The Leaders' Corner - James Temple, PwC Canada

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Apr 13, 2016 | Blog

The first time I met James was at his PWC office in Toronto 2 years ago. I was new to my role, new to the sector, and new to fund development. I admit I was a bit nervous; I had only met a few funders – how would I relay our mission and the impact our organization has in our community? I came away from that meeting so impressed with James and his obvious passion for his role in supporting capacity building in not-for-profit leadership. (And he gave me a nice box of chocolates!) James and I have continued to meet whenever he is in Vancouver and we have amazing conversations about our own leadership lessons and journeys.

James has a fascinating background. In high school he was a trombone virtuoso and envisioned a career in music. When an important audition at a prodigious U.S. music school did not go well, he took some time for something completely different and worked for a while in a garden centre, hauling around mud and manure. After that experience he went back to school and got a degree in Geographic Analysis from Ryerson University, and from there to a bank where he worked in location analytics. Whatever the role, James brings commitment and integrity to everything he does.

Leader: James Temple, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer 

Organization:PwC Canada

Tenure: 6 years

Leadership or life motto: “To infinity and beyond”

Upcoming projects/challenges:
The PwC Canada Foundation has just launched a discussion paper on the issue of not-for-profit overhead ratios. We’re working with public, private and not-for-profit leaders to talk about why donors should look beyond these proxies to ask betters questions about why and how an organization is making a difference and what resources it needs to be successful.

How would you describe your leadership approach/brand/philosophy?

Collaborative and curious. I make sure to engage unusual suspects in bold conversations that challenge everyday perceptions and focus on how to best support teams in navigating ambiguity. It’s about listening to understand (not listening to respond), and embracing feedback to help drive change.

What is your most recent lesson in leadership?

Perspective is a powerful and important word. During a recent strategic planning meeting, a question came up about how goals are defined within a business, a portfolio and a team. At first glance the goals that the leaders in the room had set were perfectly aligned. However, one leader responded to the question by suggesting that expectation of the goals were that they would never be met (and that the goal should stretch you and inspire you), while for another leader it was to be a simple numeric value that was to be achieved and exceeded. Defining the parameters of goals are equally as important as the goals themselves. A great lesson in communication and consensus building to address potential conflict before it arises.

Who is your favourite leader from a movie?

Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. Here’s why: She reminds all of us that with ‘passion, courage of conviction, and a strong sense of self that we take our next steps into the world’. She’s also a great example of a leader that faced stereotypes and unconscious bias. It is a good reminder why we must focus on a person’s capabilities.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I’m still trying to master the art of good work-life balance and make sure that I’m taking enough time for me. My role requires me to be ‘on’ 24/7 – at work events, speaking engagements, personal volunteering commitments – and it’s important not to overextend. I’m still on this journey, but I’m getting better.

What kind of child were you?

I was a curious child – the type to sit in the back seat of the car and ask ‘why’ about everything that I saw going by during a drive to the grocery store. I’m sure I drove my mother and father nuts.

When did you last cry at work?

We’re all human and we all have feelings. Good leadership also means showing vulnerability. I recently found out that one of my mentees got a new job that they’d been working hard to secure for a few months. Seeing them succeed and hearing about how excited they were and what they had learnt through the process made me proud. I couldn’t help but gush along with them!

What is your most embarrassing moment?

I was delivering a presentation in Quebec City and – at the last minute and in an effort to be inclusive – I googled the French translation to my speech. It didn’t hit the mark. The internet translation was so mixed up that a member of my team had to re-translate everything I said in French on the spot. They were kind to point out that although my prose was a disaster, that I really nailed the accent! That’s definitely a #FAIL for me but with a silver lining.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

‘Got it’. ‘I see’. ‘Amazing’.

What kind of music do you like? What is on your playlist now?

I’d have to go with old school. Right now I’m listening to No Diggity ft. Dr Dre & Queen Pen by Blackstreet.

Vantage Point is committed to abundance: a culture of promise and possibility.What does abundance mean to you?

I believe it’s about taking accountability for sharing your skills, voice and relationships in ways that help others harness their potential. These kinds of action help to create an ecosystem of abundance.

Denise Baker headshot


Denise Baker

Denise Baker was the Executive Director of Vantage Point and is passionate about change management and growth, cultivating collaborative environments and developing leadership in others. She has held leadership positions in many industries, including Director of Worldwide Education at Business Objects and Assistant Dean at the Sauder School of Business. Denise has an Honours English Degree and a Master of Library and Information Science from UBC.

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