and let me bawl the way only kids can. She didn’t say a word, she didn’t move. She sat there like my rock and listened to my tears. I don’t know if this lasted for two minutes or for an hour, but I know that I learned something that day. Many things were said to me in the hours and days that followed. Most of it made me angry or sad or both. It was my great-aunt’s silent listening, silent support, that was the only thing that I remember truly giving me comfort.

The recent come-back of listening

I haven’t thought about those moments all those years ago in a long time. Ironically, although probably not ironically at all, it is grief that recently made me think about listening once again.

My friend Jennifer and I have been friends for almost twenty years. I have lived a lot more of my life with Jennifer in it than without her. We have lived parallel lives for a long time, both of us Germans who fell for North-American guys, who now share a life and families with them on this side of the pond. Imagine our excitement when we recently realized that we were both expecting with almost the exact same due date. It wasn’t until around week 14 that we genuinely let ourselves get excited – we had made it past the most nervous time of a pregnancy after all, right? Right? Well, statistically speaking, sure. When the time came for our 16 week check-ups, Jennifer’s was on a Thursday and mine was on the following Tuesday. When Jenny went in, they could not find the baby’s heartbeat. Her little girl’s heart had stopped beating about a week earlier. In the very same moments of me listening to my baby’s heartbeat only a few days later, Jennifer was giving birth to her dead daughter.

When she finally messaged me that she was ready to talk, I gathered all of my courage and picked up the phone. She was strong and amazing, and all fears about what I should say or not say disappeared. She didn’t want me to talk, didn’t need me to talk. Jennifer needed me to simply listen. She just wanted to share with someone what they had gone through, and too many people had been afraid to ask.

Listening, I realized, can make all the difference.

The facets of listening

So what does this have to do with leadership? As I started to think about the power of listening, I realized that all good leadership comes with the ability to listen. When we talk about “leaders”, we talk about people who are intentional about affecting positive change. That can be a manager or CEO, but it can also be a mom, an activist, a neighbour. So here is my hypothesis if you will – to affect positive change, we must first be able to listen. But it’s not that easy, is it? It’s not a black-and-white scenario.

Because as it turns out, once you start thinking about listening, there is so much more to it. When I really started putting my mind to it, I thought about the many times I haven’t listened to my kids or my husband because I was too busy preparing a meal, or doing dishes, or answering a friend’s message. I thought about the times I did listen to them. The time my daughter told me about her first date, the countless times my son retold every detail of a chapter he had read or a movie he had watched, the first time my husband told me about his dad. I thought about the amazing manager who just listened after a tough meeting. I thought about the not so amazing manager, who failed to listen when I most needed it. I thought about the time when I was 19 and my girlfriend’s mom died. I thought about being a coward, who didn’t have it in her to pick up the phone, too scared to listen. I thought about the times listening brought me great joy, and the times it brought me pain. I thought about how much I appreciate some of the closest people in my life, simply because they have an incredible ability to listen. I thought about the many times I was looking for someone to listen, and got advice instead. I thought about the times I just didn’t have it in me to listen. The phone calls I haven’t answered because I had nothing left to give. It can’t just be an expectation, can it? Sometimes, it is just too hard for the other person to listen. Or too close to home, or just a little bit too much on that day, in that moment. And that’s ok, too.

So my challenge for you is simple:

I dare you to listen.

I encourage you to take an hour or a day or a week to think about the ways you listen. The people, who are good listeners in your life. The times you were that silent rock for someone else, and the times you perhaps could have done better. What role has listening played in your life and in your leadership journey?

Challenge yourself to listen, because you might just like what you hear.


Franziska Emslie is the YW’s Community and Public Relations Coordinator

Yes, you are a mentor


She sat down in front of me, a nervous smile spreading across her face. Hands fluttering, looking for a safe space to land. Her voice unsteady.

I smiled. Suggested a deep breath in and out. Cracked a joke to ease the tension. Told her there was no reason to be nervous. This was a fantastic opportunity and I was delighted to have her on board. Excited to work together. I suggested she take notes, a way to occupy her hands and shift her focus. Little by little, she relaxed.

In that first meeting, I sat across from my newly assigned student intern. In the months that followed, she became so much more.

She proved a quick study, an excellent resource and idea generator. By asking questions, she helped me re-learn how to break down concepts and explain skills that had become routine. When she felt unsure of her abilities, I realized how quickly I jumped to reassure her with words of encouragement. I pushed, gently.

Together we moved through a list of tasks, tackling social media take-overs, interviewing faculty members, preparing for events, crafting a resume to showcase her skills and more.

