A conversation with Executive Director of the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD), Josée Touchette, about the importance of resilience in leadership and diversity as a key driver for organizational effectiveness and success. 

By Alain Pescador, Boyden Canada

Boyden’s Global Leadership Matters focuses on conversations with global leaders whose work and leadership are grounded in a commitment to having a positive impact at home and abroad. The interview series sheds light on what global leadership looks like today and tomorrow, and uncovers the importance of cultural and international awareness in leadership.



Josée Touchette is all about solutions. As the Executive Director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) since 2017, she has been responsible for finance and budget, human resources management, technology and information, risk management, security and infrastructure matters as well as the delivery of related management services. She ensured the OECD had the necessary operational readiness to be able to deliver outcomes for its 38 member countries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Working closely with stakeholders means that Touchette thinks a lot about finding new ways to solve problems through consensus, transparency, cooperation, and connection.

Based in Paris, Touchette recently spoke with Boyden’s Alain Pescador about resilience in leadership, running global organisations, and why she is proud to be Canadian.


Alain: I want people to get to know a bit more about the context in which you grew up and the events which shaped you into the type of leader that you are today.

Josée: I come from a middle-class family originally from the Ottawa-Gatineau region, but I grew up in Montreal. Both my parents worked as civil servants. They were driven by civil service values like contribution and ethics, and placed a huge premium on education as the gateway to a bigger and brighter future. I grew up in an environment where we were encouraged to dream big. My father always thought that my sister and I could do anything we set our minds to – in that way, he was a feminist without realising it.

Two experiences really bookended my childhood. The first one was Expo 67. Even as a very little girl, I could see and feel that something significant was happening, something was changing: there was boundless optimism and Canada was open to the world. I remember going to Expo 67 and visiting the pavilions from different countries. Even as a small child, what struck me was the idea that there were other little children just like me who were living in completely different worlds from my own. All at once it made me realize that people may live differently but that they share the same aspirations.

The other bookend happened in 1970 with the October Crisis, where suddenly we had terrorism literally at our doorstep. I remember soldiers patrolling the streets of Montreal. I remember the fear and the uncertainty. Later, I came to better understand how engagement and strong values are critical to the social fabric of a democracy, but that early experience served as a powerful reminder that things can go very wrong very quickly when engagement breaks down.  

As a child, you don't conceptualize these concepts in a sophisticated way, but I had a sense that through vision and commitment, one could help foster a better world. That sense led to a desire to contribute, a belief that effective leadership is rooted in a broader mission of service to others, which ultimately led to a career in the Public Service of Canada and now the OECD. All of that is rooted in those early childhood experiences.

Alain: Earlier this year you visited both Toronto and Ottawa, leading a mission to better understand what public and private institutions in Canada are doing in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their recruitment practices. What was your biggest takeaway?

Josée: Immense admiration. After almost six years away from Canada, it was wonderful to come back and see how public and private institutions in Canada have embraced diversity, equity, and inclusion with sincerity and commitment.

The greatest takeaway for me was the recognition that reconciliation is at the heart of this commitment. I got the sense that there are active and ongoing conversations in organizations to address reconciliation among many different groups, not only in terms of process but also in terms of outcomes.

In the institutions that I visited, there appears to be a broad consensus that historical wrongs need to be righted, and that the time is now. Leaders across those institutions are driving the change and are holding people accountable. The call for action by the former Clerk of the Privy Council at the Federal level is a vibrant example of that. People are saying, "you know, we might not get it right every step of the way, but we're committed to not stopping until we've come to a successful outcome."

I found that to be quite impressive and inspiring. It made me very proud as a Canadian.

Alain: What is the value of diversity within an institutional framework and in the workforce? How do we find solutions to problems in a world where there's a lot of division?

Josée: I believe that diversity is a key driver for success and relevance for any organization. Having a diverse workforce requires you, by definition, to embrace a variety of perspectives. Once you embrace those perspectives and make them part of a greater whole, you can put forward truly relevant policy and program delivery options. Those options need to be realistic, otherwise you can quickly get out of touch, especially if you remain at the conceptual level of ideas. The nexus between policy and operations is critical to success. It's a matter of focusing on the short term, the medium term, and the long term, and then moving forward in an iterative manner with “your eye on the prize.”

Balancing the ability to inspire with the need to deliver tangible results is the fine balance leaders must strike when so many priorities vie for attention. Staying on course requires discipline and agility, which is especially difficult when complexity increases and resources are constrained. However, this ever-evolving balance needs to be recalibrated constantly if an organization is to remain relevant to the people who form it and to the people it serves. That's especially key in public sector organizations, which exist to serve. Trying to rule only from a place of authority is not going to garner ongoing support from stakeholders in this day and age.

