A Bold Yet Mindful Leader
Written by: Pat Morden
Consultant Jennifer Atwell ’07 helps individuals and organizations be their best selves
Jennifer Atwell completed a honors BA in psychology at Brescia in 2007 and an MBA at Claremont Graduate University in southern California in 2015. Today her work as a consultant with Gina Airey Consulting, Inc. in Los Angeles focuses on leadership, teamwork and empowerment. BOLD spoke to Atwell in June.
Tell me about your early influencers
My mother is really resourceful and resilient, a very positive influence on me. My stepfather taught me a lot about the integrity of work and doing a good job because it’s your personal responsibility. My coach in public school taught me pivotal lessons about teamwork and valuing my body beyond aesthetics. And my Big Sister exposed me to a range of growth experiences, including university life.
It’s an inspiring place to be, a beautiful campus. It gave me the best of multiple worlds — first class instruction, a strong community, and the ability to take classes at all the other affiliate campuses. It was like a passport to enjoy the best of everything!
What did you appreciate most about Brescia?
The calibre of guidance counselling, small class sizes and the close connections with faculty. For me, the
most standout example is Dr. John Mitchell, my thesis advisor. At Brescia, I learned the value of being accessible and taking the time to get to know people. When Dr. Mitchell or other professors shared life experiences, or options with me, it meant so much.
Why the MBA?
Coming out of psychology, I thought I wanted to work with individuals, and even now my greatest passion is connecting people to resources and experiences that empower them and create growth. But after working for a few years, I saw an opportunity to blend my background in psychology with a focus on leadership and strategy
to strengthen organizations that are making the world a better place. I saw it as a way to positively influence
even more people.
Tell me about your job.
I work with an insightful woman and mentor, Gina Airey, who started her independent consulting firm. My home base is Toronto but I often facilitate with clients in California. I collaborate with senior teams to assess how they are performing, develop a vision and plan to improve performance and then focus on conversations, approaches and tools that will help them move from where they are to where they want to be. It’s a very rich, collaborative experience. I get to work with inspiring people and draw on my background in psychology every day!
What is leadership to you?
I define leadership on an individual and a collective level. As individuals, regardless of what level we are at currently, we can think critically and creatively, and look for opportunities to take initiative to make things better without necessarily being asked.
On an organizational level, leadership can be like conducting an orchestra. The leader sees all the moving parts and all the players, and has a vision for how to move forward, bringing out the best performance from the experts of each instrument, while harmonizing all of them as the song unfolds to completion. I also think the best leaders also look beyond immediate gain, and encourage players to experiment with perspective. It’s about clearly communicating your plan and/or expectations of people, while understanding that you don’t have to do it all yourself.
Is that a challenge for some leaders?
Yes. People are often promoted to management because they excel at what they do — they’re star performers. But once they become managers, the job isn’t necessarily to execute on the front lines anymore, it’s to develop other performers who will. That’s an additional skill set. I’ve been researching, writing and testing a program to teach managers how to coach their direct reports.
Do women lead differently from men?
There are differences in the way that women and men lead. But there’s also diversity in leadership approaches from woman to woman. We need different kinds of female leadership to complement the range of strengths, growth opportunities and challenges in any environment.
What does “Brescia Bold” mean to you?
It’s the interplay between the initiative you show up with, and the Brescia environment. Brescia offers the encouragement, connections and educational excellence to help you grow into a bold yet mindful leader, prepared to make positive contributions to the world around you.