In county council chambers on Wednesday afternoon, Collingwood CAO Fareed Amin copped to a guilty pleasure.
“I watch Seinfeld,” said Amin to laughter from the audience. “I’m serious! When I was in the public service in Ontario, I used to watch reruns every night at 10 p.m. because it gives you the opportunity to just relax. In terms of a work-life balance... I identified those times when I need to be home in my calendar and I communicate that to the people around me. I try to maintain a certain discipline with my schedule to try to meet some of those family obligations.”
Amin, along with Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman, Nathan D. Hyde, chief administrative officer of Erin and Niru Somayajula, president of Sensor Technology Ltd. in Collingwood, all spoke on a leadership panel for the Mohawk College Enterprise Future Ready Leadership training program at the County of Simcoe Administrative Building in Midhurst.
Amin’s comments on work-life balance sought to highlight ways the leaders of tomorrow can unplug, focus on their personal lives and still manage to hold positions of authority.
“I used to go into work at 6:30 a.m. so I could actually leave at a reasonable time. You have to set some limits and boundaries,” he said.
The panel was part of an eight-part training program for municipal employees from varying municipalities across Simcoe County which is designed to develop and shape leadership skills with theory, practical application, and experiential team-building activities.
“One of the best ways to learn is to actually hear from leaders themselves,” says Dianne Jones, business development officer with Mohawk College Enterprise.
When choosing panellists for the discussion, Jones says that MCE looks for a variety of experiences from both the public and the private sector.
“The municipal employees love to hear from municipal leaders, because it helps them to possibly see a career path for themselves,” says Jones, adding that this is the first time they’ve had an elected official in the mix. “Also, often public sector employees think the private sector is very different and often, it’s not.”
The panel discussed the importance of honesty, integrity, authenticity, and empathy as qualities for any leader to have.
“The whole concept of using influence rather than authority is really, really powerful,” said Amin, adding that potential leaders should always try to stay grounded and focused. “Today, you’re a deputy minister or a mayor. Tomorrow, you might be nobody.”
Amin also discussed the importance of looking forward when making decisions.
“People are not going to judge us by how well we perform today. Someone is going to look back 20 years from now in Barrie or Collingwood... and ask, ‘Who the hell was in charge in 2019?’ Leaders are the people who have the ability to look beyond the here and now, motivate their staff, and those skills are garnered based on your own life experience,” said Amin.
Somayajula also talked about having different age groups working together in one workspace and the challenges that can come along with that.
“I guess I’m technically Gen X,” said Somayajula, with a laugh. “For me, my biggest challenge is I’m constantly hiring young people. They want a different work-life balance... there is some navigating on making sure that everybody feels that they can be heard.”
Panellists also warned against the perils of groupthink, the importance of delegation and empowering your people.
“You can’t hire the best people and then tell them what to do. As leaders, you have to understand what your blind spots are, hire people in your organization and then let them go. Empower them,” said Amin.