Michelle Cook, MJ’00
Michelle Cook, MJ’00 is currently working as Assistant Director, Planning and Events for the Government of Alberta and currently resides in Calgary. In a career spanning more than 20 years, Michelle has gained broad experience in the government, post-secondary education, and journalism sectors. She shares her thoughts on leadership and her experience working in government. Michelle also currently sits on the alumni UBC Advisory Council and the alumni UBC Calgary Leadership Committee.
Tell us about your role?
I’ve worn a few different hats since joining the Alberta government -- first in the Economic Development and Trade ministry and then in the Olympic Bid Secretariat. My current role is two-fold. I manage the multilingual communications team responsible for translating and distributing essential information to citizens whose first language is not English or French. I also supervise the planning and events team members responsible for Alberta’s major public announcements. Right now, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, these two teams are playing a crucial role in getting vital information to Albertans.
Who do you work with?
Who don’t I work with? One of the best things about this role is that I get to work with colleagues at all levels throughout government, as well as external contacts around the province and across all sectors.
Did you expect to be in this type of role/organization upon graduation?
Aside from a few short stints in the private sector, I’ve worked in the public sector for most of my professional life including jobs with governments here in Canada and abroad. My mother was a life-long federal public servant. Near the end of her career, the Governor General presented her with a Coat of Arms bearing the motto Servir et célébrer son pays (Serve and Celebrate One’s Country). It’s a principle I also proudly live by.
What excites you about this role/organization?
Governments are among the largest, most complex organizations in the world and I enjoy the challenge of managing strategic communications in such a high profile, fast-paced environment. In this job, I am immersed daily in literally every issue that touches the lives of Albertans. Dedicated public servants are crucial for a well-functioning society. I get to work with colleagues who are talented, skilled, and passionate about their work. I am proud to be working alongside them contributing, even in small way, to the well-being of my fellow citizens.
What ways do you demonstrate leadership?
I speak up. If I have ideas I share them. I share opinions and concerns, too. I also speak up for others when I think it’s necessary for the team and the organization. That’s garnered me admiration, but has sometimes had negative consequences, too. Through experience, I have learned to think more strategically about what needs to said (and when) to have the most impact.
What lessons have you learned as a leader?
Get the job done. This means making the extra effort, approaching problems with confidence, finding solutions, and not backing down from challenging tasks. When I’m confident that a goal can be reached, I find others around me are more willing get on board and makes things happen.
What does leadership mean to you?
Over the years, I’ve come to view my leadership style as very similar to air traffic control work. My colleagues and staff members are valuable, very skilled professionals. Much like the relationship pilots have with air traffic controllers, those I work with don’t need me to do their jobs for them or tell them how to do theirs. They need clear communication and directions from me to do their jobs successfully and avoid mishaps. If they succeed, then I know I’ve succeeded.
Where do you see your field or industry going in the next 5-10 years?
The purpose of government Communicators is pretty straightforward: deliver world-class communications that support government priorities and the effective and efficient delivery of public services to improve people’s lives. That mandate won’t change any time soon. One of the biggest challenges will be continue to be countering misinformation and disinformation which is spreading further and faster than ever. At the same time, the news media industry continues to flounder. Legitimate, mainstream media outlets are disappearing and those that remain have fewer resources to report government news. Finding new ways to successfully engage with citizens and ensure accurate, timely information reaches the public will be critical. Rapidly changing communications technologies will open up new ways for us to connect with citizens and share information directly and in more tailored ways to meet specific needs, especially giving us the ability to reach previously underserved audiences.
What skills will be important for emerging professionals in your field or industry?
The “old-fashioned” ones: the ability to think critically, write well, and communicate clearly.
What is your best career advice?
Allow compassion to guide your decisions.