Dr. Christina Bjorndal, BCom’90
Dr. Christina Bjorndal, BCom’90 is the Clinical Owner of Natural Terrain Naturopathic Clinic & Naturopathic Doctor. She currently resides in Edmonton, Alberta and has shared her career advice, including her insights into what leadership means to her.
What were some of the key skills you gained from your time at UBC?
From my valedictorian speech: I think now, more than ever before, we have realized we must work hard for what we want – – we must take responsibility for our lives and persevere. At UBC, we’ve learned not to accept indifferent efforts from ourselves. Each one of us has a strong feature or talent that distinguishes us from one another, and this talent has hopefully been strengthened during the past half decade. In whatever you aspire to become, develop your talent to the fullest, and use it to your advantage. Goals are dreams and wishes that are not easily reached. You have to work hard to obtain them, never knowing when or where you will reach your goal. Keep trying! Do not give up hope, and most of all never stop believing in you. For within you, there is someone special, someone wonderful and successful. No matter what you achieve, as long as you want it and if makes you happy, you are a success.
Generally, what is your best piece of career advice?
The best career advice I was given was to figure out what makes my heart sing. For over a decade, I lived my life pursuing the desires and dreams of other people. I graduated from high school and went straight to university and got recruited in November 1989 by HSBC. When I graduated in 1990, there were few women in my field. I also was struggling with some health challenges during that time so I often went to work wearing a mask that “everything is okay on the outside, but I am actually not doing that well on the inside”. After surviving a suicide attempt, which left me in a coma, with kidney failure – I realized that there was more to life than pursuing power and money. I contemplated leaving my career for 8 years before I made my career change. So understand that it is not written anywhere that you have to have it all figured out by the time you are 33.2 years old. You can make a new decision for yourself, follow a different path. Always ask yourself: “what is the stress costing me”? I guarantee you that the most important asset in your life is not only your brain, but your health. Look after that and you life will look after you.
What ways do you demonstrate leadership?
I demonstrate leadership by getting to know my team, meeting them with compassion, vulnerability and caring about them. A quote that I use to guide my leadership is “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Listening, not only with my ears, but with my heart is a skill that I have developed. Using my ears in the proper ratio to my mouth (ie 2 ears and 1 mouth) means that I need to listen and observe more than I speak. When I do speak, I know that my words have impact and the tone in which I speak is important to empower and motivate those around me.
What lessons have you learned as a leader
I have learned to get my ego out of the way, and realize that we are all the same from the janitor to the CEO. That no matter what position a person holds in my company, they all deserve the same amount respect and equal treatment. I have learned to change my attitude from “I am above you” (and therefore superior) to “I am beside you” (and we are equals).
I have also learned to be decisive. This is a piece of advice my father gave to me when I started my career – don’t be afraid to make a decision. To advance in business, you have to be able to make a decision. Many people get stuck in analysis. Do the analysis, but don’t get stuck there. Learn from the decisions you make and redirect if necessary. But, make a decision. That way you will always be moving forward.
What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership to me is about leaning in, rather than leaning out. It is leading with truth, honesty, love, compassion and vulnerability, not ego and superiority. A leader has their finger on the pulse, creates a culture where people are able to speak their mind openly without fear of retaliation. They create an atmosphere where their team is free to say in the room what normally gets said outside of the room out of earshot from those that need to hear the truth. Leaders need to not only communicate the vision, mission and values of their organization, but embody them. You can’t simply pay lip service to corporate values – you have to live, breathe, walk and talk these values. That way, when difficult situations arise, leaders will be rooted in confidence supported by their value structure rather than operating from a place of reactivity. Leadership means self-awareness and the capacity to care about people as much as or more than profit.
L = love
E = empowering
A = acceptance
D = daring
E = experience
R = responsible
S = sincere
H = helpful
I = insightful
P = patient and positive