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Leading with our values: Insights from our CEO, Sarah Belliveau


As part of the recent MaineBiz CEO Forum, BerryDunn’s CEO, Sarah Belliveau, shared "10 ideas in eight minutes" regarding her approach to leadership. Sarah is the firm’s first female CEO and has been part of the BerryDunn team for her entire career. She believes that a great work culture supports a great business, and that an organization’s values should provide a guide forward. As a preamble to her 10 ideas, she shared, “By leading with our values, everything we have done and everything we do is for the benefit of our people ecosystem – our employees, our clients, our communities.”

And now, here are 10 ideas that can make you a better leader:

Invite multiple perspectives to the conversation to help mitigate bias in decision-making.

You are one perspective and our world seems more and more complex every day. Being able to view the facts and circumstances from multiple perspectives enhances your ability to make better informed decisions. Bonus: Seeing the issue through others’ lenses increases the likelihood of creative solutions.

This can be as formal as pulling together a group to tackle an issue. But it is not always that formal. Sometimes it’s a bunch of informal conversations simply to make sure I’m not missing a blind spot.

Strive for continuous improvement…. always (and in everything).

We have a culture that embraces growth, learning, and change; continuous improvement is in our DNA. This does not have to look like complete reinvention—projects are often just as successful when they are tackled incrementally. Celebrate progress, rather than striving for perfection. While it can be a transformative attitude to believe that everything can be improved, effort needs to be balanced with the benefit. People have an upper limit in their capacity for change.

Reward the (right) risk-taking.

Create an environment to celebrate and foster innovation. This will look different for each and every organization but what is not different is this requires being comfortable with (and sometimes celebrating) failure and a high level of trust between you and your teams.

In the spring, we established an Innovation Council charged with—in part—providing a portal for anyone in the firm to submit an innovative idea. The Council will vet ideas and provide coaching and resources for people to develop a business case to bring before the leadership team and the Board. They are encouraging people to think big, wild, crazy, and have been given explicit permission to fail. Because every once in a while, the great ones break through.

Give your next generation of leaders a seat at the table.

Provide them visibility into how your organization is run and how decisions are made. And definitely provide them with opportunities to lead. The best ideas almost always come from fresh eyes.

At BerryDunn, we do this by establishing groups like the Innovation Council, the CEO Council on DEI, and the Internship Committee as just a few examples. These groups comprise a diverse representation from across the firm: practice groups, geography, seniority. And we make sure we have included identified future leaders. These groups have a visibility across the firm, access to the leadership team and the board, and become incubators for leading and learning.

Aim to be better.

Commit to personal and professional growth and be transparent about progress in both. If you expect a lifelong attention to growth and learning from others, lead by example. There’s a great quote attributed to Marian Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund—“You can’t be what you can’t see”. Hyperbole is true. So commit to growth, commit to your organization’s values and demonstrate that commitment every day.

Connect everyone in your organization to the purpose.

Everyone at your organization should be able to articulate why they come to work every day. We don’t get this right every time, but we want to be better. When articles are published around employee engagement and retention—what are some of the most common reasons people leave their jobs? Right up near the top is feeling disillusioned and that the work they do does not advance the organization or is not valued.

Build a personal board of directors.

Identify those in your network whom you connect with and admire. Reach out when you are struggling with a decision, lacking inspiration, or feeling stuck. Clarity can be hard to find when you are the only one you can talk to!

Let your mind wander.

Prioritize “free thinking” time and actually block off time in your calendar; honor it whenever you can. Read articles, listen to podcasts, talk to people in your organization with whom you don’t normally have the chance. It is easy to become overwhelmed by our calendars and pulled into the day-to-day details. And “in the details” is NOT typically where we are inspired. I think of great ideas that are in motion today at the firm and they often came about from a casual conversation or something stumbled upon while looking for something else.

Don’t get caught up in the noise of the moment.

With the pace of change in today’s world, it is easy to feel like a marionette being yanked around. While change is healthy and important—think resilience and adaptability—your responsibility is making sure you are responding to the right things and not everything.

For example, in the span of a few short weeks we heard about The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffling, The Great Regret, The Great In-Between….and my favorite, The Great Reality Check. While those are all important perspectives, not everything requires action. Think of things within the context of planning for the future whenever you can. Run your reactions and decisions through a decision process that starts with your organization’s values—and let that guide you.

Find your replacement.

From the moment you take on a new role, your job is to develop the next person to take over for you. And encourage everyone in your organization to do the same. Leadership development begins the moment people walk through the door. Done well, there is no better way to provide opportunities for growth.

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