Looking Forward, Looking Back…Without Getting Dizzy

If 2021 were a food, it would be a Trail Mix.

Some healthy granola to represent our slow crawl out of a global pandemic, some dehydrated fruit that, like clenching your jaw too hard, can cause your teeth to ache, some sweet candy to relieve the saltiness of tears, and a whole variety of nuttiness.

While many of us have just shut our eyes and slogged forward after a second year of ambiguity regarding the future, the dings and swings of our economy, the slugfest of small business survival, and the divisiveness of vaccine acceptance, there has been some sweetness to counteract the distraction and malaise that has affected us all.

We have come to the collective realization of the importance of human relationships. If absence makes the heart grow fonder, we have grown more fond, more caring, and more aware of our need as social animals to gather together. Life is, after all, about connections and we will likely not ever take the presence of our friends, families, and cherished workmates for granted again.

Similarly, many of us have found a source of resilience we never thought to tap in ourselves, and a strength beyond which we thought we were capable. We have been grateful witnesses to this resilience at the Women’s Enterprise Centre as we have watched so many of our clients struggle and overcome the tremendous obstacles that COVID has placed in the path of small business. I am amazed, delighted, and inspired by the way women business owners have challenged these setbacks, whether by stubbornness and perseverance, by innovative methods of marketing and distribution, or by new product/service development. Mother nature in the form of a pandemic, has necessitated invention, and so many women entrepreneurs have risen to the challenge.

As our clients have evolved to meet the new world, so have we.

The WECM team has always felt that the work we do is important and brings positive change to the world. Never have we felt that calling more than in the past two years. This year, in particular, with continued lockdowns and restrictions having forced our clients to dig in and find even more capacity to deal with a difficult reality, we have felt the positive impact of our advising and lending province wide.

We’ve had the grace of the RRRF loans to help things along as well as the internal development of engaging online curricula for business training. We’ve been blessed with a plethora of professional development options thanks to federal and provincial government grants, all of which have increased our internal competencies and therefore enhanced the resources we can provide to our entrepreneurs. Thanks to WES funding we have been able to reach deeply into rural and northern areas of our province to help women entrepreneurs we haven’t been able to connect with prior to the development of our Strength in Community remote peer group program.

Of equal importance, we have evolved as a team. Alternating remote and in-person work as required by changing circumstance, we have come to appreciate one another more, to draw on individuals’ talents and knowledge, to increase our tech to maintain those relationships, and to work more productively. We have made continuous learning a front and centre activity that has become the core of our work. We learn and become more adept at passing on that knowledge to benefit others.

On another level, I look back and see the growth and progress of our national organization, Women’s Enterprise Organizations of Canada—an entity that grew out of the dreams and aspirations of the CEOs of the western provincial women’s enterprise centres. That dream has become a reality and has drawn on the talents of women’s organization CEOs from central and eastern Canada, as well as the support of the federal government.

So much to recognize, so much to be grateful for, and so much to celebrate, as I look back…

In ancient Roman mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and endings, transitions and passages. He is usually depicted as having two faces, one facing forward and one backward, to show his vision of what was and what will be—or the transition of one period into another.

By the time that January (which was named for Janus) has ended, I will be moving forward into the new work I have chosen for myself, and I will be looking back on my fourteen plus years at the Women’s Enterprise Centre with love, pride, celebration, and a tinge of regret in leaving such a wonderful team of remarkable people doing incredible work.

I tell people that my time with WECM has been the best leadership course I could ever have taken. I’ve learned so much through trial and error, through mistakes, through striving to know and understand more about work relationships, through experimentation, and through building on success. I’ve been fortunate in working with strong individuals who usually aren’t shy about letting me know when I need to take a different tack or get a new perspective. All of this to say that I have come to appreciate the process of leadership development and competencies, of understanding the nature of growth and transition, and the value of better communication among a wide variety of personalities and predilections.

That’s why I chose executive coaching as my next endeavor. I’ve taken the time to become accredited and credentialed as an executive coach because I believe I have much value to contribute in the years to come. I want to be of help to those on a similar path who want to develop themselves as leaders, become adept at work and life relationships, and who want to build strong teams. I look forward to being a guide and a resource for leaders wishing to weather transitions, build their skills and talents, improve their performance, and optimize their choices.

Looking forward, looking back. I’m so happy that I have come to know so many of you who are reading this. I am grateful for what I have learned from you and what we have shared. As of February 1, 2022, I’ll be an entrepreneur once again. I look forward to connecting back with many of you in my next role, as a coach, a mentor, or as a friend.

Sandra Altner
CEO, Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba
Executive Coach, Libertas Coaching