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The sign of a good leader: your staff follows you

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Carrie Kirkman, president of apparel maker Jones Group Canada, oversees almost 500 people. When she started in her role in 2010 people followed her to her new company. I believe it's the true mark of a great leader that people want to work for you. And Ms. Kirkman doesn't take it lightly. I asked Ms. Kirkman for Leadership Lab to talk about her leadership mindset?

Simply put, she says she ignites the group to get the ball rolling and then gets out of the way. "My role is to check in, poke and challenge the ideas and proposals," she said. And she's always up for great idea.

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Self-defined as a creative, non-traditional leader with a candid communication style, she believes in collaboration, and fostering a supportive executive team.

What's your leadership style?

It is entrepreneurial, demanding and enthusiastic. I learned that from my years of experience and appreciating what delivered the best results.

I knew it was working for me when I was able to build an exceptional team of people at Jones Canada who had all worked for or with me over the last 20 odd years and were all brave enough to want to do it again.

What's one memorable failure you had as a leader?

I stayed in a role longer than I should have despite recognizing that I was no longer aligned to the direction of the leadership.

I got over it by trusting myself and learning that I am not defined by a leader or company – I am defined by my contributions and values.

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What's the best lesson in business that you've learned so far?

How can I pick only one? Here are the top three:

1. Think big and be brave every day

2. Make sure both sides are winning – so aim to build partnerships.

3. Be strong enough to block out what I call the "white noise," both internal and external – tasks that companies or people want you to do that eats your time but does nothing to add value to your role and objectives.

What do you do when you first wake up in the morning?

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When I wake up at 6 a.m. the first thing I do is take a moment to be grateful, then check my phone.

What's one of your best skills?

I am excellent at seeing the possibilities in people and business.

What do you do when you're not on your game and need to be?

I take a pause, check in with myself and investigate why. Reconnecting internally is a great way to get back on track.

Why do you work?

I work because I love what I do, I want to add value and I am very fortunate to work in an incredibly volatile and interesting industry.

If you had a personal tag line, a slogan, what would it be?

Average is failure and that great is often only good. Aim for amazing.

What's one thing you want young women in your industry to know?

You need to learn your trade, be incredibly curious and passionate about your brand and its customers, slow down and build a solid foundation for yourself. Titles and salary can be fleeting if you don't have the real goods to back them up.

Do you think people need to have a five-year career plan?

I think having a five-year career plan is okay, but it's not for everyone – I believe more in being a star in your current role and remaining open to the opportunities that will present themselves based on your track record and reputation. Sometimes what you plan for yourself is so much less than what can actually be possible.

How to you relieve stress?

I relieve a hard day of work stress through the comfort of family, a glass of Prosecco and by doing yoga.

Carolyn Lawrence (@CLLAWRENCE) is president and CEO of Women of Influence (@WomenOfInflnce), an organization that advances women's involvement in business.

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