Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden – Mélanie Dunn – CEO, Cossette

COSSETTE CEO, Mélanie Dunn (@melaniedunnmtl) believes there is nothing stronger than corporate culture. An established industry leader behind the communications powerhouse, Mélanie cites real-time adaptation, team bench strength and aligned corporate values as critical factors for individual and organizational success. Boyden’s Sébastien Zuchowski and Chantal Hevey sat down with Mélanie to talk leadership, talent, and why true diversity can’t take shape without a pivotal culture change.

BOYDEN: What would you say are the cornerstones of your success?

MÉLANIE:  I would not be where I am today if my organization’s culture and values were not aligned with mine.  At Cossette, I worked in several departments and occupied different positions which allowed me to grow in new ways. I also believe in the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. A key here is to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and how to work with colleagues that magnify those strengths and offset any weaknesses. I have always stayed true to these beliefs.

BOYDEN: Engaging talent is critical to achieving success. How do you ensure to engage all generations of talents?

MÉLANIE: We place more emphasis on a person’s personality and leadership qualities than on their belonging to a certain generation. We hire from all generations. What we have realized is that your generation does not really define your profile. You can be a Gen Xer with Millennial characteristics and vice versa. Individuality and diversity are therefore all the more important. This concept is also key when bringing brands to the market as we stopped targeting large homogeneous groups and instead focus on individual behaviours.

BOYDEN: As you look at the sector and the leadership landscape, is enough being done to drive real change and move towards greater diversity?

MÉLANIE: What motivates me is how much we have yet to accomplish. We had a long time to think about how we encourage women to be more ambitious, help in their career development and in motivational programing. But this phase has run its course as it’s now up to organizations to change and adapt. Quotas have helped us gain a lot of ground but there is a reason why women are not selected above the quota limit, and that is due to board and organizational culture. Boards need to pivot towards being authentic when it comes to attracting diverse talent and make changes within the organization instead of pushing quotas.

BOYDEN: How does gender diversity fit within Cossette’s mission and within your leadership team?

MÉLANIE:  I feel a responsibility on our part to ensure that our brands express themselves by realistically representing today’s population – the people we see and the subjects in our advertising, social media, and websites. In order to express brands and still manage to offer a quality and creative product that remains realistic, you need diversity. And the only way to obtain this balance is to have a diverse team that produces the work. Thus, if our people don’t accurately represent the population, they will not be able to help a brand become relevant to today’s target markets.

BOYDEN: You are leading in the era of disruption. How do you ensure Cossette continues to evolve in light of constant change and competition?

MÉLANIE: We are in the business of communications, marketing, and media where innovation is constantly present. What we are doing for our clients today is totally different from what we were doing just a year ago, wherein lies the importance of adapting to change in real time. The ability to always question is key. The time of five-year plans has come and gone. Changes in technology, new possibilities, personal transformations and political shifts have assured this. At Cossette, we are making important changes in the way that we operate our organization by turning towards a more agile methodology. It really emphasizes the real-time adaptation of processes against up-and-coming challenges.

BOYDEN: Does it feel as if you’re going through a constant state of renewal?

MÉLANIE: Yes, but at the same time the reality is that there is no longer an ending nor a beginning. The hamster wheel is always spinning, that is why you must appreciate the present moment.

BOYDEN: How does that translate in your leadership style?

MÉLANIE: You have to accept that there is no status quo or certainty; it’s a world of adaptations. Surround yourself with people that are comfortable with change. My expectations towards my employees must also change. I myself have to adapt to new realities and trust my team.

BOYDEN: Is there more proximity in those moments?

MÉLANIE: Yes, I think that’s a good point, genuine and honest relationships favour a climate of change, of asking questions and of transformation. Leadership that’s aligned with this culture helps so that there is acceptance that mistakes will happen because everything is changing so quickly but also of generosity towards the new reality.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

MÉLANIE: It is important to make informed choices before taking your next step. Seek an organization where harmony exists between company culture and what you want to accomplish in your career. There is nothing more difficult than going against a culture, especially for a leader, but nothing easier than being yourself at work and feeling like you can grow in a natural and authentic way.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on the Boyden website.


