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Embrace Change and Take Risks: CEO

Alyson_townsend_blog

Published Thursday July 1, 2010 in the Telegraph-Journal, New Brunswick
Photo: Sherry Hinklye, Telegraph-Journal

Dave Veale interviews Alyson Townsend, President & CEO, Canadian Cable Systems Alliance (CCSA) as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

Dynamic…this was first word that came to mind upon meeting Alyson Townsend

Townsend’s professional career has been propelled forward by embracing change and taking risks. A lawyer by trade, she left a successful law practice to spend more time with her family and to start a training facility for Fundy Cable in Cambridge Narrows.

Two years later she embarked on another new career path. Fundy Cable was looking for a way to become a player on the national scene and hired Townsend to help negotiate partnerships with other smaller companies that would help them compete with larger cable providers. Currently the President and CEO, Townsend helped launch Canadian Cable Systems Alliance (CCSA) in 1994. CCSA is the voice and vision of over 100 independent cable companies across the country.

I began my interview with Alyson by asking her why she was so willing to go in new directions and take risks…

A: Desperation? No, that wasn’t it, really! I guess that I found it fascinating. You know the change part is challenging. It’s fun. It is dynamic I guess. It certainly isn’t boring.

Q: A lot of people are scared of change, and you’re describing it as fascinating, not boring. So where does that come from? 

A: I think it has always been part of who I am. But I have been lucky with the changes I’ve made too. Once you do one thing, it reinforces the next thing; so if you make one change and it works out okay, then you realize that the next change is going to be that much easier. I’ve often thought that because there was a moment, driving to Cambridge Narrows, when I thought, ‘What have I done?’, now I think of that and realize there is nothing I can’t do really because I’ve done that. So nothing can be as scary. That worked out.

Q: How has that attitude helped you as president and CEO? 

A: I couldn’t be in a better industry. Communications is not in disarray, but it is in a tremendous state of change and no one knows where it’s going to go.

[Tweet ” I couldn’t be in a better industry. – Alyson Townsend”]

Q: This part of you that is fascinated by change and energized by it, does that strength ever become a limitation in terms of your relationship with your employees?

A: Yes, I could scare people…I have pushed a bit too hard sometimes. I have to realize too that not everybody is motivated by the same things. So I have to find out what it is that motivates them. I actually hired somebody last year to talk to various members of my team and I got back a report. It was fascinating and it wasn’t all good. I had to sit back and determine what I thought I could do about some of these things…it was just a way of getting into the heads of people who may not want to tell me everything that they feel.

[Tweet “I have to realize too that not everybody is motivated by the same things. – Alyson Townsend”]

Q: So something was telling you that there was maybe a different way to listen to the people around you and you decided to get some feedback. What prompted that?

A: Well, we had a change in our team. Our team previously was maybe more sociable, and that’s not to say that’s they’re not sociable now, because they really are, but maybe more verbal in terms of telling me what they thought. When we had this team change, there were fewer people who were verbal, and people that tended to be more introverted were the type of people I would overwhelm. I had to try and figure out different ways of approaching my team and having them approach me.

Q: Is being a woman and a leader in this industry an advantage or disadvantage?

A: Well, I report to a board that is all men. In the 15 years that I have been here, the board has probably had two women, maybe three. But it is interesting that it was me and another woman who started this [CCSA]. This is kind of like an association and we come to consensus through talking and through describing to people the outcome and how that’s going to be better for us if we all work together. I think there is a bit of a feminine trait there, a feminine ability, to take a lot of different views and try to focus them in one direction. Now, that isn’t to say that men couldn’t do it either, but I think that that was something that I was able to do. I think the law training helped as well because you take a lot of circumstances and you try and figure out what the major issue is. I was able to hone in on a couple of things and maybe not get distracted by peripheral events.

Q: What are the most important soft skills in your role as a leader?

A: I think intuition is one – that if you’re following your gut then it usually works out okay…I guess too, I feel very lucky. I have been lucky in the choices I have made. I am also determined, so there is probably a degree of determination that has assisted the luck.

[Tweet “If you’re following your gut then it usually works out okay. – Alyson Townsend”]

Q: What advice would you give to other women aspiring to be in leadership positions in business?

A: Step off the cliff. There will always be risks. You could examine the pros and the cons of a particular opportunity until the opportunity’s passed. It isn’t the things you do that you regret, it’s the things that you don’t do, and I believe that.

[Tweet “Step off the cliff. There will always be risks. – Alyson Townsend”]

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com. Don’t miss any of Dave’s interviews with leaders…get blog updates by email by signing up on the column, top right ==>

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