Rosie Steeves

Distinguished Lecturer 2013-14

In recognition of her commitment to develop leadership in the mining, metallurgy and petroleum industries, and in the CIM community.

Presentation Topic: Leadership matters. How to ensure quality leadership leads to individual, organizational and industry success.

Leadership matters. Organizations with quality leadership perform better on every metric. Employees are happier, more engaged, more productive and, ultimately, the organization is more profitable. Yet, quality leadership is in short supply in today’s organizations. Recent studies tell us that over two thirds of employees believe engagement is a problem in their organizations, and only 37 per cent of leaders state that there is high-quality leadership in their organization.

Why the problem? Simply put, too many organizations believe that leadership development is an event, when in reality it has to be an ongoing process. The notion that a week-long leadership training program arms future leaders with sufficient skills and knowledge to effectively navigate the challenges of leading in today’s society is folly at best. The situation is compounded in the mining and minerals industry that has a heavy emphasis on technical skills. As a result, individuals, organizations and the mining industry as a whole are failing to fulfill their full potential.

In this presentation, Steeves will discuss these disturbing findings and challenge the audience to take a fresh look at their efforts to develop their leadership. By sharing current trends, she will offer a host of realistic, practical strategies to make leadership development an ongoing and relevant process for all associated with the mining and minerals industry.

Q&A: Rosie Steeves discusses techniques to become a better leader

By Dinah Zeldin

CIM: What makes a good leader?

Steeves: I think that self awareness is the foundation of good leadership. I have rarely, if ever, come across a leader who wants to do a bad job. But sometimes, leaders are not aware of the impacts of their actions and as a result they unknowingly appear to be dysfunctional leaders. For instance, you may have a situation where a leader is questioning somebody to make sure all of the bases are covered. If the leader is not aware of how their approach is impacting the other person, it can lead to resentment. The other person may take it as a personal affront, or perceive it as a lack of trust.

Being a good leader is complicated. It requires someone who knows who they are, and who knows what they are good at and what they are not very good at. Good leaders are people who feel comfortable in their own skin, who are aware of the circumstances around them and are aware of what other people need. They also recognize the demands of the environment in which they work and can put together all the pieces of the puzzle.

CIM: What are some first steps a professional can take to develop leadership skills?

Steeves: The key is to work at it. It astounds me when I think about how much effort and energy people put into learning how to be a geologist or how to be an engineer, and then they do a four-day leadership course and think they are done learning about leadership.

We need much more effort and energy put into developing leadership at all levels of organizations. Typically, leadership training is provided when people first go into a supervisory position. That is important, but we need leadership development to be available at every step of the way. It is critical for CEOs to be working on becoming better leaders. And that does not mean going off to a fancy course that costs a ridiculous amount of money. It means working hard on developing their leadership, which means having a coach, looking in the mirror, getting some honest feedback and not assuming that being at the top of the hierarchy means they have got leadership figured out. Ultimately, it means changing some behaviours which takes focus, energy and commitment.

The obvious first step for anyone in the mining industry is the CIM Leadership Development Program. It is designed to connect people from all levels and help them develop their leadership skills in very real and dramatic ways. It is quite unlike any other program out there, and I strongly believe that everyone in the mining industry should make it an absolute priority to attend, regardless of what other training they have had or of their experience level. This program offers a depth of development that internal leadership programs simply cannot. If people cannot do the program, they need to find a leadership coach. They also need to read about strategies and to connect with other people who are learning about leadership. They need to take advantage of internal programs at their organizations.

Leadership development is an ongoing process. People who are in management positions have to make it a monthly habit at the very least. That means taking time for reflection on how they are leading, getting some sense from other people about how they are leading and whether they are asking the right questions. It also means identifying what behavioural changes they need to make in order to improve their approach, setting out plans for making those changes, doing it, and finally getting feedback about their performance.

CIM: Mining requires leaders with a lot of technical expertise and industry knowledge. You noted how geologists devote a great deal of time to learning about their area of expertise before they advance. How can the industry balance this need for leaders with technical knowledge with the need for leaders with leadership skills?

Steeves: Of course you have to have the technical, but you have got to put weight on the leadership. And it need not consume incredible amounts of time. It is just about realizing it is important, as opposed to paying lip service to it. That means freeing up people for a few days here and there so that they can meet with peers to talk about leadership. It means spending money on the developing leadership skills.

There is no hesitation to spend money on developing technical expertise, but the notion of spending money to develop leadership expertise is still viewed as a luxury. And it cannot be a luxury; it is a critical, critical thing. Just as our technical people need to be updated with their technical certifications, so it is with leadership. We need to change the conversation and talk about the cost of not doing it, rather than the cost of doing it. Disengaged employees, which is a symptom of poor leadership, cost organizations billions of dollars a year. If, as a result of sending one employee to the CIM Leadership Development Program one high potential employee is retained, the return will be 15 to 20 times the original investment in the program.

CIM:You come from an engineering background but have moved into people management. What made you switch your focus?

Steeves: I enjoyed engineering but did not staying in that field because I had itchy feet and an adventurous spirit which led me to run around mountains and kayak rivers when I was in my 20s. Then I ended up facilitating trips for Outward Bound, an outdoor education program that aims to develop participants’ resilience, leadership skills and ability to work in a team. I would spend two or three weeks up in the mountains with a group and have all sorts of experiences. Everyone had to get along and rely on each other. I had to lead the group, but I also had to hand off the power and let members of the group lead. While I was there, the people dynamics were simply fascinating.

I think that what captured me was the complexity of it all. As engineers, we love to solve problems. But the problems we solve, while complex, are quite well-defined. With people, however, it is oftentimes a different sort of problem, and there is no black and white solution. For example: How do you engage folks? How do you create an environment where everybody wants to work to their full potential and they do not need you there, holding their hand? Finding solutions to these sorts of problems requires trying a few different approaches.

The other part that inspires me is the impact good leadership can have on peoples’ lives. Unfortunately, a lot of people have had the experience of working for a leader who was not the greatest, thus making life not good. Conversely, when people work for somebody who is respectful, who knows their own stuff, and who cares about others, it can be a really rewarding experience. Helping provide people with that experience really drives me.


Rosie Steeves was trained as an engineer and had no idea that she would end up in the leadership field. But, like many others, she  found the challenges in her first job (working as an inspection engineer offshore for Esso in Australia) not to be the technical aspects of the job, but rather the people aspects – something in which she had absolutely no training. Her career then took a circuitous route, and years of facilitating Outward Bound groups in the mountains of B.C., fuelled a curiosity about people dynamics. When she switched her professional focus to helping organizations develop effective leaders, she witnessed the stress, misery and disengagement caused by ineffective leadership. She recognized that there was (and still is) much work to be done in helping improve communication across all levels of an organization. It was an area she felt passionately about, as the impact of effective leadership on the quality of individuals’ lives and on the profitability of organizations was huge. Leadership, she says, is ultimately about making a positive difference in people’s lives – a task that has been both Steeves’ passion and mission throughout her entire career.

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