Victoria Lennox was on track for a career in public policy when the entrepreneurial bug bit. Now it’s her job to support and advocate for other founders. The head of Startup Canada shares the leadership skills she’s learned from her entrepreneurial (and intrapreneurial) career.

Startup Canada CEO Victoria Lennox. Photo: Startup Canada

Victoria Lennox. Photo: Startup Canada

FIRST Job

When I was 12, I started going door to door delivering the Pennysaver. Really, it was more of a job for my parents—they had to help me do it early in the morning. But it taught me a lot about entrepreneurship, and about getting up before everybody else and getting it done.

Best Job

I was the first woman to be president of Oxford Entrepreneurs, a student club at the University of Oxford with 13,000 members worldwide. There’s an event called Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford, in which top entrepreneurs spend a week giving keynote talks and meeting with local entrepreneurs. I got to meet people like Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman and Biz Stone. What I learned is that entrepreneurs are really civic leaders and they employ what’s really special and unique about themselves to create the future. That opportunity completely changed the trajectory of my career; it made me know I wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Most important MENTOR

When I was finishing at Oxford Entrepreneurs, I started my first social venture. It’s a national non-profit organization called the National Association of College and University Entrepreneurs (NACUE), which today supports 45,000 young people every year in the U.K. I was also going through chemotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma. So I was bald, and I was not very comfortable being bald. Alan Barrell of Cambridge University told me, “You need to lead in different ways at different times. Sometimes you can lead from the front, and other times you need to lead from behind.” So, for much of my time at NACUE, I led from behind. When you do that, you empower people to step up and do more.

Best boss

I worked for a member of Parliament who’s no longer in office: Brenda Chamberlain, who was the MP for Guelph, Ont. when I was studying at the University of Ottawa. She was a very honest boss, and she was also very authentic. No matter who she was talking to, she was the same. That’s how I run Startup Canada—I act the same with whomever I meet, whether it’s a startup entrepreneur in Medicine Hat, Alta. or the Governor General.

Best job interview

We were looking for a founding chair for Startup Canada, and I was interviewing Adam Chowaniec, who ran Tundra Semiconductors and, sadly, passed away last year. He created the Amiga computer platform, which a lot of the entrepreneurs built their first companies on. I felt as though he was really interviewing me, as if he was trying to determine, Does this girl have what it takes to lead Startup Canada? Fortunately, he signed up.

This article is from the June 2016 issue of Canadian Business. Subscribe now!

MORE LESSONS FROM LEADERS:

What lessons have you learned over the course of your career? Let us know by commenting below.

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