Leadership Lessons from Janice Baker, City Manager and CAO, City of Mississauga

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Continuing our ongoing coverage of the IOG's webcast series, Leading Through COVID-19 #leadingthroughC19, on April 23rd, IOG President Toby Fyfe interviewed Janice Baker, City Manager and CAO, City of Mississauga. Ms. Baker provided a view into the unique challenges that are facing the municipal sector during this crisis, and offered valuable leadership lessons from her experience working as a City Manager and Chief Administrative Officer.

Watch the episode here.

When asked about how she is helping to lead her city during this crisis, Baker credited the strong relationship between herself as City Manager, the Mayor, and the Council. "I consider myself to be fortunate in Mississauga in that we have a very good working relationship between our staff team and our council. Over the years we've built up a very high level of trust and it's at times like these that you appreciate how valuable that is", said Baker. This trust, which she stressed was built over time, is what has allowed her to help lead her city well during the Covid-19 crisis, "council relations is always a work in progress", she stated, "it's something that you need to be working on daily and not just when a crisis hits."

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This crisis has nonetheless been quite a challenging time, particularly in contrast to more familiar past crises such as floods, for example, which a municipality like Mississauga would have dealt with in the past. Baker remarked on the unique nature of the Covid-19 crisis and how it affected her city in the early stages. "In this particular case, we could see things marching in, and we were anticipating decisions on the part of the province. The school closures were the first big signal that something was very different about this particular pandemic and that it was obviously quite serious. We then went through just over a week of slowly closing our own facilities (libraries, community centres, offices), transitioning staff to working from home, making decisions about essential services. We had business continuity plans that we had developed that we could rely on -- we had those conversations in easier times."

She continued, expressing concern not only worldwide and nationwide, but also making note of the local residents, workers, and businesses in her municipality. "The scale of (this crisis) is very different, with everyone affected at the same time, both provincially, nationally, and

internationally; and there has been a personal impact on business and individuals in communities who work in the service industry and have lost their jobs. I think there's a lot of concern around things that aren't within our direct control, but yet we know are affecting our residents."

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When asked about what things might look like at a municipal level post-pandemic, Baker mentioned that they are taking a cautious approach. "We've been looking to other countries and other cities that have gone before us to learn from them -- of course, everyone around the world is learning what this disease will do if you go too quickly, so we're trying to pay attention to lessons learned elsewhere."

She continued, focusing on the nuanced nature of the situation, "I think at this point you can really just scenario-plan. I don't think you can look at things with any degree of certainty. Re-opening a facility wouldn't be the challenge for us, it would be re-opening and conforming to whatever the new normal is going to be."

In closing, Baker shared some key advice for leaders during a crisis, all of which she is keeping top of mind as the Covid-19 crisis continues:

  • Be proactive and take action -- don't wait for perfect information. Act with the best intention and information that you have, then shift and adjust as needed.
  • Don't freelance -- rely on the advice of public health experts.
  • Work as one team and support each other -- come up with a coordinated plan and stick to that plan.
  • Communicate often and early with everyone at all levels.
  • Be available and visible as a leader.

Thank you to Janice Baker for joining us on the Leading Through COVID-19 Webcast. Join us for our next webcast, Thursday, April 30 at 12:30 PM EST where IOG President Toby Fyfe will be speaking Gilles Rivard, a retired foreign service officer who had a number of ambassadorial positions. M. Rivard was Ambassador to Haiti in 2010 when the earthquake hit, and had to deal with the aftermath of this crisis on the country, including managing the evacuation of 6,400 people and assisting in the aid Canada delivered.

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This webcast series is brought to you with the support of SAS. Together, we can make a difference with passion, expertise and technology. Click here to learn more about SAS COVID-19 Response in this resource hub.

About the author

Institute on Governance

Institute on Governance

Founded in 1990, the Institute on Governance (IOG) is an independent, Canada-based, not-for-profit public interest institution with its head office in Ottawa and an office in Toronto. Our mission is ‘advancing better governance in the public interest,’ which we accomplish by exploring, developing and promoting the principles, standards and practices which underlie good governance in the public sphere, both in Canada and abroad.

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