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Four-Minute Leadership: Jennifer Angel, President and CEO of Develop Nova Scotia

Four-Minute Leadership is a series of informative and inspiring interviews with Atlantic changemakers exploring business and leadership in the new economy, in four-minute reads. Our sixth conversation features Jennifer Angel, President and CEO of Develop Nova Scotia, which is working with partners and communities to make Nova Scotia an incredible place to live, work, invest and visit.

What has the past year taught you about leadership?

Jennifer Angel: Leadership isn’t a position. It’s an action and it requires work and commitment every day. I think great leaders bring purpose and passion, and model the belief that audacious goals are possible. They nurture an environment where people feel safe, valued and trusted and, from that solid footing, challenge the team to try new things, move out of their comfort zones and pursue new and better ways of doing things. Leadership is building and supporting that capacity for innovation and resilience (and joy) in a team—which enables the team to rise to meet even the most daunting challenges (global pandemics included).

What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?

J.A.: A big part of our work is engaging with people to build places together. We know that building a place where everyone can belong requires broad and diverse public participation. The most beautiful and difficult thing about authentic engagement is that people don’t agree on everything and when you’re contemplating changes to something people care about, the conversations can get pretty heavy. Sometimes on the front page. I believe the only way to do authentic engagement is through these difficult conversations, approached with openness and humility. But these heavy discussions can be very hard on people, especially a team who is deeply committed to doing the right thing (even when it’s the harder option) and who genuinely care about the people in our community, including the ones who disagree with us. So, I’m thinking a lot about how to influence the community context to improve the conditions for constructive and respectful dialogue. Something else I often think about is how to build supports and resilience in the Develop Nova Scotia team so that we are fully prepared for the challenging conversations that are inevitable and have the tools and confidence to advance the work because we know it is the path to the change we need.

What advice did you receive early in your career that has stayed with you?

J.A.: Courage is not about an absence of fear. It’s about being afraid and doing it anyway. Do big things even when they’re hard, unpopular, up against power, subject to scrutiny and criticism, outside of your comfort zone, and possibly controversial. Check your moral compass, trust your gut, surround yourself with trusted and diverse counsel, act with openness and humility, and make it happen.

Who shaped you the most as a leader?

J.A.: Many extraordinary leaders—including Colin MacLean, my former boss and mentor, and Dale Godsoe, my current Board Chair. I have been lucky to be surrounded by leadership, at every level. I am most shaped as a leader by the amazing team at Develop Nova Scotia. I am privileged to get to lead, side by side, with an extraordinary group of big thinking, creative, talented and skilled people at every level in my organization—people who work their hearts out every day to make Nova Scotia better for everyone. I try to earn it every day. I don’t always get it right. It’s a work in progress.

What advice would you give to emerging leaders?

J.A.: Find your purpose. What’s the thing that gets your heart racing? Find that and then work like hell. Passion and perseverance are a formidable combination. People who have them are the people I want to surround myself with and, in my experience, they are the people who make real change and get the job done. Also, optimism helps.

What’s the most unexpected thing about you?

J.A.: I paint. Quietly.