Kirstan Gagnon
Kirstan Gagnon, Assistant Commissioner, Communications and Engagement, with the Correctional Service of Canada (Government of Canada)

When it often seems like new issues are appearing in our world on a near daily basis, it’s difficult to pause and diagnose what solutions a situation calls for. One skillset that will always serve well in problem solving, though, is strong communication, and no one understands this better than Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) Executive Education alum Kirstan Gagnon.

“In my experience, strategic, factual, and timely communications is key to a healthier, safer world. It can bind people together, nurture democracy, reinforce change, and lead to greater equality and inclusion. I call it an “inside out” approach,” Kirstan says.

Kirstan, who currently serves as Assistant Commissioner, Communications and Engagement, with the Correctional Service of Canada (Government of Canada), recently received her Executive Certificate in Public Leadership after successfully completing three programs in HKS Executive Education.

During her time at HKS Executive Education, Kirstan completed Women and Power, Negotiation Strategies: Building Agreement Across Boundaries, and Leadership in Crises. While each program is very uniquely its own, they combined to give Kirstan a robust set of new skills, while also allowing her to strengthen her communication expertise.

“I learned more about how to properly diagnose problems. If the diagnosis is wrong, then the design of the solution or strategy may be too, which could confuse stakeholders and require many course corrections. I also learned about the power of persuasive communications and relationships in negotiations, and in crisis situations.”

Kirstan also enjoyed the time the programs granted her with her fellow cohort members. “The programs allowed me to bond with other leaders and executives, and this was really powerful. Harvard provided the opportunity to learn from each other and, of course, from world-class professors. I loved meeting people from all corners of the world. The programs allow leaders to self-reflect, and provide a platform to come together in a unique context and share insights and experience.”

Kirstan’s main motivator throughout her career has always been to improve not just her own organization, but the world at large, and she plans to utilize her experience at HKS to do just that. “It made me reflect on how I can be a better leader and what I want to accomplish in my current role, and what I will leave behind. It also got me thinking about my personal goals, how I can share the unique experiences and lessons I have learned during crisis situations, and how to mentor the next generation of communicators in this age of misinformation and disinformation.”

For Kirstan, the power of clear communication was made even more abundantly clear from her time completing the Executive Certificate in Public Leadership, and she offers this wisdom to her fellow leaders: “With everything going on in the world, it is clear that more crises are coming our way, and with that is a tremendous opportunity to plan effectively, build team resiliency, and prepare our workforce to embrace ongoing change. Leaders: make sure you have your senior communicators (and a diverse team) at the table!”

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