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Four-Minute Leadership: Susan Mullin, President and CEO of the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation

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 fifth conversation features Susan Mullin, President and CEO of the QEII Health Sciences Centre Foundation, which helps fund new technologies, medical research, innovation and professional education that contribute to life-changing moments experienced every day by patients and their loved ones at the QEII.

What has the past year taught you about leadership?

Susan Mullin: As leaders, we are looked to for answers, often where none exist. The pandemic emphasized for me that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” and to follow that up with “What I do know…”. Acknowledging the uncertainty while leaning on both personal and organizational values to support team members and to engage the team in our shared mission was essential. I have a science background, and I rely heavily on data and facts, but this past year required me to lean on EQ skills more than ever.

What’s a lesson you learned the hard way?

S.M.: In one of my early leadership roles, I remember identifying a long list of projects and initiatives that I saw as needing fixing. We ended up with a pretty good website and lots of important policies, but I focused on the urgent instead of the important. My responsibility was to raise funds. If I had it to do over, I’d have balanced the need to talk with donors with infrastructure building. Understanding and communicating your primary role and that of your team allows you to focus on the highest return work.

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

S.M.: That “ready, aim, fire” is sometimes “ready, fire, aim”—and even “fire” first sometimes. Don’t let an opportunity pass you by due to being rigid in your thinking and implementation.

Who shaped you the most as a leader?

S.M.: I was early in my professional career when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and made his first visit to Canada. His efforts to change an unjust system had a profound impact on me. His influence as a leader was not dependent upon a title, access, or even resources. By relying on his values, he was an influential leader from his prison cell. I realized then that I didn’t need to wait for a title to be a leader and I continue to remind those I work with that they can always lead from where they stand.

What advice would you give to emerging leaders?

S.M.: Don’t confuse managing with leading. Look for opportunities to demonstrate leadership skills and acumen by thinking about how you accomplish your goals, not simply what you accomplish. Have you brought others along with you in your work and helped them grow? Do you share in successes while owning errors? Have you anticipated the next step in a project and proposed an approach to that work, too? Leading is about much more than supervising others.

What’s the most unexpected thing about you?

S.M.: I’m an introvert. Yes, my work calls for cocktail parties (remember those?), speaking to large groups, and putting myself out there. I think I am really good at those functions, but at the end of the day, I need to step away for some quiet time to recharge.

What’s your favourite local business/product?

S.M.: I’d allowed the pandemic and the move (from Ontario to Halifax) to sidetrack working out and needed to jump back in. Evolve Fitness had become a new sponsor of the QEII Foundation’s Ride for Cancer so I decided I’d check them out, and haven’t looked back. They are the best – as a gym, but also in giving back to the community even as they faced their own business challenges through the pandemic.