In Praise of Authentic Leadership

Rita Lazar-Tippe embraced authenticity long before it became a buzzword. As Director, Information, Insights, Innovation, and IT Operations with Alberta Pension Services Corporation, she has the happy task of applying her truest self to ensuring the pension decisions people make throughout their careers align with their plans for the future.

“Right now, there are a lot of articles and discussions about authenticity,” says Lazar-Tippe, who was honoured in 2021 as CIO of the Year for the Public Sector. “I’ve always felt that it is so core to being yourself.”

A  member of the national board for the Canadian CIO Association, Lazar-Tippe joined ITWC CIO Jim Love for a June 2022 episode of Leadership in the Digital Enterprise, an ITWC podcast series focused on in-depth conversations about leadership in the digital era. Together, they fleshed out the many complexities and contributing factors in forging a personal leadership style.

A Defining Moment

As co-author of Digital Transformation in the First Person: Surviving and thriving in a hypercompetitive era, Love brings his own fascination with first person stories to the table, asking Lazar-Tippe to share a defining moment in her career. Describing an incident that still resonates from her post-secondary school days, Lazar-Tippe recalls being told by an instructor that she would never succeed in technology and should switch to another program.  

“I think that was probably a turning point for me in terms of self-awareness,” she says. “It wasn’t so much about proving someone wrong. It was about demonstrating that it’s up to people to set their own limits.”

Leadership is a Team Sport

Lazar-Tippe’s understanding of leadership is that it involves making sure her team members apply their best selves to building a culture that aligns with organizational culture. The result, she says, is better team outcomes and better decision making with clearer goals. “It goes back to something I read a while ago that I thought it was so impactful,” she says. “It’s understanding that what you do is not who you are and that none of us is perfect.”

On the subject of new ways of leading in the digital age, Lazar-Tippe advocates thinking about techniques and strategies for engaging differently than we’ve done in the past. As a way of connecting with remote workers, she has introduced a fun weekly session aimed at building the kind of relationships once kindled around the company water cooler. She has also experimented with randomly connecting with employees by phone for the sole purpose of seeing how they and their families are doing.

From the Transactional to the Impactful

Looking back on her career, Lazar-Tippe says her journey to authentic leadership began with a shift from the transactional to the impactful. “I remember at one point my team completed a pretty big project and it wasn’t so much the outcome of the project, but more how team members felt about each other and the way they had been given the opportunity to grow,” she says.  “That was a pivotal moment for me. You’re not doing this on your own – you never are – but success is really around the growth that people go through on that journey and how you, as an individual, contribute to that.”

In response to a question from Love about the technology developments that she finds most exciting, Lazar-Tippe shared her enthusiasm for the changes happening with respect to the business value of sustainability. “It is so important for us to look at the whole ecosystem and the best part is that technology is going to play a significant role,” she says. “The role of the CIO is also pivotal now because it’s not just about the technological pieces, but it’s really around how businesses contribute and impact sustainability.”

Sage Advice 

Concluding the podcast with advice for those who aspire to leadership positions, Lazar-Tippe stresses the importance of loving what you do  and being passionate about the journey. “It isn’t always going to be easy, and it isn’t always going to be intuitive, and it really is a team sport,” she says. “You won’t remember all the great projects completed, but you will remember making an impact on people’s lives and contributing to their journeys.”

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