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Inside Leadership: Q&A with Kristin Linklater, SFU

Leadership Starts with Self-Awareness

Q&A with Kristin Linklater, Executive Director, Communications & Marketing, Simon Fraser University

“Leadership is an inside job.”  - Kristin Linklater

Having the title of ‘leader’ doesn’t guarantee leadership. Being a leader that effects change, gets results, and impacts the lives of others requires more than a title – it needs dedication to understanding and developing yourself as a leader who has practical skills but who also relates to others.

Kristin Linklater is a leader in her role as Executive Director, Communications & Marketing with Simon Fraser University. Her team is currently engaged in leadership training designed to develop the group members as effective leaders, but also goes a step beyond: they’re working toward becoming a dynamic leadership team. They’re learning about themselves, about each other, and how they can work together to support each other, maximize their combined strengths to achieve greatness.

The SFU team have been working with Smart Savvy Academy in the Leader's Journey training program since January 2018. We sat down with Kristin to learn about the impact of the Leader's Journey on her team, and how the training is translating into the workplace.


SS: You chose a leadership training program for your team, instead of selecting individual programs for each employee. What were your initial hopes for the team training?

KL: The training group are our ‘people leaders,’ and their roles are primarily to provide leadership to others. As a newly formed team, I wanted to bring everyone together and work toward becoming a true team, not just a group of skilled individuals. With better awareness of their own strengths, and each other’s strengths, they can support each other as leaders at SFU.

The self-awareness piece is really important – leadership is an inside job. Once we understand ourselves, we can share that with others, and work towards building authentic relationships. By participating in the training together, our team is learning about each other, and building empathy for, and awareness of, ourselves and each other. This heightened understanding allows us to better support each other in the workplace, and to function effectively as a productive team.


SS: You’re participating in the Leader's Journey along with your team. How does that feel for you, as the leader?

KL: I’m a participant in the sessions, but I have a different level of preparedness. I’ve come in with a fair amount of leadership training under my belt, and a good awareness of my own strengths as a leader. Not needing to work through this piece for myself is allowing me to fully be there for my team, and to remain available to them as they proceed through this journey. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to get to know each team member better and watch them come together as a group. I’ve also let go of my own ideas about how this would happen.


SS: You’re almost halfway through the 12-module program; what changes are you seeing in the workplace that you would attribute to the training to date?

KL: The team has already changed the way they work together, and this looks different depending on the type of interaction.

We’re breaking down silos and coming together to redesign workflows that needed changing. While change can be challenging and often resisted, we have real excitement about this work, and great appreciation for making improvements that have impact on business outcomes.

Meetings with other team members are running more effectively as everyone develops more skills around awareness of their actions on other people, and empathy for the differences in how people interact. We’re better able to meet, discuss, gain input from around the table, and move issues forward.

Interestingly, we have more conflict among team members than before. But this is also a good thing, and a strong indication of increased trust in the group. Team members feel they can – and should – challenge each other and have the difficult conversations. Short term, this can be uncomfortable, but this is also the real leadership journey.


SS: Your team has committed to this time together, and lots of hard work. Has it been worth it?

KL: Without hesitation, yes. We approached the training with a new team who was facing a new mandate. Bottom line on the business end is that we’ve been able to scale up quickly and meet that mandate.

But beyond that, we’ve been able to set an expectation for strong leadership, and this is undoubtedly the best return on investment you can get. SFU is a values-driven organization, and developing your people is the right thing to do. Supporting our team members to become strong leaders, and to subsequently enjoy their careers so that they can shine right now and into the future…this is core to our values.

In the end, we’re increasing awareness, skills, and we’re making better people. Our younger team members have this incredible opportunity to develop into well-rounded leaders and really achieve superior skillsets that will stay with them as they grow throughout their careers.



Take your own team on a leadership trek, and explore self-leadership; commitment and competence; and, execution and performance. Smart Savvy Academy's Leader's Journey program is a year-long program with monthly sessions, and is suitable for experienced and emerging leaders and for existing leadership teams, new (or newly merged) leadership teams. Learn more here or contact us at hello@smartsavvy.academy.



Smart, Savvy + Associates are experts in helping marketing and communications leaders find people and develop teams that thrive and deliver inspiring results. As a people performance company, we specialize in finding marketing and communications talent in the Pacific North West. We also offer training programs for leaders and teams as well as options to become a certified coach or get coached.


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