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Tracy Folkes Hanson

President & CEO, CSAE

Q: Did you have an important early influencer in your life? Could you reflect on their role in shaping you and perhaps preparing you for your career journey?

A:  My early influencers clearly come from my family – my parents, grandparents … and great-grandparents. My great -grandmother was a suffragette – that likely says a lot about me. Robin Clipsham, one of my high school teachers, was quite influential in my life and, indirectly, my career choices. She taught English and Theatre and, believe it or not, my initial career thoughts evolved around acting. In hindsight, I’m grateful to have left that career choice to my oldest son – he’s much better at it. Robin was steadfast in her support of me while offering guidance in a way that was consumable to me at the time. Her sage words, written in a letter which I still have, described strengths that I didn’t realize I had. In reflection, I now realize her encouragement to share my stories with the world was the impetus and beginning of a long journey of writing and communications.

Q: Do you have a hobby or non-work-related activity that you think benefits you / enhances your effectiveness at work?

A: Some of my earliest memories involve events and activities in my hometown: walking with my dad in the summer parade, helping my mom clean silver at the church (she cleaned; I played). I distinctly remember a softball game in which my team was coached by my mother. We were playing against my sister’s team and my dad was the umpire — you get the idea. My parents taught us, from a very young age, the importance of being involved and giving back. Together, my husband and I have passed that along to our kids. I’ve long since been a volunteer, sitting on committees and boards in service to our community. Being involved allows me to stay connected and rooted to the things that matter. It also enables me to continuously learn from varied experiences—coming full circle in my work at CSAE.

Q: What do you see as the most pressing challenges to the association sector currently? Do these keep you up at night? Do you have an approach to build resilience and stay ahead of the curve?

A: The CSAE 2018 member survey suggested that the impact of technology on the association sector along with the consistent worry of revenue and growth are the things that keep association leaders up at night. I’m certainly not immune to that. I do, however, like a challenge, and the exploration of tech-based solutions is often discussed in our collab space at the CSAE office. What will they think of next?!? Throughout my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to have had some amazing mentors and I’ve added a few since joining CSAE. One of the best parts of this job is that so many of our members do the same job I do – there is a wealth of experience to draw, learn and grow from. I leverage these folks to share ideas, run through scenarios, pull my hair, laugh and cry, tell stories, create solutions, bounce ideas … have a “good old chin wag.” It’s an important outlet for me and I always learn something.

Q: What was your biggest epiphany? Can you describe a life-defining change or moment that shaped you into the leader you are today?

A: In January of 1980, I moved with my family from a small town in rural Ontario – the only home I’d ever known – to Ottawa. I changed schools mid-year of grade 12—what I call my first introduction to change management. Walking into my new school, which was so large it could easily swallow up the old, I made a conscious decision to forge forward, embrace the new and use it as an opportunity. On that first day, I met people who would become some of my closest friends, people who helped shape the person I am. In reflection, that change at such an impressionable age taught me more about myself than anything else had before: resiliency, strength, courage, fear and my ability to face it – and, ultimately, joy. I learned that change is merely something new. And new should always be exciting.


Q: Do you have a life philosophy?

A: As kitch as it may sound — live, love, laugh. We lost my beloved father very suddenly — a week after his 60th birthday. I am certain he crammed 80 years into his short-lived 60. It was he who taught me to live my life without regret, to love fiercely, and to make everything count. Full disclosure: I don’t always get it right, sometimes not even close (just ask my children). I do, however, try every day to make a difference.

Q: Do you have a favourite quote?

A: “We cannot cure the world of all its sorrows; we can choose to live in joy” – Joseph Campbell

It’s important for me to try to make a difference and create a better world for my children and others. At the very least, leave the world a better place for those who will follow. For the record, “joy” is also my favourite word. And I am a lover of words.

Q: What are the most important qualities of a strong leader?

A: Honesty, respect and spirit. Addressing issues and challenges honestly, respecting others while earning their respect in return and doing it all with passion. Leadership is about being a champion for and on behalf of others. It’s our responsibility to create an environment in which others can succeed and thrive.

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