“When I accepted the mandate, we decided to sell everything in Montreal. I would only be Ambassador once in my life. I wanted to experience it to the fullest!” recalls Isabelle Hudon, the newly appointed President of the Business Development Bank of Canada and Cofounder of The A Effect. “It was a colossal change in my life, going from the private sector to being a diplomat, and living abroad… but I was well-prepared.”
Change, even of this magnitude, holds no fear for Isabelle Hudon, who is also a leader of the Ambition Challenge. She has experienced it often in her professional journey. From President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, to President of the Marketel agency, she was President of Sun Life Financial Quebec, before being courted for ambassadorship by Justin Trudeau. Was she afraid? “No. Change never scares me. I keep telling women to dare, that they all have a safety net. I really believe this! I have enough confidence in myself and my skills to know that no matter what happens, I’ll land on my feet.”
This says it all.
Daring to change with such ease is not for everyone, and numerous hurdles can explain why many are reluctant. But, since the rewards are often worth the risk, Isabelle Hudon shares her advice with you.
The Fear of Losing More Than You Gain
Every change comes with gains and losses. It’s unavoidable! This is why it’s important to stop and take stock of what we are willing to let go… or not.
“Leaving for Paris didn’t just involve a change in career, but in my personal life as well. Going with my husband, Gilles, far from our children, had a huge impact on our day to day lives and took time to get used to”, Isabelle confesses. “Then, there’s the work. Yes, I adore the private sector. Waking up each morning with the adrenaline of having to manage a company’s profitability, meet tight deadlines… In retrospect, the private sector couldn’t ever have offered me such an intellectual challenge. All the people I got to meet, the diplomatic issues, the complex and varied conversations… I had never known this kind of richness. What I’m trying to say is that of course, we have to weigh the pros and cons before accepting a new mandate. But sometimes, we only realize all the positive aspects once we’re in place. This is why it’s important to think it over, but also to let go and take the leap.”
The Fear of Failure
On this point, Isabelle is unequivocal: self-confidence is vital for successful change. “Before going all in, rather than ask yourself ‘do I have everything I need to succeed?’, ask yourself, ‘do I have enough confidence in myself and my skills to adjust to this new reality?’”
She emphasizes how important it is to be able to adapt. “In the private sector, I use my influence to meet ambitious goals and tight deadlines. I negotiate with determination, knowing that I want to reach objectives quickly. In diplomacy, things are different. The constant power games are more like a game of snakes and ladders. You climb a little, one step forward, and oops! it’s three steps back and climb back up…” says Isabelle, explaining that you have to be open to doing things differently. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for self-development.”
The Fear of Success – Ah Yes!
To women who are afraid the success of a new mandate will lead to more and more new challenges and thus, changes, Isabelle says, “One thing at a time!” To illustrate, she describes a very recent conversation with an Ambition Challenge participant: “One participant had just confided in me that she had two options for new mandates. Of course, she preferred the one for which she already had all the skills. I suggested instead that she choose the one that would take her out of her comfort zone,” explains Isabelle. What if that mandate brings her even greater challenges? “Fantastic!” Isabelle declares. “At that point, she will have gained more self-confidence and she will be much less afraid of taking on new challenges.”
“So what? No one’s asking you to be perfect,” maintains the leader. And she’s not wrong… Major perfectionists are often lacking in authenticity and spend too much time and energy on unimportant details.
“Personally, I often leap into the unknown by accepting to learn DURING the journey rather than BEFORE. I’m thinking, for example, of a free-trade agreement I was assigned… To perfectly understand the issue would have taken me 6 to 8 months! I couldn’t see myself wasting this valuable time. On day 1, I asked to meet the stakeholders and hardly spoke during these meetings. I was in listening mode. I threw myself into this learning very humbly. I think that if I had aimed for perfection, I wouldn’t have learned so quickly and, most of all, I wouldn’t have discovered the human side of the issue.”
The Fear of Losing Your Network, Your Allies, Your Friends
“You don’t lose a network, you expand it,” confirms the leader. “When I arrived in Paris, I was surprised how quickly people were added to my circle of contacts. Just six months into my mandate, I had already personally met over 350 elected officials, including senators, union leaders, cultural leaders…” confides the woman who’s well known for her impact. “I’m already known for my candor, and it doesn’t bother me. I am who I am, and I’m absolutely genuine when meeting with people.” For women who are worried about losing their former collaborators, Isabelle responds that networks solidify over time, if we know how to nurture them.
Daring to Change is a Win
“We all have a safety net,” Isabelle reiterates. And she is absolutely right. If daring to change sometimes makes our head spin and the landing is not always soft, we always come out ahead. The worst-case scenario is that we get back up, take the skills and knowledge we have developed along the way, and carry on with our journey.