Honouring CMC-Alberta CMCs: A Speech by Leigh Harris, National Board Chair

The following speech was given by CMC-Canada National Board Chair Leigh Harris at CMC-Alberta's Graduation Awards, Dinner and Gala on May 11, 2019.


Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Before I begin, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traditional territories of the people of Treaty 7 in Southern Alberta. The City of Calgary is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. 

I would like to thank the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Alberta, their Board of Directors, distinguished guests and CMC members for the invitation to join you this evening to celebrate and recognize lifetime achievement, certification, and fellows designations. This is an incredible event, evening and experience - leave it to Alberta! 

I’ve learned, and I have the scars to prove it, that it is very important to know your audience in such situations. And in that I admit I am not as well prepared as I would like to be, so perhaps you can help me - show of hands please of: 

  • All of the CMCs (newly minted and those celebrating their colleagues and friends)
  • FCMCs
  • Anyone who has supported a CMC – at the beginning or on the lifetime journey

Now that is a room! A round of applause for you all.

I join you tonight by way of Ottawa, Orlando, and Chicago - a circuitous route to say the least. You are asking yourselves perhaps if Air Canada is having some routing challenges? Not the case. 

This week coincided with a couple of important events - this one, of course, central. I arrived last night from Chicago after a less than 24 hour turn around to celebrate and recognize my younger (middle) sister by attending her hooding ceremony and receiving her PHD at the University of Illinois in Applied Health Sciences. 

While I had reflected upon my remarks this evening and prepared before yesterday I could not help be inspired by the experience - it was a first for me and it caused me pause...to absorb the history, the accomplishment, the tradition and the ceremony of the moment and bring those very important concepts to tonight. I admit it was not the most riveting address (I shall endeavour to not repeat this aspect) but a key message I walked away with and that has stayed with me, lingering, was that shaping the future we all want - personally, professionally, academically, environmentally, socially, philanthropically is only possible through the contribution of people, individuals - you, me, our communities that together are greater than the sum of their parts...and they require bravery, courage, hard work, collaboration, diversity, inclusiveness, gratitude, patience, humility and the best we can give and live in our everyday lives. It isn’t for the faint of heart or spirit. I see a tribe of future warriors here in front of me tonight and I am equally as inspired as I was yesterday afternoon. 

My path and journey through CMC as an organization and designation maps back 23 years. When I think about it - it isn’t the milestones as a CMC necessarily that stand out but how many important, significant and influential events took place personally and professionally and how they are tied to that roadmap. If you will permit me I’d like to take you on a bit of a “highlights” tour because these moments, events, people, and experiences had a tremendous impact and influence on shaping my values, my life and the very humble advice I could offer to such an esteemed cohort. 

I never thought I would end up in Ottawa after graduating university with an all-powerful liberal arts degree. By luck, or fate...or probably because my uncle pushed me to meet him - I met John Herzog, FCMC in 1996. Anyone in the crowd know or know of John? He is, in my mind, a pillar and an example of what CMC represents, as a person and as a professional. He hired me - told me he didn’t have a job for me but if I could figure it out I’d likely be around for a while...and I loved it! 

I worked steadily towards my designation and I wrote my comprehensive exam the week I moved into my first real house (we had a loft - it was nice, but I was 6 months pregnant). It was 8 hours. I had no idea I would place 3rd in Ontario and 5th in Canada for the written portion (I’ll come back to this point). 1 month after Carter was born in 2003 I received my CMC in Ottawa from Dr. Gregory Richards, FCMC (another consulting hero of mine)...and he hooked me up right there at that ceremony - Eastern Ontario Council Membership Services Chair (in the footsteps of Philip Stein, FCMC - are you starting to feel the trend here?). 

With baby #2 on the way (Quinn) – I was now at Hill & Knowlton and with Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Ontario as Secretary and Registrar. As you may imagine now I’ve got my hands a bit full...so I took a step back. I attended events, supported the nominations of Fellows and actively recruited and sponsored new CMCs in Ottawa. It was enough (and I’ll come back to this point). 

In 2013 I decided to leave Big 4/Global consulting after 17 years (give or take) - 12 of them through Coopers & Lybrand and PwC. It was a big decision - but I knew in my heart that I wanted to practice my craft, with amazing colleagues and clients to the best of my ability. And the only way to do that was to set off with a vision, a line of credit (which never was drawn from, I might add) and encouragement from the entire community of CMCs in Ottawa and across Canada. 

As an independent (which by the way I have always claimed to be independent!) with a view on a small/medium sized boutique strategy firm, all of a sudden so many of the benefits of the CMC became so valuable to me. Insurance, the network, member benefits, mentorship. That year I received my FCMC - I was floored. I couldn’t believe I was joining the ranks of such awe-inspiring mentors, some of whom I have mentioned already. 

That year I also received Forty Under Forty in Ottawa and in 2016 Halo Management Consulting was one of the fastest growing businesses in Ottawa. Around the same time, I was nominated and accepted to the National Board of CMC-Canada...one of the hardest working and most dedicated Boards I can say with complete honesty and confidence. It was a challenging time for many reasons and under the leadership of Richard Harris, FCMC and Michael Watson, CMC (and the entire supporting cast) but we persevered. 

