Three Things I Learned about Leadership from Désirée McGraw

Speech delivered by Simone Hanchet

Maison Jeanne Sauvé

Monday 22 June 2015

Over the past six years, I’ve had the privilege to work closely with Désirée here at the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation. The experience has transformed not only how I work, but what kind of leader I aspire to be. Tonight, I want to share three of the lessons about leadership that I’m especially grateful to Désirée for.

The first lesson is: learn to say yes.

Désirée is an exceptionally positive person.

Watching her work, I’ve come to understand that her positive attitude is more than a pleasant personality trait; it’s actually a brilliant leadership approach.

First of all, people love being around positive people. Working with Désirée is dynamic, fun, motivating, and inspiring.

Also, on a deeper level, positivity is a generative force. Learn to say yes, and more things become possible.

In a world facing serious social and environmental challenges, Désirée has taught me that good leadership isn’t just about identifying and eliminating problems; it is about seeing the potential for a better future, working really hard to build it, and convincing others to help you.

I am convinced that the work of changing the world requires Désirée’s kind of audacious optimism.

A second lesson: aim for excellence.

I remember one evening, after an event in this same room, Désirée told me that she didn’t expect our work to be perfect, but she wanted it to be excellent.

Now, I’m someone who naturally tends towards perfectionism. (As a child, I was so serious and diligent that I was actually hired to babysit other children my own age.)

I have found Désirée’s reframing of the standard – from perfect to excellent – amazingly liberating.

Aiming for perfect means you are living in fear of making mistakes. Aiming for excellent means that you can take risks, celebrate victories, and keep learning.

For Désirée, striving for excellence is a habit, and she has inspired me to adopt this habit as well.

And finally, a third lesson, and the one I think most characterizes Désirée’s leadership style: be real and be generous.

Connection is why we are all here. We all know that it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

Whether Désirée is interacting with heads of state, Sauvé Scholars, or volunteers here at the Foundation, she nurtures authentic connections with people.

She goes way above and beyond to be kind. From celebrating staff and Scholar birthdays to honouring our important life events, to making sure my little baby has shoes to last him until 2020, Désirée’s warm, generous spirit has animated Sauvé House, making it feel like so much more than a place of work.

By engaging with people as whole people, she inspires those around her to bring their whole selves forward. What an amazing quality in a leader!

A meditation instructor once told me that we should all cultivate a state of sharp mind, soft heart. I would say that sharp mind, soft heart sums up Désirée beautifully.

As for me, Désirée, I hope I am more positive, less perfect (but maybe more excellent?), and more willing to connect with people in a way that’s real, because of you. Thank you so much for these lessons (and many others!), which were beautiful gifts that I will value throughout my career and my life. Thank you for your steadfast support, and for being a strong, accessible female leader. Thank you also for being a friend.

You have given so much of yourself to this Foundation. On behalf of all the staff here, I want to say: We have noticed. We appreciate it. We have learned a lot from your leadership. And we will all miss you.


For more on Désirée McGraw’s departure, see Thank you, Désirée McGraw, for seven years of distinguished service.

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