Following a leader: Featuring Cyndi McLeod

Cyndi McLeod, Chief Executive Officer, Global University Systems Canada, is an award-winning education professional with over 30 years of experience in the international education field. She’s an expert at building strategic partnerships and has led numerous successful joint ventures in countries all around the globe.

Her hard work has also received international recognition. Cyndi is the recipient of several awards, including the Distinguished Service and Recognition of Leadership and Vision in International Education, the Canada China Business Council’s 5 at 50 Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the British Columbia Council for International Education.

Cyndi is also keen to share her knowledge through mentorship and is a passionate advocate for women in leadership. She founded Glow Ed, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering and engaging women in all stages of their careers throughout the education sector. With her impressive track record and dedication to making a difference in the communities she serves, there’s no doubt that Cyndi is an exceptional leader.

Cyndi shares with us the professional challenges and risks she took in her career, how she leads others, why having a role model is essential, how to maintain good mental health and why she thinks it’s important to support everyone looking to become leaders.

Role models represent and expand what is possible; they inspire others to be more ambitious and aim higher. Leaders like Cyndi McLeod demonstrate the mindsets and behaviours on how to rise to the occasion.

Having women leaders in positions of influence serving as role models is not only critical for women’s career advancement, but it also generates broader societal impacts on pay equity, changing workplace policies in ways that benefit both men and women, and attracting a more diverse workforce.

Cyndi was given many opportunities to take on a variety of leadership positions from a very young age. She also took on the risks that come with being a leader and believes that every great leader takes risks. Even if you don’t think you know how to do everything the role requires, it’s that you trust in your abilities to help you succeed.

“Mentors are important. Believing in yourself, being able to take a risk and being resourceful and using the talent and network around you to help you fulfill that position,” said Cyndi.

When asked if she imagined she would be where she is today, Cyndi said yes, because she believes in manifestation.

“It’s interesting because, as a woman, you can create your own company and you can become CEO of your own company. I was able to do that, but I wanted to do something a lot more expansive and challenging,” said Cyndi.

One of the reasons why she joined Global University Systems (GUS) was the opportunity to make an impact and lead the future of education in Canada. “It’s been something that I, and the amazing team and people I work with, have been very true to. We’re trying to make that kind of an impact,” said Cyndi.

Cyndi also expressed how fortunate she is to work in an educational group that fosters women’s leadership and how GUS has several women CEOs, which is unique for the education sector.

When asked how she leads others, Cyndi explained that her leadership style is about developing people and talent. “I talk a lot about taking risks and allowing people to take risks and looking across the team I put together and understanding people’s strengths and where they’re not as strong, but allowing them to grow,” she said.

Cyndi’s message is simple; if you develop and grow the business, you will develop and grow the people. “People are our best assets. It’s not buildings. It’s not having the best computer lab. It’s the people,” Cyndi mentioned.

A woman dean gave Cyndi her first opportunity to teach in the college system. Still, in her career, she primarily had male role models. She was fortunate to work for “amazing” presidents at the college and university level, who gave her opportunities and believed in her leadership ability to create a vision and team that could execute.

“I’ve always been very grateful for that, and I think coming up in my career, there weren’t many women that I could look to at the time. That’s part of what I’ve wanted to try to create, not only at GUS but at other institutions I’ve worked at,” said Cyndi.

Cyndi was one of the founders of Global Women in Education, an organization that creates mentorship for women, teaches them to understand how to do business with other women and works to support women with the unique challenges they will meet as their career progresses.

When asked why it is important to support women in leadership, she believes it’s sometimes more accessible for men to jump into a role and figure everything else out later, but women tend to second guess themselves.

“Can I really do that? Can I really manage all of this? Am I smart enough? I don’t see my male colleagues actually questioning themselves. I do see many women that do ask themselves those questions,” said Cyndi.

Being able to show how to encourage and help women create their own path is something Cyndi believes is part of her role.

Many women today face many gender-related roadblocks at some point in their lives. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, women are 30% less likely than men to get promoted out of an entry-level job.

“I think my career has expanded; I’ve become more confident in what I can create or build as a leader with the right team around me. One of the hardest challenges for just about any woman – it’s women still have a hard time negotiating for themselves and understanding their value in an organization,” said Cyndi.

One thing Cyndi became more aware of throughout her time as a leader is encouraging balance with family with her team members. Being in international education, you can often start early in one country and work late in another.

Looking back, being able to manage her career and family life with more balance was one thing Cyndi wished she had done earlier in her career.

“I really want to encourage today with my team leaders that it’s okay to have a family; that’s a part of life, and organizations are going to work and accommodate that because that’s our jobs as leaders,” said Cyndi.

Being a CEO of an organization can lead to a hectic schedule, especially travelling worldwide. Having a work-life balance and maintaining good mental health are essential for Cyndi. Finding time to go on small road trips helps her create clarity, as well as enjoying the outdoors, hiking, going for long walks and listening to nature.

Cyndi urges women to think carefully about every step in their career path, be confident in the kind of role they want, and think of the smartest pathway to get there, as it’s easy for women to get stereotyped. She encourages women to venture more into technology and traditionally male-focused areas.

“Continue building your skills, knowledge, toolkit, and network and find good mentors. Lastly, look for an organization to work with that promotes and supports women,” said Cyndi.