The Leading In5 series features interviews with top business leaders from across sectors to gain their insights into leadership and success in transformational moments.
As the Chief Social Purpose Officer and VP, Player Experience, British Columbia Lottery Corporation (BCLC), Peter ter Weeme is a pioneer in the role that business and public organizations have towards increased sustainability, social purpose, and social justice. Tasked with defining a new social purpose for BCLC, Peter has over 25 years’ experience across corporate, government and non-profit clients in North America, Europe, and Asia advising on a range of values-based issues such as climate action, conservation, public health, and diversity and inclusion. Twenty years ago, he was appointed as Mountain Equipment Co-op’s first lead for marketing and communications, and he has previously served as Chair of the Board for Canadian Business for Social Responsibility.
I met Peter shortly after he started at BCLC. Soon after I had the opportunity to work with him and his team on multiple projects. Each time, I was struck by his rare combination of insight and resolve as well as his direct, affable leadership style.
Coming out of the cultural and social turbulence of the past two years, social purpose is more essential to stakeholders than ever before. Investors, clients and talent all list social purpose as essential to their 2022 priorities, and so it was a real privilege to candidly speak to Peter about his experiences combining leadership with social purpose.
This interview is condensed from our conversation.
Trust your beliefs.
“I went to business school in 1993. At the time, all of my business colleagues were focused on consulting or marketing roles – they wanted to be Brand Managers or work as Bain consultants. But I wasn’t – I couldn’t care less about how to grow Juicy Fruit gum market share by 1% more. Instead, and even though the feedback I was getting was that it was going to be career limiting, I decided to focus on the intersection of business and environmental management.”
“As I started to get concerned about the future of the planet, I realized that we have to find a way to bridge the world of business with the environment. It was never a zero-sum game to me – it was how can business advance this priority? That’s how I see leadership. It’s like looking down the shot-gun and saying that someone has to address these issues and then deciding to do so.”
Growth and expansion initiatives present multiple leadership challenges. Tactically there is unfamiliar territory and new people to lead, all of which require a deep level of trust in the team and a clear vision of what is possible.
“When MEC decided to enter Quebec, we decided that we would really celebrate the unique culture and language.”
“And we did! We shocked people. We became this BC-based company that embraced French. For example, we created a visual dictionary. Because MEC didn’t have products with French names, we invented close to 200 new terms and presented them in “le petit MEC.” By doing so, we won awards and endeared ourselves to francophones in Quebec. Leadership is finding ways to get the team to do the unexpected and here, with zero marketing dollars, we turned this into something that put MEC on the map.”
Cultivate adaptive leadership.
“I have an adaptive leadership style focused on practically solving business issues. I do this by guiding the team to identify and focus on the important aspects of the business operation and discarding the non-essentials.”
“But to do this and find the way forward, requires an understanding of where people are coming from. As leaders we need to create space for people to be who they are and then listen to what they are saying.”
“When I reflect on my leadership failures, the big lessons coming out usually point to the need for more humility that leads to being a better listener and not assuming that what worked for Petrie dish A will now work with Petrie dish B.”
Trust through transparency.
“Leaders build trust by opening up, building relationships and sharing motivations. I told the people who reported to me, what’s important is not what you want from me, it’s what you need from me. I have the backs of the people of my direct reports. A good leader follows through, they communicate back to people.”
“Equally, leaders build trust through the value of transparency. Be clear about what you stand for. I have a personal purpose in my life: to build community and confidence for those addressing social and environmental issues in the world. And I share this as the foundation and framework of my work.”
This is a great reminder that transparency is a two-way street. If we expect it from our teams, we have to share it with our teams. And in the moment, when people are in search of something more – something to connect to and people to connect with – it becomes even more important for leaders to intentionally cultivate transparency. Role modelling transparency is essential to cultivating it.
The power of vulnerability.
“A lot of leaders assume they need all the answers – and to a certain degree they’re right. But the reality is, the more you open up, the more vulnerability you show, the better it is for leadership. It’s not just a shiny face and all the answers. A good leader has soft spots and doubts.”
“Vulnerability is not a weakness. It says you’re open. At BCLC, we had a session on victims of residential schools. We had 10%+ of the company spend over two hours on the topic and an Elder spoke with us. Towards the end, it broke me up and I cried in front of people. I think it’s important that people see that you have a heart. The more I share who I am with the people who report to me, the more they can identify with me. The more it gives permission to bring their full selves to work.”
“Finally, be true on and off camera. People watch leaders. Be a straight shooter. Don’t play games or pit people against each other – and don’t forget to fold chairs and help clean. It shows you are part of the team and that you care.”
I’m incredibly grateful to Peter for sharing his insights and reflections on leadership. If you or someone on your team would like to be featured in Leading In5 please get in touch:
A sincere thank you to my colleague James Hunter for his contributions to the development of this piece.