Charmaine Toms, general counsel for MNP, on her philosophy of leadership

She says it is a mix of tough love, being a helping hand and promoting education
Charmaine Toms, general counsel for MNP, on her philosophy of leadership

When Charmaine Toms considers her pivot from private practice to in-house, she believes there are many transferrable skills, especially where creativity is concerned. Speaking to Lexpert, the general counsel for MNP says this unique approach to problem-solving is an unexpected part of the in-house role. 

“When I think about the different roles that I've had, I see them as building blocks to my career,” she explains. “I try to look at the challenging situations and see how that situation provides insight on how to approach a problem, whether from a legal lens or looking at governance. [It’s about] taking those learnings and applying them to the next situation, the next role, to [become even better] in my approach each time.”

Toms relishes finding creative solutions to complex problems. “[People] don’t necessarily think of lawyers as creative – but a challenging situation can really unleash your creativity. You need to start to think differently about how you're going to approach things, getting comfort in the gray and analyzing what your risk tolerance is when you're comparing it to what the business needs.”

From there, Toms says it’s about assessing how your legal strategy fits: What do you need to adjust? What can stay the same? Are there areas of improvement in the cards?

“How can you amend components for the right risk management while putting your legal strategy together?” she says.

With a master of law specializing in e-business, Toms is perfectly positioned to address these questions, especially in a tech-driven world.

“The specialization in e-business has been great,” she says. “[However] it's an area that moves so fast that if you don't keep up with your specialization, you can very quickly become dated… What I feel is most important is that you're being curious, always trying to stay current, always reading, always learning, and then keeping an open mind.”

Toms again emphasizes the importance of creativity and looking at the bigger picture. 

“What will [technology] do in terms of materializing legal issues, problems, unique solutions and having to stay on top of things as different technologies develop? I think AI does have legs. I do think we'll see it evolve. It’s going to be very challenging for lawyers but also very fulfilling because I think it's really going to make work more pleasant. [It will do] the heavy lifting that's often boring and tedious, [that will be] done by machines instead of the human brain.”

This ties into Toms’ philosophy around her own personal leadership style: a blend of “tough love,” a helping hand, and an onus on education.

“I've been described as tough but fair, and I have no problem with that,” says Toms, “because I'm prepared to have the tough conversations and point out some of the difficult truths that are needed in order to get successful resolutions and move things forward. When I look at the MNP legal team, I'd like to think [I’m] a little bit softer there, that they would say that not only am I fair, but I'm also a teacher, a mentor, a supporter, someone who likes to have fun. I definitely like to celebrate wins with the team and life events.”

MNP’s in-house team is diverse, with many younger families, which gives them an excuse to have fun get-togethers outside of work.

“We want to make sure we're celebrating all that as leaders and showing how important it is to take the time for that. I also recognize that I'm time-strapped, and [while] I do try to be generous with my time with the team, it can be hard. To supplement that, I encourage lifelong learning with the team. At MNP, we have our MPU University, where people can [access] webinars, links to conferences, and all kinds of great readings.”

As Toms knows, people don’t leave companies; they leave managers. This is why being a great leader, focusing on the core values of education and support, is so close to her heart.

“The team is fiercely loyal,” Toms says. “A team member recently shared that people are here, year after year, because of me, because they feel I'm a good leader. I believe that's one of the highest compliments I can receive as a GC.”