Conversations with Leaders

Conversations With Leaders:  Kevan Gilbert

Through our recruitment practice, we’ve had the privilege of supporting the careers of some truly talented and inspiring leaders.

In our latest blog series, they share reflections about their careers, insights from leaders they’ve worked with, and they offer key lessons you may find helpful in your own career journey.

Kevan Gilbert – Doing what he loves from the family farm in Kelowna  

Out of nearly 500 candidates we’ve placed (so far!), Kevan Gilbert at Domain7 is one leader who truly stands out. In the last 10 years at Domain7, a global digital transformation agency headquartered in Vancouver, Kevan has developed and applied his diverse talents to multiple roles, from communications and creative strategy to project management and facilitation. In this interview, Kevan shares his reflections, insights and tips based on his decade-long journey.

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You’ve stayed at Domain7 for 10 years. What keeps you there?  

I haven’t “stayed” at Domain7, I’ve “grown” at Domain7. Domain7 has provided the flexibility and support I’ve needed (and continue to need) as my life has changed — for example, becoming a parent to four amazing kids and moving to Kelowna to work remotely, in a time where this was not really “the norm.” I’ve had several very distinct roles and each shift has come about from a mutual quest: let’s match our gifts and interests with the company’s needs. I also continue to work with a company where I can contribute meaningfully, explore new challenges, and work alongside brilliant, authentic souls who help me feel heard, challenged and invited to contribute each and every day.  

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What has been your most favourite role at Domain7 and why?  

In my current role as Facilitation Practice Lead, I get to facilitate in dynamic, fascinating situations with clients who are asking good questions about what type of organizations and individuals they want to be. I get to ask questions about what is shaping our culture and organizations and to invite people to become co-creators of a more empathetic and connected world. And I also get to write, podcast, speak, facilitate, and work with amazing teammates. And I’m very grateful that I get to work from my family farm in Kelowna! 

What is your superpower? How has it served you well in your career?  

People tell me it’s “synthesis” – the ability to take what a person (or a room of people) has said and to quickly and clearly summarize it. This superpower is secretly mixed with another that is a close second: encouragement, which helps me build trust and empathy in new situations. With these superpowers combined, I can shine a light on what was fascinating or remarkable about what I heard, while building a sense of trust, momentum, and connection.  

What have you learned from the leaders you’ve worked for?  

From Bill Mollard (President at Union Gospel Mission), I learned that love and compassion are not just personal character traits, they can be embedded and encouraged operationally within an organization’s design and culture.

From Genesa Greening (now CEO of BC Women’s Hospital Foundation), I learned that if you have an idea that is ahead of its time, invite people into exploring it through facilitated processes; it’ll widen your own understanding of what’s possible, change the idea for the better, and speed up its adoption.

From Shawn Neumann (CEO at Domain7), I learned that creating space for the contributions of others is the self-replicating mission of earthlings. 

In reflecting on your career journey, what would you share with earlier career stage people that might be helpful? 

Talk to a clinical counsellor to help you notice your own inner narratives AND a coach or career counsellor to gain a better understanding of your gifts and needs. You will save needless suffering by gaining external perspective early on.

If what really motivates you are ideas, listening and creativity, it is totally valid to value and pursue career options in performance, poetry, and public speaking — AND, these pursuits have a role to play in transforming culture, wherever you are. You don’t need to pretend you’re a “business person” or a “tech person”. Lean into what motivates you and be you.

Cultivate absurd side interests.

Find a place to work where they will let you be you, where you can ask lots of questions, as well as risk new endeavours and safe enough failures.

If you are new to an industry, be curious, ask questions, state what you see, encourage what’s gorgeous, and challenge what is broken.  

Your top five recommended reads?  

Read widely and weirdly. Pay attention to the stories from the margins. A few of my favourites include: 

  • + We Can Do This by Kate Sutherland 
    (A facilitator and social innovation coach, Kate’s book brings us stories and tools from leading deep, transformative change in our communities. From how we lead ourselves to how we lead organizations, few books capture the imagination and equip the practitioner as well as Kate’s. I had the privilege of having Kate as my coach at the THNK School of Creative Leadership, and hold her up as the gold standard for leading systems change.)
  • + Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Maree Brown 
    (This leading-edge work from a black activist and strategist has helped me see the next wave in organizational leadership: organic systems, attunement with nature, trust in emergent processes, and empowerment of voices from the margins.)
  • + Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg 
    (This seminal work helps us understand where our language veers into alienation and judgement, and helps us speak the language of life instead. It’s foundational work that I practice daily, in my family relationships and work conversations. It’s a must-read on the curriculum for the human species.)
  • + In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté  
    (This edgy, poetic, scientific work documents Dr. Maté’s work with addicts in downtown Vancouver and through it, makes an appeal for a widespread redesign of our systems to be more driven by compassion. This book that helps us understand the role of early childhood in shaping the person and emphasizes the need for funding and support to help parents truly be there for their kids early on in their lives, reaffirming my own intent to parent with closeness and care and to do what I can to encourage leaders to redesign systems with love in mind.)
  • + The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin  
    (This might be a strange book to suggest in this list, but hear me out: This is a scientifically-grounded, emotionally-aware manual that taught me how to become a better partner and doula for my wife, AND a doula for creative processes in all situations.) 

Which theme song best captures this chapter in your career?  

“Passion Fashion” by Judah & The Lion. Lyrics like “I’m emotional, I’m a stubborn optimist” and “They say it’s cool not to care — I care too much!” hit the spot for describing a person of vision and intention who is trying to actually say yes to that way of being, instead of trying to be “everybody’s cup of tea”.  

What quote have you read recently that inspired you?  

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ― Arundhati Roy 

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Conversations With Leaders

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Smart, Savvy + Associates is a recruitment agency that specializes in finding talent for marketing, communications, and creative roles. Since 2008, their team of marketers-turned-recruiters have successfully placed hundreds of qualified professionals into companies throughout Vancouver and the surrounding areas. Learn more about the company’s services or apply for one of the open roles on their job board.