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Four-Minute Leadership: Joyce Carter of Halifax International Airport Authority

|January 21, 2021

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 fourth conversation features Joyce Carter, President and CEO, Halifax International Airport Authority, which operates Halifax Stanfield International Airport, Atlantic Canada’s principal full-service airport providing passengers and cargo clients with access to markets across the globe.

What has 2020 taught you about leadership?

Joyce Carter: This year has taught me so much as a leader in the workplace, as well as an individual. Facing a crisis as devastating as the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of collaboration on many different levels, whether it be amongst employees, between the government and our partners, or just as people grappling with the same issues around the world.

Something else that you learn during a major crisis is the importance of charting a course yet being extremely flexible. It’s important to have a plan but know that things could change at a moment’s notice.

Lastly, never underestimate the power of remaining positive during difficult times. Don’t forget to share good news when it comes up and try to stay lighthearted when appropriate. It helps give employees and the public a break from all the bad news going on. Empathy really is key, especially in such a widespread, long-term crisis.

What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?

J.C.: I think that as a leader, you begin to understand the importance of making a solid decision and sticking with it. Sometimes, you must decide before you have all the facts or know every detail, and that can be uncomfortable but it’s something you must accept. It’s better to do that than to risk indecision or ambiguity. Taking COVID-19 as an example, early on we really had to do a 180-degree turn on our communications within a matter of days and tell passengers not to fly—something we’ve never done before. We stuck with our messaging and made changes as more information became available. We couldn’t wait to understand exactly what was going on or what it meant for our organization in the long term before we took action to keep people safe throughout the pandemic.

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

J.C.: Early on, I learned the importance of community engagement. It’s hard to do business, or even live, in a community in which you are not involved. At Halifax Stanfield, we have many community outreach initiatives such as our volunteer programs and sponsorship opportunities, which all help to create a richer environment for our communities. Community goes beyond geographical location as well, such as the aviation community. I’m chair of the Canadian Airports Council and a member of Women in Aviation International and Women in Aerospace Canada – Atlantic, as well as several other local initiatives. These connections are essential in business and in my career—every day, I rely on the relationships I’ve built.

Who shaped you the most as a leader?

J.C.: I couldn’t pinpoint just one person, or even a few, that shaped me as a leader. I have learned from so many people that helped me become who I am today. Some of these figures were in positions of leadership at my workplace, and others were leaders in their communities. And of course, family members showed me what true leadership looks like. All these influences have helped shape who I am and how I engage with my team, colleagues and partners, today.

What advice would you give to emerging leaders?

J.C.: I would encourage young women leaders to consider pursuing a career in the aviation industry! Putting the pandemic aside, this is an incredible industry with myriad opportunities. As a member of Women in Aviation International and Women in Aerospace Canada, and the first female chair of the Canadian Airports Council, I am a dedicated advocate for women in aviation. Follow your passion—I can assure you that you won’t regret it.

What’s the most unexpected thing about you?

J.C.: I grew up in rural Cape Breton, so my earliest job opportunities were fairly limited compared to what young people in Halifax can do. In high school, I worked at my dad’s service station pumping gas. I also raised money for our high school graduation by chopping, splitting, and peeling a cord of wood! When I went to Saint Mary’s University, here in Halifax, I spent some time working at Farmer’s Dairy—the milk on tap (and free ice cream) in the cafeteria were the best!