The No-Limit Belief

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Dave Veale interviews Dr. Bill Howatt, CEO of Howatt HR Consulting Inc. as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

When you get an email from Nova Scotia’s Dr. Bill Howatt you’ll notice a quote embedded in his email signature from Napoleon Hill, the celebrated author of Think and Grow Rich. It reads “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” As you get to know Bill, you realize how relevant this quote is to his personal journey.

I was fortunate to have great mentoring. I am a kid who failed Grade 2 and I couldn’t read or write until I was 19 years old,’ says Bill Howatt, CEO of Howatt HR Consulting Inc. ‘The only reason that I became successful is that I was fortunate enough to have good mentors who believed in my potential.’

Bill is known internationally for his expertise in strategic human resource consulting and organizational learning design. He has published numerous books and articles and is also a keynote speaker at events such as the upcoming Atlantic Canada Labour & Employee Relations annual conference.

Bill has unique experience and perspective on leadership that is derived from working with a diverse group of clients that include investment banking firms, Nova Scotia Power and the New York City Department of Education.

This is all impressive – and maybe even more so – when you discover that early in his life Bill had to learn how to overcome the many challenges that accompany a debilitating learning disability.

Q: You have a lot of knowledge and experience related to leadership including, two PhDs. What have you learned about the art of leading?

A: I don’t know if I look at my education as much, I play it down. I was fortunate to have great mentoring. I am a kid who failed Grade 2 and I couldn’t read or write until I was 19 years old.

The only reason that I became successful is that I was fortunate enough to have good mentors who believed in my potential.

For example, it was a guy named Dr. Don Little who said to me, “Bill, you don’t have to be an expert.” I have ADHD and visual dyslexia – I can’t write a sentence – so that advice unleashed my brain. And I’ve written sixty books.

Q: That is a very inspiring message. You didn’t let ADHD or visual dyslexia hold you back. What was it that supported your success?

A: I was always chasing success. If you’ve failed a grade, for years you feel like you are second class. I always felt like I was not good enough – I always felt a level of shame and embarrassment.

My mother was really a big saviour because she got involved in helping me with my learning disability – she was a big champion of mine.

My belief is that we don’t all have to look the same to be brilliant. We can all be different, we can all behave differently, but I do think there is brilliance in all of us. We all have it.

Q: What are the qualities that are required of a strong leader in today’s business world?

A: Leaders have to embrace transparency, they have to be able to know how to hold themselves accountable to others and they need strong interpersonal skills.

Q: What do you see when you look out into the province of New Brunswick, from a leadership perspective?

A: What I do know, in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, is that seven out of 10 leaders aren’t realizing their full potential. I know there is an opportunity for more organizations to have more powerful effect leaders. I think more strategic thought needs to be put into what leadership development means. I know succession planning and leadership development need to be intricately thought about.

There are some brilliant leaders in this province that it might take two people to replace (each one). At the same time there are young people that, given the right guidance, are waiting to be leaders but they may not be given the opportunity.

What we need to do is create opportunities for those young leaders so we know who they are and what they are about.

Q: Are you seeing a lot of untapped potential in this province?

A: In this province, in Nova Scotia, in P.E.I. and on the U.S. Eastern Seaboard, everywhere I go in the world actually.

Q: Tell me about who inspires you.

A: The most – my mother. She taught me to believe that I define my barriers. I grew up with dyslexia and ADHD and I had more labels than you could imagine and they can be perceived barriers, but I see them as opportunities, as gifts. I tell people I meet that I have a skill that a lot of people don’t have, I have the ability to hyper focus – what a great gift.

So look for your opportunities. To be quite frank, that’s how I ended up on Wall Street for 10 years because, why not? That’s why I ended up with a book series, again, why not? Why can’t I do that?

I don’t have any limits on what I believe.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com. His column appears every other Thursday. To read past columns go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca

Published September 23, 2010 in the Telegraph Journal

Photo of Dr. Bill Howatt: Matthew Sherwood/Telegraph-Journal