Home Month and Year October 2023 My First Job Made Me the Leader I Am Today. Here’s How.

My First Job Made Me the Leader I Am Today. Here’s How.

Elan MacDonald

In my early 20s, I started my career in the Alberta legislature writing speeches and working on public policy issues as a government caucus researcher. That experience didn’t just lay the foundations for my career, it also helped me learn the five foundational aspects of leadership that I still apply to this day.


1: Empathy

Working closely with elected officials helped me understand what drives public policy — the needs of the community and the individuals within it — and I got to see issues from all perspectives. Intentionally listening to people and their stories taught me that where you stand on an issue really depends upon where you sit. Often, there is no right or wrong but rather, a matter of perspectives.


As a government and public relations professional, willingness to understand different sides of an issue makes you a better communicator. You ask better questions and form better arguments, which ultimately leads to better decisions. Being surrounded by natural opposition helped me develop and value empathy and critical thinking.


2: Solutions-orientation

The impact of the decisions that are made around a particular issue — in government or in business — are going to affect the livelihood of real humans. I learned a timely response and decision, even those not in one’s favor, is still better than no decision at all. This helped me become a decisive, solutions-focused leader. It is also important to note that decisiveness doesn’t negate the need to be thoughtful.


3: Relationship-building

I was able to grow a business because I had sustained intentional relationships throughout my entire career. Even at 24 years old at the legislature, I took the time to get to know everyone I met at work. I find it remarkable when connections made years ago come back in another way, creating opportunities and new friendships.


You have no idea how important those relationships might be one day. (And when you do reach your “one day,” remember it’s important to give back. I was really lucky to have fantastic mentors throughout my career and I think it’s our responsibility to do the same for the next generation.)


4: Team-building

For my team, balance is key. Not everyone needs to have the same approach to problem-solving or be a workaholic. A successful team is filled with people who want to bring their best, make a contribution and feel valued. They’ll have different skills, habits and perspectives — and that’s good. When you put people in the roles that honour their strengths, the whole organization benefits.


5: Integrity

You can’t get far without integrity. It is your currency. You have to ensure your actions align with your values. For me, that meant turning down clients that weren’t a good fit with my company’s values or taking a longer path to victory so something could be done the right way. Leading with integrity leads to a loyal client base, long-term valued employees and a reputation you can feel proud of.


The legislature was a tremendous training ground. From children’s services and healthcare to municipal affairs and the premier’s office, I took these lessons and applied them. I became a bit of an accidental entrepreneur when I moved into my own business ventures, but it was those skills that allowed me to build and grow a client base; and all those skills translate from a small firm of 10 people to a team of 300 — like my team at the University of Alberta today.