Agnes Di Leonardi credits purposeful connections as the key principle driving her twenty-five-year career. Today, she applies her leadership insight as the general counsel at Mazda Canada, the innovative automobile distributor headquartered in Richmond Hill, Ontario. “Everybody has a different definition of leadership, and for me, it’s about service,” she says. “It’s not about what’s in it for me, but what I can do to help the client. When you provide service and add value, you’ll reap the rewards.”
The legal leader breaks down that philosophy into three tenets: passion, personal excellence, and value recognition. “You need to understand what inspires you and line that passion up with your talent,” Di Leonardi says. “Then you must take a personal inventory and figure out what skill set you have and build on that. Confidence is key. Know your value, and make sure that people within your organization recognize and believe it.”
Di Leonardi explains that passion and excellence without recognition from others greatly limits personal success. She cites her own start as a young lawyer who hadn’t figured out how to promote herself, highlighting the tendency that lack of recognition compels individuals to leave companies. “People need to figure out who the decision makers are and understand how the organizational politics work,” she says. “Make sure you have the right people to promote you—both as mentors and sponsors—within your organization to be successful.”
Consider how Di Leonardi stepped up to help create a global nonprofit organization as a young lawyer in her first in-house role. Even though she had no previous experience, she hit the ground running and even drove to a director’s home to acquire a signature on the incorporation papers. “Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and take on things that you’re not really sure you can do,” she says. “Great things come out of it.”
The result of her efforts has produced Emerging Leaders’ Dialogues Canada Inc., a branch of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Commonwealth Study Conferences devoted to leadership development by creating globally connected leaders. Di Leonardi was handpicked by her employer to attend as one of two people selected from across the company. The experiential program founded in 1956 by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, has achieved massive success, and Di Leonardi continues to serve on the board of directors of ELD Canada.
“It just started by picking up my phone and saying, ‘How can I help?’, and now I’ve had this amazing twenty-year relationship with this organization,” she says, crediting her involvement as the source of great friendships and opportunities—including an exclusive dinner with HRH Princess Anne and the President of ELD Canada, at St James’s Palace. “At the end of the day, everything is about connections, because every relationship has some potential to help develop yourself further,” Di Leonardi says.
What really excites her about Mazda Canada right now relates to leadership. As a follow-up to its initial engagement with the Disney Institute, where Mazda worked with Disney to create a customer service framework, Mazda recently completed a leadership values framework, which is getting embedded in the Mazda Canada organization. As a member of the executive team, Di Leonardi participated in the rollout of the leadership values to Mazda dealers at Dealer Leader Rollout sessions across Canada last year, allowing her to make even further meaningful connections.