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The different facets of leadership through the lens of female leaders

To be a leader isn’t magic but rather a state which can be brought about through particular choices.

Rotman teaches many aspects of leadership, including how to demonstrate authentic presence and elicit it from others. Professor Maja Djikic, Director of the Self-Development Lab at the Rotman School, demystified this in a recent sample class, Leadership and Presence for an Interconnected World. What do your face and body say about the message you produce? Prof. Djikic’s session explored frameworks for conveying competence in dyadic and group situations and for understanding the underpinnings of trustworthiness and rapport.

Of course, body language and communication are only one facet of leadership; another aspect is challenging oneself. This blog post looks at four women from our executive MBA programs and how they realized their ambitions for themselves and their industries. 

Development is key - The Rotman-SDA Bocconi Global Executive MBA (GEMBA) program created an environment for students such as Natalia Rastelli, GEMBA ’21, where she could take on the considerable challenge of managing two life-altering events at the same time. To do so successfully required strong leadership and communication skills on her part as well as support and encouragement on Rotman’s part.

For Natalia, one of the program highlights was being taught by some of the world’s best professors and industry leaders. In addition to cutting-edge knowledge and exposure to high-quality teaching methods, the learning environment allowed her to set her own priorities and balance the elements of her life that were important to her.

The concise and carefully paced GEMBA program schedule gave Natalia space and time to devote her energy to her academic pursuits in specific weeks and develop a rapport with her cohort, while simultaneously experiencing motherhood.

She did not have to make a choice between career and family. She was able to stay present and expand her scope in both.

“I was fortunate enough to be able to start my MBA while having my first child. The university was flexible in accommodating my needs, and gave me so much support during such a sensitive time of my life.” - Natalia Rastelli, GEMBA ‘21

For other students, change is a key factor in their leadership journey at Rotman.

Ready for Change - Zeenat Zahir, GEMBA ’21, is a firm believer in working hard towards change. In fall 2019, she started the program to hone her leadership and strategy skills. This included further expanding her knowledge of how to measure an organization’s financial health and strategize the future of firms.

At the dawn of a new decade in 2020, with the skills she picked up just two modules into the program, she was selected for a senior role with a management consulting firm.

“Give your best when you are at Rotman and believe that the program will take care of the rest. The return on investment is big.” – Zeenat Zahir, GEMBA ‘21

The 18-month intensive program is designed for senior-level working professionals who are looking to expand their global understanding and business skills. Participants develop their personal horizons as future leaders with this unique program, which spans seven cities on four continents.

Change empowers other leaders to show up and create communities.

Empowering and showcasing powerful women – Taya Cook, EMBA ’20, is all about building connections. As a female executive in an industry surrounded by many men, but noticeably few women, Taya decided to challenge the industry’s status quo.

During her Executive MBA journey at Rotman, she launched Reina, the first residential condominium project being designed and developed by an all-star team of female colleagues, with the goal of creating a platform to showcase women in real estate development and to encourage others to enter the field.

In just 13 months in the program, Taya went through a leadership transformation through innovative courses, networking opportunities, and the stimulating environment of Canada’s leading business school, in the heart of downtown Toronto.

“One of the greatest gifts of the MBA is the opportunity to learn from your peers to gain a fresh perspective. The diversity in thought, circumstance, and life experiences that the cohort brings to the table will be as beneficial to your learning as anything else.” – Taya Cook, EMBA ‘20

Supporting women in senior positions has remained her keen interest as Director of Development at Urban Capital.

Creating communities of support leads to powerful networks of change-driven leaders.

Building connections with leadersThe Global Executive MBA for Healthcare and the Life Sciences helped Jocelyn Milburn, GEMBA-HLS '20, connect with leaders who are driving change in the sector.

The 18-month intensive program, designed for working professionals, immerses managers and executives in key healthcare and life sciences clusters, including Toronto, Canada, the San Francisco Bay Area, Singapore, and London, UK.

Students progress through the GEMBA-HLS as a unified cohort. Participants hail from a wide variety of organizations and roles in the sector, and the program helped Jocelyn further develop life-long business connections.

“We’re able to develop deep relationships with our peers, many of whom are already executives and leaders, and help each other succeed during the program and even after graduation.” – Jocelyn Milburn, GEMBA-HLS ’20

With the help of Rotman’s leadership development activities, including the Self-Development Lab taught by Prof. Djikic, as well as a personal career plan, one-on-one coaching, and experiential learning, Jocelyn was promoted to Advisor, Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Government of Canada. 

As leaders in their respective fields, these female industry leaders have seen the considerable impact of non-verbal cues on their business communications. Their journeys through Rotman’s Executive MBA programs and their professional successes have demonstrated the understanding of development, change, community, and connection that is needed to excel as a leader.


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