Next was the vice chair role...it’s a big commitment...6 years...2 vice-chairs, 2 chairs and 2 past chairs. I had taken a break between 2006 and 2013-16...I felt like it was time to step back in. I knew it would be demanding and very rewarding. We have an incredible opportunity but also volatility in our membership and industry we must steward, navigate and thrive in. 

In November 2018 EY purchased Halo Management Consulting...and now the circle is complete, so to speak. Not because I am back in a big consulting organization (don’t get me wrong I am delighted to be), but I’ve had the benefit of really living the many facets of our membership demographic and profile to some degree - and I am far better for it in all capacities. 

I met with John Herzog in December 2018 for our bi-annual lunch (we do one, he and I, and one with our partners each year) and he offered me what he called a Token gift. It was a small bag - he said that when he was a young partner (I don’t think that part was relevant, new perhaps!) someone had given this to him. It wasn’t expensive but it reminded him every day to do his best and to demand / support / ask / enable the best of others. 

I pulled the trinket from the bag and it was a figure he had on his desk his whole career - a small stone that reads “leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination”. I remembered it from our first interview in his office. And a circle closes and a new one is started. I would also like to share that John emailed me a picture for our first National CMC AGM where I was appointed chair (he was a previous National CMC Board Chair) of me receiving my CMC in 2003. It was very thoughtful, but not a good shot of me! 

These experiences as well as so many more have really shaped my values and my purpose and I am here today, and engaged in our association and the future because of the tight alignment of those values. I believe them, I know them, I live them, I will fight for them and I will do it with as much joy and passion as possible - I call them the 5 Cs...but I might still add to that list: 

Conscience - practicing ethically, do no harm, see something and say something, taking action when it needs to be taken (discipline), being held to account, owning the work / process / results - good or not as good as hoped. 

Competence - professional, trained, practicing, education and development, rigour with inclusiveness, raising the bar, helping others cross it, mentoring, coaching (paying it forward - I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of others). 

Conviction - be invested, take ownership, be a steward, see beyond and cut a path, care about the outcome - and the process to get there, be honest / truthful and step away when you can’t (and don’t have the competence). 

Compassion - be gentle, show patience - Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (I’ll come back to this too...). 

Collaboration - the more diverse, community-based, cooperative...is actually not the opposite of competing (which we all do) but we can compete and when we do as an industry - we can achieve amazing things for Canadians, our clients, communities and our world. 

So here is the part where a convocation speaker is supposed to offer advice...well maybe I can state it differently...reflections that have helped me that I hope may be helpful to you...(insert EY disclaimer here!...notice how I did that?): 

Be proud of yourself tonight and for all your accomplishments achieved and yet to come - I admit this is a bit of do as I say not as I do. This is an incredible milestone - you have worked hard for this. Not just as professionals but as members of your communities, philanthropically and for and with clients. Your fellow CMCs and FCMCs across the country and around the globe are proud and honour your accomplishments...and expect many more great things to come! I hope that your CMC / FCMC will be one of your many accomplishments that you cherish. “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans” - Max Ehrmann. 

Always do your best - for those of you who may be familiar with Toltec Wisdom - this is one of the Four Agreements (be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions (unless you footnote and reference!), always do your best). Frankly I’m in for all of them but doing your best changes depending on your circumstances. If you are in good health or poor health, in the time you have with the resources you have, give your best even if you think it isn’t enough - it’s enough. 

Take counsel and give back - I’ve certainly benefited greatly from it and I’ve done my very best to give back - wherever I can in, whatever way I can - it’s a lifelong gift we can give and receive. In the last year particularly, for me, participating in CMC work across Canada and with our refreshed National Office leadership and staff as well as the incredible volunteers at local levels, on our Institutes and through special committees like the Joint Services and National Certification. I’ve welcomed and will continue to welcome the voices of our members, peers, friends, mentors and leaders at all levels from all walks. I’ve also spent a great deal of time in leadership forums - internal to EY and external and I always depart more enriched and excited. From philanthropic endeavours where time can be tough to carve out, but it is rewarded with a multiplier and renews the spirit and the soul. 

Take care of yourself and others - but to help others you must first take care of you. It’s just like flying when the announcement instructs you that if the plane loses pressure to place the mask first on yourself and then to help others - if you don’t take care of yourself you simply can’t do this. So be gentle, forgiving and don’t cut yourself short with the pressures of life and demands or you lose the joy in doing so. Ghandi said “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. I think of this often...it’s one of the reasons I choose to practice in the public and government sectors professionally - I want to help Canadians and Canada and it is my passion. 

We are coming to the end here, so stay with me! It’s the call to action of course - we have ambitious and bold visions for our profession, for our craft, and for the industry and that can only be realized through the work of individuals, working collaboratively and taking action. You are incredible leaders, gifted and professional practitioners and inspirational to your communities. Please get involved in whatever way you can - be the change you want to see (Thanks again, Ghandi!) - our industry is dynamic, diverse, growing, and changing - we have a responsibility to shape that and to steward it. 

In closing, thank you again for your generous offer to be with you tonight. Represent your designation proudly, demand more, keep raising that bar and asking better questions (completely unforgivable branding plug for EY!). Enjoy your evening and wishing you all much success, good health and happiness in all of your endeavours. 


Leigh Harris is CMC-Canada’s National Board Chair