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E17 We’re All In This Together with Steven Young

Bio for Steven Young

Steven Young, B.Ed., MBA PMP, is an educator, consultant, executive, and coach who is passionate about leadership and building high-performance teams. Through his experience as a student athlete with the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team, a Police Officer for 18 years, university lecturer, consultant and as a Member of the Alberta Legislature where he served as the Chief Government Whip, Steven’s understanding across athletics, politics, academics, government and business provides a broad perspective on the challenges and opportunities of leading and building successful teams. Steven is currently the CEO of Garnet Instruments, a lecturer at the Alberta School of Business and instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and continues to consult with businesses on aligning and improving their strategy and processes and tapping into their most valuable corporate assets – their people.

Steven believes that we can “build a high-performance team where there’s a difference in roles” and all are equally important and inter-dependent. When people are allowed to participate and be engaged, some naturally jump up to take on leadership roles. He uses his understanding of teams to eliminate redundancy, cross training people to function more effectively in organizations.

Episode highlight

Steven Young has always worked from a team mind-set, be it in hockey, the police service, politics or the corporate world. Listen in on his advice on how to best be a part of and manage effective teams.

Links

Quotes

  • “Committees… need to be focused, they need to have a clear mandate, and they need to have an agenda for the committee meeting and they need to have minutes after.”
  • “In every committee, there’s always one jerk and if you don’t know who that is, it’s probably you.”
  • “You don’t give a solution to problems people don’t know they have.”
  • “It’s easy to… point your finger at individuals and say, ‘They’re not performing and that’s why we’re not doing well’… But that’s not the road to success. You got to look at the organization – its structures, its processes… and then people will rise to the occasion.”
  • “To have a broad perspective on people and processes and businesses and economics and culture is, I think, a very valuable thing to have.”
  • “You don’t realize the incredible challenges that somebody has gone through to get to where they are.”
  • “Do the right thing… don’t try and do it because it will appease a group, do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
  • “What matters in the political realm… is the party and the leader… At least from a personal perspective, I want to matter.”
  • “Ultimately, if [you] believe in people, you can develop people or support people or find the position or place in an organization where they can succeed.”
  • “You need to find places for people, you need to respond to people in different situations and then it’s best to move forward.”
  • “A lot of people talk about an open door policy and they really mistakenly think it’s actually about the door… but it’s about – are you open, [are] people comfortable coming in and talking to you and say, ‘I got a problem’… Your door can be open all day but if nobody walks through it, you’re missing the point.”
  • “There’s a thread of principles and values that flow through a lot of [religions].”

Takeaways

Childhood incidents:

Steven’s parents taught him, “Whether people are watching or not, you do the right thing”. He was given the freedom to choose for himself which was underscored by the principle of being right and accountable. When he played junior hockey, he stayed with 13-14 families, which taught him self-awareness by observing how different people are.

He credits his University of Alberta Golden Bears coach, Billy Moores, for teaching him the value of systems and processes. He taught him the principles of leadership and success which Steven carries to this day in everything he does. He recalls an instance where Billy apologized to the team for not explaining correctly, a drill that they didn’t do right – that poignant demonstration of leadership left a big impact on Steven.

He claims to never have been very good at academics. He had always been good at sports and wanted to play in the National Hockey League. However, at a pivotal time in his life, when he was offered to play in a league team, he decided to pursue academics, which has led him to the career path he is on today based on his interest in the workings of organizations and processes.

Groups you were born into and belonged to:

Teams have been an important theme in Steven’s life – from his family to hockey to policing – and he incorporates those concepts of roles and responsibilities into building teams for committees and organizations. He tends to gravitate towards team-like environments and thrives with the inter-connectedness teams offer.

He has been a part of many different groups in his life – hockey teams, policemen’s hockey tournaments and political groups. He has many good friends in the Turkish community and takes pride in understanding and respecting their history and religious practices without judgement.

As a father of two teenage daughters, he works on adapting to the conversational styles best suited to effective communication with them. He also endeavours to teach them about focusing on issues and policies, not people.

Temperament and personality influences

Steven was nicknamed Mad Dog Young when he played hockey for his aggressive drive. However, he has transformed from an angry young man who was quick to judge into an inquisitive, tolerant person with a suite of tools and appropriate responses embedded within an understanding of the context of the situation.

A time I became aware that my way of doing things was cultural and specific to my cultural experience

Steven finds that the polarization of strong opinions in the political realm makes him unwilling to discuss his take on issues. However, he is working towards finding a healthy way to express himself.

He tries to keep an open mind about different cultures and work on understanding them differently from what the media portrays. He warns against developing a tainted one-sided view which is not truly reflective of cultures and religions. As an MLA, he has enjoyed the wonderful celebrations of humanity manifested as religion. He explains, “If you can expand your perspective… it gives you a little sense of appreciation for different cultures, religions, people.”

Advice to an employer to work with me

For Steven to be successful, he needs to have clear processes, mandates and KPIs. He also works best with flexible schedules, long-term reviews and many projects on the go. He advises making the distinction between mandates and tasks for leadership and employees respectively, in order to help everyone maximize their potential.

More great insights from our guest!

Steven has learned from his experiences working with different people in different circumstances that every person has a story, a challenge, a choice and a culture they live within, whether rich or poor. He recommends putting understanding before judgement and not employing ethnocentrism – the narrow view of other people’s cultures and ethnicities based on our own values and principles. He advises, “Listen to what they have to say and put off your judgement until after.”

He also found that when more is expected of people, they rise up to the occasion and can be very successful if the environment is conducive to their progress. His experience in leadership and business management has been a journey of continuous evolution to gain perspective, understand processes and adapt as the environment changes. He believes that the ‘Are we there yet?’ approach is limiting and instead, the question which should be asked is, ‘We’re doing great, what can we do next?’

Tagline

A journey of learning: A sportsman-policeman-politician-manager shares the lessons he has mastered through his wide range of personal and professional experiences.

Extro

“That’s not how we do things,” were words Steve’s dad used to remind him that his behaviour needed to be rooted in a family ethic. That family ethic was doing the right thing, and that was his group identity. Steve Young is a great example of how to use structure and principle with attention to context for leading a team. His sports and political experiences offered him multiple and frequent contexts to explore the extremes of human motivations and behaviours. Equally comfortable working with criminals as a police officer, helping youth develop their leadership skills or assisting his constituents with accessing lower cost medications, Steve has become a collector of stories and a source of quotable wisdom we can all benefit from since he lives his principles daily. Steve explains his problem-solving orientation, at first looking to yourself as the single point of failure and then finding the flaws in the system rather than shaming and blaming team members. Always on his own journey to continuously deepen people and subject matter learning, Steve sees himself on a continuum of life, on the team of human diversity, where everyone plays an important but different role. Watch for Steve’s upcoming book around the principle of effectively using the strengths and styles of your team members. He is thinking of calling it ‘The Panda and The Coyote’.

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