About the authors:

Sébastien Zuchowski and Chantal Hevey are part of Boyden’s Montréal team.  A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Connect with them on Twitter: @BoydenCanada @SebZuchowski@ChantalHev  

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden – Dr. Catherine Zahn – President & CEO, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

CENTRE FOR ADDICTION AND MENTAL HEALTH (@CAMHnews) President & CEO, Dr. Catherine Zahn (@CatherineZahn), is at the core of healthcare leadership in Canada. Not immune to feeling discrimination along her own path, Catherine is a strong advocate for mentorship and inclusion, challenges the status quo, and envisions a future where leadership reflects the populations they serve. Her support in the advancement of women in healthcare is reflected in the conscious steps she takes towards removing these barriers. Boyden’s Brian G. Bachand sat down with Catherine to talk career drivers, leadership, and the diversity challenges that continue to face us today.


BOYDEN: How have your personal passions guided and impacted you throughout your career?

CATHERINE: I’ve had a passion for helping people that dates back to my first job as a nurse’s aide. I find that being a caregiver has been a crucial factor for my success in healthcare leadership. Down the line, the transition into leadership roles was rather intuitive. As a neurologist, I could only help a handful of patients a day however, in a leadership position in neurology, neuroscience or mental health I can create the conditions that support others to help so many more. It becomes very engaging to find that you have the strength and wherewithal to do that. Although I’m in a leadership role, in my heart I’m a physician.

BOYDEN: How do you feel that translates into your leadership style?

CATHERINE: I hope to be known for how I mentor people into leadership positions. I use skills that other mentors have taught me. One of my favourite mentors once told me that to accomplish something as a leader, you have to be able to describe your vision and you have to speak to values that are greater than your own self interest. I’ve since added to that message – to know your own values and principles and never go off-brand. If you lead from principles and base them on your values and vision, your decisions will be unassailable.

BOYDEN: Talent engagement is critical to achieving success.  How do you achieve that?

CATHERINE: My ideal team is a group of people who are able to take risks and have a bias towards action, yet at the same time, work interdependent as a team. So I seek people who are highly adept or have great potential. I try to make my expectations clear. When it comes to team development, I try to be aware of where people are at in their career trajectory. I strongly believe if you’re able to maintain your curiosity of the world, you maintain your creativity, so I try to mentor people with that in mind. I’m open to the possibility that my team members have skills and experiences that I don’t have – and I appreciate receiving mentorship from them.

BOYDEN: There is more attention to diversity today but we are still far from where we should be. From your observations, what does diversity look like within healthcare? 

CATHERINE: There are groups of individuals in our society that don’t benefit from the miracles of modern science and this I know from experience. It’s important to appreciate the issue of intersectionality too. Being a woman who is a member of another disadvantaged population – for example someone with African-Caribbean heritage, or a member of the LGBTQ community – can have a much more difficult experience. I’m learning to be alert to that and work with members of these communities to correct it.

BOYDEN: How does diversity, gender or otherwise, fit within your hiring strategy? 

CATHERINE: I am in favour of setting targets and making it a priority as we want our staff and leadership to reflect the population that we serve. We are not there but it is very much in my consciousness as I strive to understand how to make our diverse organization equitable and inclusive. I’m extremely vocal in environments where we hear “We can’t just hire for diversity, we want the best people.” I counter with: “If you want the best people, why would you eliminate most of the population from consideration?”

BOYDEN: What, in your view, are the key obstacles preventing greater representation of women in these critical roles?

CATHERINE: I think we talk about change incorrectly – we start out by saying change is so hard and in doing so we make people resistant. This influences the idea that there is an option not to change and that’s not the case. We can be inspired by change. In today’s world, what’s intriguing to me about women in leadership is that it’s clearly not about lack of skilled, experienced and competent people – after all, women are a visible majority. It’s always about maintaining power. People make assumptions about you based on your sex and have schemas about gender so, in short, the obstacle is sexism. The argument that you can’t find a woman who is strong enough or smart enough – or who wants to do the job – is simply bogus.

BOYDEN: What advice would you give someone striving to lead?

CATHERINE: Make your big vision simple and clear and talk about how it challenges the status quo. Be sure to home in on those characteristics that are valued in leadership.  To me, the most important leadership characteristics are self-awareness and self-control; good communication skills; and curiosity. Communication is so important. You must be able to present yourself intelligently, listen to people, and make meaningful and logical connections in your responses. Some of this you’re born with, some of it you learn.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

About the series:

Talent Talks with WXN & Boyden is a feature series highlighting leadership, talent and diversity discussions with top leaders of today. The series focuses on topics and themes with a purpose to inspire women and our diverse community to lead. Talent Talks also appears on the Boyden website.


About the author:

Brian G. Bachand, Partner is part of Boyden’s Toronto team. A global leader in executive search for over 70 years, Boyden is committed to excellence in leadership and values diversity as an essential force towards achieving this commitment.

Twitter: @BbachandG @BoydenCanada