Former Obama adviser returns to speak at SFU

Jun 19, 2020

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Betsy Myers speaking at SFU Surrey in November 2019

Betsy Myers, a renowned leadership expert and former senior advisor to U.S. presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, will deliver an online seminar on June 23, 2020, focusing on leadership during a crisis.

The event follows Myers’ November 2019 speech at SFU’s Surrey campus, where she discussed emerging leadership trends for the 21st century, based on changes in technology, demographics and the global economy. Since that time, the world has experienced even more radical changes that few could have predicted, with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has transformed how people live and work globally.

For Myers, a crisis on this scale demands leadership that combines accurate communication of the hard facts with empathy and even vulnerability, to inspire large groups of people to recognize harsh realities and make personal sacrifices for the common good.

“I always say to people that leadership’s about getting results, and what’s interesting now in the world of crisis is looking at what has been effective,” she says. “I’ve been fascinated with the integration of the head and heart, so the integrated leader.”

Myers cites the example of Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York, whose press briefings have shown transparency around the crisis the state was enduring, as well as revealing the personal struggles he and his family have faced. She also praises New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who rallied the nation’s population to act as a ‘team of five million’, and whose efforts have been remarkably effective—all but eradicating the virus in the country while it continues to rage elsewhere.

Another impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a rapid shift to remote working for many people, and Myers believes this represents the acceleration of a trend that was already well underway—driven by changing expectations from younger generations entering the workplace.

“For so long I would tell leaders, the number one issue that’s causing the most strain and stress on their people is the inability to figure out how they can manage their home lives with their work lives,” she says. “And so what’s happened with this virus is that all of a sudden we’re having a giant pilot that’s been forced upon companies. So now everyone’s at home and they’re having to figure out, well, people do get their work done.”

As for corporate leadership when many employees are working remotely, Myers believes the same rules apply as always have: maintaining personal interaction through regular check-ins, even though the medium and tools we use to do that might have changed. She says this is an opportunity for leaders to embrace the potential to create a new model for working.

“We don’t know yet exactly what it looks like, but we’re creating a new normal,” says Myers. “I think there’s going to be a lot of benefits.”


Event Details

Registration: Attendance is complimentary, but registration is required. Please reserve your spot by registering here.

The link to access the webinar will be shared by email to registrants the day prior to the event (June 22).