June/July 2010

What does it take to be a good leader?

Industry’s rising stars share their strategies for success

By M. Eisner


Good communication skills, commitment, respect, inclusion, team building, common goals and passion: these factors are just part of the equation when it comes to determining — and choosing — the kind of leadership that moves companies forward in the best possible way.

Jim Sarvinis, Paul Blatter and Bernard Tan are this year’s recipients of the CIM-Bedford Canadian Young Mining Leaders Award. Newly created this year, the award recognizes young leaders 39 years of age or under for “exceptional achievement and their potential for future leadership growth in various sectors of mining, including corporate performance, operations, finance, technical services and innovation, marketing and trading, and services and support functions.”

Sarvinis, Blatter and Tan were chosen from an outstanding slate of worthy nominees by senior corporate leaders and mentors. Each of them has been identified as a role model who has set exemplary standards, leading their teams on the road to success. In answering each of the eight questions in the nomination package, colleagues and supervisors were clear in expressing the degree to which each winner embraced the mantle of leadership in positive and successful ways.

Unleashing talent from within

Jim Sarvinis, 37, is the director of thermal energy at Hatch. He is described as a person greatly admired and respected by everyone in the company. His strength lies in his vision, his loyalty and his honesty, which is felt by everyone with whom he works.

“Jim’s leadership abilities are proven by his team’s respect for his management style,” writes colleague Patricia Lai. “Among the junior/intermediate engineers with whom I work closely, the consensus is that we all appreciate the trust, respect and freedom that Jim allows us to have to shape and grow our careers in our chosen direction, while at the same time providing valuable advice and guidance.”

For Sarvinis, good leadership is all about understanding people and allowing them to flourish. “The first thing is to have the right team, and then it is to bring out the best in each individual by letting them do what you ask and not standing in their way,” he explains.

“There’s a tendency for people to micromanage their team and it’s counterproductive. It clamps a lid on people’s potential. Empower your team to do well by giving them opportunities to excel.”

The next step is to develop a good communication and feedback system in order to validate the work people are doing. This, says Sarvinis, ensures  everyone is aware that they are a vital piece in the puzzle that forms the bigger picture. “I find people really appreciate it, especially the younger generation of engineers coming in,” he explains. “They want to feel like they are contributing to something bigger than themselves, to understand how the part they play is important to the outcome.”

Team spirit

At 35 years of age, Paul Blatter has had impressive results at Agnico-Eagle. He began his career at the company in 1999. Working first as a production metallurgist and then as a project metallurgist, he eventually felt he was ready for a new challenge. He wanted to work on a project from beginning to end and was assigned to the Lapa project as assistant superintendent on the concentrator.

“The Lapa project became a model of success — and a model to follow — throughout the company,” writes Dany Rodrigue, who worked with Blatter on the project and nominated him for the award. “Paul didn’t hesitate for a second to share that success with his colleagues.”

The success of any project often rests on the collaborative effort of a team. Blatter’s colleagues say he has a way of engaging his employees that brings them together to form a cohesive unit. “He is very committed to his team,” writes Rodrigue. “He utilizes each person in the team according to his strength and then manages to get the best out of each individual.”

It’s all about transmitting a sense of passion, determination and job satisfaction to the team, says Blatter. He does this by letting team members know how important their participation is to the success of the project and the satisfaction that comes from working together towards a common goal. “By uniting as a team and pulling together for a common goal, people are validated and really enjoy the work they are doing,” he explains. “Everyone gets to their goal and is hungry for more.”

“The team was successful, the plan was executed and we had a great time doing it,” says Blatter.

Embracing change

Showing exceptional leadership qualities during times of change is one of the many reasons Robert Dickinson nominated Bernard Tan for the young leadership award. In the last nine years, Hunter Dickinson has expanded from 40 to 140 employees as projects advanced from exploration towards production. As new acquisitions changed their management style and the day-to-day role of the company, Tan continued “to show leadership during this time of changing relationships,” writes Dickinson.

Tan, 34, credits his leadership skills to his role models at Hunter Dickinson. One important lesson he says he has learned is to show by example, and that means everyone, regardless of their title or position, should pitch in towards a common goal.

“Everything I know about leadership I learned here,” says Tan. “The individuals I work with show a lot of leadership by example and to me that’s important. As someone who wants to learn, it’s something to see the individuals here, regardless of the level they are at, roll up their sleeves and put in the hard work. There is no such thing as something that is too small to reach the goal. To me that is how a leader should perform. You are part of the team.”

Tan says that he gains inspiration from the diversity of people with whom he works and enjoys their varied backgrounds and the differences they bring to the worktable. “There is a tremendous amount of diversity in mining — different professional groups, engineers, administrators — each of them brings unique viewpoints that steer the ship in the right direction,” he explains.

“Everyone that I know that has been successful takes the time to listen to people and when you do that, you learn more about who you work with,” Tan adds. “Listening is absolutely crucial to team success.”

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