Leaders That Inspire: Tracey Mason-Innes

August 12, 2022

Tracey Mason-Innes has been SFU’s Director, Residence and Housing for the past four years.  Not only has she brought leadership experience from a variety of previous positions, she pursued a Master’s Degree in Leadership where she did extensive learning and reflecting about being a leader, and went on to complete her Doctor of Education (EdD) in higher education leadership.  We sat down with Tracey to talk about her journey as a leader, and this is what she shared. 

How does your background inform your role as a leader?

Growing up in the Maritimes, there was a culture of service that’s been instilled in me from a very young age.  My family was always volunteering and giving back.  It’s just what you did, and what was expected of you.  There’s many leadership philosophies to subscribe to and I relate to servant leadership, and the humility that comes with it. 

What does being a leader mean to you?

I didn’t identify myself as a leader at first and I thought being a leader was positional.  It’s taken time for me to understand what it means to be a leader, that it’s more something you do and not necessarily something you are.  Now for me, being a leader is about building relationships with people.  It’s someone who has a common vision for the future and encourages people to move towards it, and makes change for the better. 

Being a leader is also about knowing that not everyone will have the same vision, so it’s also about being open to different views and working through conflict. It’s really about building relationships.

What defining moments have occurred in your life and career and how have they shaped you as a leader?

There have been people who have seen something in me and encouraged me to take steps that I may not have taken otherwise.  

When I think about defining moments, it’s when I’ve received formal or informal 360 degree feedback, the good and the bad.  When you get feedback, it’s what’s you’re going to do with it moving forward that’s going to change things and help you grow as a leader. 

I think real life situations come up every day that teach you something about yourself. 

What advice would you give to newer leaders?

You have to really know yourself and what you stand for, and it’s important to understand how people perceive you.  You know certain things about yourself.  But there’s things you don’t know, that people see.  You need to understand your whole self as best you can because the more information you have about yourself, the better you’ll be able to interact with others. 

I would also encourage newer leaders to be curious about people and try to understand their points of view.  And to remember and stay true to who you are as a person. Not everyone will understand me, and that’s okay.

What do you love about being a leader?

What I enjoy the most is the collaboration and hearing people say that they really want to be here.  Creating a culture and environment where people like what they do, feel that they’re valued and that they’re contributing. 

I do my job for the students and the staff.  Seeing students happier because of some of the systems we’ve been able to change, that’s gratifying. 

I love working at SFU because it’s a great learning environment and because of the people.  I’ve had good supervisors and colleagues who help each other out.  There’s care for each other.  I make mistakes.  I learn from them.  And I have the ability to make mistakes because there’s forgiveness.  It’s ok to say that I don’t understand something, or need help.

What helps you in challenging times as a leader?

Positivity and a sense of humour.  I think it’s important to find a way to laugh with people in order to help put things into perspective and to not take it all too seriously.  It's important to take care of yourself holistically.  Find time to play, whatever that looks like for you.

I look for the good in people and situations, and believe that things will get better, and I think this makes a huge difference.  I also rely on my resiliency.  It’s about being stubborn and being resilient to get through things.  I still surprise myself about what I’ve been able to accomplish, especially with education. 

I also think it’s important to find ways to be intrinsically motivated, because extrinsic motivators are not always there.

What do you hope comes of SFU’s efforts to develop leaders?

I hope people will have opportunities to explore themselves as leaders, including those who don’t see themselves as leaders yet, but will.  We need to give people opportunities to learn and grow, and recognize that learning comes in many different forms for people.

Do you have any favourite Leadership Resources?

Margaret J. Wheatley is one of my favorite authors.  She talks about humanizing our organizations, seeing systems as being living, breathing systems, and how to navigate this. 

My favourite quote is by Maya Angelou:

At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”