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An Interview With Donna Morea

Posted on June 10, 2009
Kathy AlbaradoWritten by Kathy Albarado | Email author

When interviewing local Washington DC Leaders, I am amazed at the common traits they exhibit. An entrepreneurial spirit, an unwavering ability to persevere, courage-feeling the fear and doing it anyway, a spirit of curiosity, accountability and the desire to develop team members around them are just a few.  Donna Morea, President of US Operations & India for CGI certainly embodies the traits of leadership.  I am pleased to share the results of our interview below:

donna-morea“True career paths are only evident when one looks back. The path forward is rarely predictable, or well marked.” ~ Donna Morea, President CGI U.S. & India, on the topic of ‘leadership’

Admittedly, “leadership” was not a word that occurred to Donna as she embarked upon her career a new graduate of Wesleyan University with a studio arts degree. Her own leadership journey was one that Donna did not predict or dictate. She learned early on that the mythical career path sought out by graduates, was not at all the prescriptive ‘yellow brick road’ that led to the land of OZ.

She has long since realized that the more interesting careers are the ones that blaze a trail rather than follow a path. In fact, she muses that the path is really only seen in retrospect-when one turns around to look back. The path forward is rarely predictable or well-marked.

‘Unexpected’ is how she describes her own leadership journey. She decided to combine her creativity with business skills and pursue her entrepreneurial spirit. She went back to school and acquired her MBA from Wharton School of Business. Joining what was then American Management Systems (AMS) in 1980 as her first real corporate job, Donna had no idea that nearly 30 years later she would have led three mergers at CGI-AMS, and today be President of U.S. and India for CGI-a company with over 25,500 employees across more than 100 offices worldwide.

So when asked what advice Donna would give people as they embark on their career path, her answer is always the same. “Work hard, find out what you like to do, pay attention to where the company is heading and what’s needed to get it there and you will find the path, or it will find you.”
Carefully scripting one’s career often doesn’t work. She feels strongly that there is a time for ambition and assertiveness in business, but sometimes being patient and letting things unfold gets you farther. “The early bird may get the worm, but remember the worm gets eaten. Before you jump in too early, it’s good to know when you’re the bird and when you’re the worm!”

Another important factor that Donna believes in strongly is leader authenticity. Authentic leaders are willing to show their vulnerability and people want to follow leaders who are indeed authentic. However, there is a fine balance between being transparent and also recognizing that as a leader you are always being watched by your team members. People will read (or try to) a leader’s expressions, make assumptions regarding inflections in their tones, and analyze their vocabulary and body language. They assume the leader has information that can ultimately impact them personally. There is an expectation regarding how leaders should behave.  Recognizing that there may be days when one may not have complete confidence in her decisions or when you want to react spontaneously and swiftly for example, a leader’s actions are magnified in the eyes of individuals. On those days when there is a tension between the expectations of the leader that you need to meet, and in being honest with yourself- Donna believes that putting a good face forward in order to instill confidence and maintain professionalism, does not need to be in conflict with the concept of authenticity.

People will be inspired and motivated when they know who you are, what you stand for, what you excel at and where your weaknesses lie. She believes strongly that above all, one should stay true to oneself and to one’s core values. Modeling the behavior that you want to see does influence behavior.

When asked about her own core values, Donna summarized them quite nicely:

  1. Commitment: Commit to delivering a great job in fulfilling expectations;
  2. Collaboration: the outcome of a team always outperforms that of an individual and;
  3. Communication: maintain an open and honest environment, one where authenticity breeds trust.

Donna believes strongly in the concept of ‘team’. And that the best way to build a strong team is to identify what people do best and place them in roles that allow them to be successful. Managing to one’s strengths is far more powerful than trying to provide incremental improvements to one’s weaknesses.
She believes that in order to be successful, a team must have a shared purpose and understand why they exist and be clear on their set goals. It must be clear to them how their own individual roles fit into the whole of the team in its entirety. The team then develops a sense of purpose as they commit to meeting their goals.
It became evident in very short order, that Donna Morea is a woman people like to follow. She supports, inspires, challenges and appreciates her colleagues and team members. I have had colleagues share passionate testimonials of what a phenomenal leader she is to work with. After having spent time speaking to her about her thoughts on leadership, it was no surprise to me at all why her team would feel that way.

According to Donna, and I agree, “Leadership is a journey, not a destination.”

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