David Miller: What students need to be leaders

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Know your values and defend them, former mayor says

When asked to talk about the qualities of leadership, perhaps it’s not surprising that a man who's been mayor of Toronto, a litigation lawyer and CEO of World Wildlife Fund-Canada would focus on the importance of strength.

But during his recent visit to the University of Toronto David Miller shared a personal example of the strength that inspired him: the mother who raised him on her own before dying of cancer.

“She was incredibly brave and never complained,” Miller told students at the Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) event. “I drew from her amazing strength when she was sick.”

Miller told students his mother’s influence helped him endure fierce opposition during his political career and stay rooted to his values. And he encouraged them to call on their own “inner reserves of strength” in times of need.

Urging students to have a greater voice in the non-profit and political worlds, Miller also called on them to be creative in their approach to problem solving, especially when tackling problems concerning environmental and urban sustainability. And he had specific advice for U of T’s many engineering students.

“So many of our environmental challenges are actually about waste,” Miller said. “Engineers are great at finding innovative solutions to reduce waste. The profession has a huge amount to offer the world.

Acknowledging that students of engineering study the strength and endurance of systems, rather than of individual people, Miller reminded them that awareness and sensitivity to human systems were essential to many great feats of science and technology. And the very human skills of listening and the ability to articulate a clear and compelling vision are essential to success, the former mayor said.

"Those are the very skills that ILead teaches students through its leadership courses, certificate programs and workshops," said Annie Simpson, assistant director of ILead.

One student at the engagement took up Miller’s challenge to reflect on her values and determine which ones she would stand behind in the face of adversity:

“We engineers have the skills to make things happen, but we really need to develop our perseverance and focus during our educational journey,” said first-year student Bella Zhang, adding she was deeply inspired by Miller’s talk.

“Have we questioned what our core values are in our lives and where we should contribute our intelligence?”


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