You ask how we can bridge division in a fractured world and how practising diversity can help in that regard. In my experience, a diverse workforce representing the people it is meant to serve is much more likely to foster engagement and practise true dialogue, which I define as being a situation where there is more listening than there is talking. Workplaces where there is a deliberate effort to reflect on what has been said are usually more likely to develop policy and program solutions that speak to those they serve. Organisations that respect and honour diversity, that embed and weave it through their policies and everyday practices are much more likely to bridge differences on an ongoing basis, because they nurture an organisational conversation that values reconciliation and conflict resolution. That may not solve all of the challenges we face in a fractured world, but it helps create a sense of momentum in an environment where people feel they may have a measure of control: inside their own organisation.  

Alain: This series is titled Global Leadership Matters. To you, why does global leadership matter today?

Josée: This is a great question, a huge question! We are living in an interconnected world where poly-crises are all around us. We need only look at the devastation caused by fires around the world this summer to appreciate the magnitude of the challenges in front of us. In addition, we face geopolitical tensions, trade barriers, recovery from the pandemic, the ongoing war in Ukraine, to name but a few. This creates a very compelling case for the importance of global leadership. None of these challenges can be addressed – much less solved – alone.   

When you look at the challenge of leadership, whether in a global, domestic or local context, the need to understand the various perspectives at play is critical to brokering effective and implementable solutions.

At the more micro level, such as within an organisation, a leader needs to be attuned to the fact that the people they are leading will be much more effective if they have a sense of purpose and can see how their work is making a difference. Those people are likely to be diverse in today's organisational reality. Leaders will have to adapt around the members of their organisation and work to remain relevant if they are to resonate and inspire. 

Global leadership also requires narratives and sense-making: leaders operating in a global context face an even greater challenge. That challenge is magnified by disinformation and by a sense of inevitability, especially considering the magnitude of the poly-crises we face. To lead effectively in that space requires large doses of courage, humility, and determination. However, we should never underestimate how having a sense of purpose can drive people to make a difference. Leaders who inspire hope can prevail over leaders who stoke fear and division. 

Alain: What about resiliency in leadership? Why is resilience important for leaders?

Josée: In the context I have described, there are no simple solutions. To prevail, a leader must have a “long game,” and must have the inner resources to play that “long game” with their team and organisation. It takes a resilient leader to instill resiliency in teams. If, as a leader, you cannot train your team for the equivalent of a marathon rather than a series of sprints, you're going to lose your team along the way. Having a resilient team is a condition of success.

A leader needs to practice humility. It sounds easy, but it's a lot more complicated in practice. A leader needs to know when to step back and really recharge their batteries. They must be humble enough to recognise when they are running out of steam, which isn’t easy to admit when the stakes are so high. The leader needs to be able to reach out to others to ask for support, which isn’t something our culture has prepared us for terribly well. Things are changing, thankfully!

That leader also has to have the wisdom to ensure that they and their team are conserving energy and resources for the medium and the long term. It may mean having to be satisfied with a “good enough” solution rather than an excellent solution because that extra effort would come at a greater cost. That leader has to have the empathy to understand what others in the organisation might be feeling or experiencing. Again, this is something that may sound easy, but when you are juggling multiple priorities and are doing so with constrained resources, it may feel like that’s one challenge too many. Yet this is when a leader must step into the breach. 

Alain: You’re based in Paris, where the OECD is headquartered. Do you think that Canadian cities can become more relevant players on the world stage? Can they become truly global cities in the same way that Paris is?

Josée: Why not? To be great, a city and its citizens should embrace who they are and where they are.   Knowing what your city stands for, being comfortable and confident about it, and projecting that confidence in an open and welcoming way can make Canadian cities even more attractive than they are now. In Europe, Canadians are known for being polite and nice. In my experience, we tend to undervalue those attributes, yet they are immensely positive attributes which can go a long way in an otherwise morose and sometimes hostile world.

Many Canadian cities already have a very international and diverse makeup. Whether it’s Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal, these cities are known for their diversity. Their ability to welcome and embrace different perspectives is something very special and, I would suggest, distinctly Canadian. 



Josée Touchette is the Executive Director of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), responsible for finance and budget, human resources management, technology and information, risk management, security and infrastructure matters as well as the delivery of related management services, a position she has held since 2017. Her prior 30+ year-career in the Public Service of Canada included fourteen years as an Assistant Deputy Minister in five departments and organisations, most recently as the Chief Operating Officer at the National Energy Board (now the Canada Energy Regulator). A member of the Barreau du Québec since 1988, Josée has practiced in the areas of competition law, international law and indigenous rights. She holds an MBA from Queen’s University and is a certified management accountant (CMA/CPA Ontario).

Alain Pescador is a key member of Boyden's Social Impact Practice, with 12+ years of international experience leading not-for-profit initiatives, building thought leadership platforms, and advising politicians, NGOs, and public intellectuals. Alain’s work specializes on recruitment mandates with a global angle, working with executives and boards to instate forward-thinking leaders who strive to create a lasting impact in the world. A global citizen with roots in Canada and Mexico, he brings to his work a vast network of contacts in government, business, civil society, arts and culture, and academia.

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