At the end of her internship, she stopped by with a lovely gift and an even more meaningful thank you card expressing her gratitude. In the card, which I still proudly display in my office, she calls me her “mentor.” A term I’ve shied away from. Isn’t that a word reserved for those with more experience, expertise, education? I seemed to think so.

On further reflection, I realized it was time to take my own advice. To nurture my confidence and push myself, just as I had her.

It’s so easy – especially for women – to downplay our strengths and sell ourselves short. When she started to do that, I was there to build her up. I was there to point out the ways she took on leadership roles and stepped outside her comfort zone. There to reassure and remind. There to unpack that belief and help her write a new narrative.

It was time for me to do the same.

Do I have more to learn? Always.
Could I use my own mentor? Absolutely – accepting offers!
Am I mentor?

Yes, yes I am.

If I’m honest, even writing it here makes me a little uneasy. A feeling I’ll allow then attempt to push aside because I can be a mentor. I have been a mentor. And I hope to be again.
I fit the definition – an experienced person in a company, college or school who trains and counsels new employees or students – and have something (dare I say, many things!) to offer.

So while I may have taught her a few tricks of the trade, picked up and tested along my way, she also taught me a thing or two. Most importantly, she reminded me to follow my own advice. To trust your gut. To show up. To speak up. To go for it. And to share what you have to offer. Because I can guarantee you have something to share.

So can I be a mentor? Yes, absolutely. And so can you.
I hope you dive right in.
I plan to.

Milica Petkovic is the Communications Officer, External Relations for Brock University’s Faculty of Social Sciences. She is also a member of the University’s Women in Leadership initiative and will be volunteering for the 2019 Niagara Leadership Summit for Women.

How to Get Ahead by Volunteering

OK, that sounded selfish. Let me re-word that…“How Volunteering Can Also Help Your Career.”  That’s better. On with our story!

About five years ago, I decided it was time to switch tracks and return to school. At 40 years old. Oh yes, FORTY. Having been a chef for the previous 12 years, and now a newly single mother, I took stock of my skill set, which included multi-tasking, organization, adaptability, and mothering, and settled on the perfect career… Office Administration! Side note. I’m going to admit that at this point in my life, I was sadly lacking in both volunteer experience and the altruism needed to be a good volunteer.

Flash forward into the Spring of 2015 and I am looking for a placement for my course. Hello YWCA Niagara! This amazing organization is where the story actually begins. By the time I had to return to school, I was hooked. During an eye-opening four months, I learned more about the need in this region than I had in the 30 previous years. I became a dedicated volunteer. By stepping out of the bubble that was my personal circle, I gained knowledge, experience, friendships, a network, and most importantly, perspective. Volunteering makes me a better person, it makes me a better parent, and yes, it makes me more employable. Below you’ll find just some of the reasons you want to get onboard the volunteer train.

Get to know yourself

Volunteering can be a great way to learn more about your skills, potential for growth and development. It also gives you a safe place to have others evaluate your strengths and offer tips for improvement.

Improve current skills

Are you a student? Does your workplace not offer the opportunity to flex some of the muscles you have in your arsenal? Volunteering can help you sharpen skills you may have just obtained, or those that may require a good dusting off.

Develop new skills

After you’ve made use of the abilities you have, it’s time to develop new ones. Volunteer roles are less defined than those in business. Find an area that interests you and look for matching opportunities. Charities appreciate every person who steps up, and you are unlikely likely to hear “we don’t think you’re qualified for that.” Learn more about budgeting, leadership, marketing, event planning, or even how to groom a dog!

Develop a professional network

So, you have now gotten to know yourself and your abilities, you have honed the ones you had and developed new ones that interest you. Guess what? People have noticed.

While you were busy on your personal journey, you have likely gained the respect and appreciation of the people who are volunteering alongside you.

Volunteers come from all occupations and positions on the ladder. This forum is a uniquely level playing field upon which to build relationships. Take advantage of the connections you make to find out about hidden jobs or opportunities and pay it forward when you’re able.

Ultimately, volunteering needs to come from the heart; it needs to be fueled by a passion to help. If you already know where your interest lies…you share every Facebook post about animal cruelty or poverty, you joined the Women’s March or loved the idea of clean water available globally, then you have a great starting point. If not, start with that skill you want to learn and help where you can until you find the right fit. I promise, it’s worth it, for your career, your personal growth, and the charity waiting for your help.

 Crystal Carswell sits on the NLSW planning committee and has been supporting the YWCA and the event in many wonderful ways over the past few years