Trained to lead

Article / March 12, 2020 / Project number: 20-0034

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By Lisa Nault, Army Public Affairs

Antigonish, Nova Scotia — Lieutenant Colonel Eleanor Taylor never set out to be a pioneer. What she did want as a Grade Eleven student in 1994 was to find an exciting career. And when she stumbled across a Royal Military College pamphlet in her high school guidance counsellor’s office, her path to becoming a trailblazer in the Canadian Army (CA) was set in motion.   

Her first stop was a visit to a recruiting centre, which helped steer her toward becoming an infantry officer. “I liked the idea of being on the front lines,” recalls LCol Taylor. “But I had no concept that it wasn’t something that a lot of women did.”

Once LCol Taylor was in, she was all in. “What inspired me was the people and the leadership. The sense of belonging, it was intoxicating to me. The sense that I was working toward something greater than myself and that it was hard.”

So hard in fact, LCol Taylor failed one phase of the Infantry Officer Training. If anything, this setback just inspired her to work harder. At the age of 23, LCol Taylor left on her first deployment to Kosovo as a platoon commander. 

“So once you realize that not only is it possible, but you are maybe kind of good at it, it’s really empowering,” LCol Taylor remembers, about coming into her own as an officer. 

LCol Taylor went on to serve in several different capacities throughout her exciting and challenging 25-year career. She was an aide to General Rick Hillier and she worked on Joint Task Force 2 in the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command. She deployed as a company second in command in Bosnia and her final deployment was to Afghanistan as company commander to over 120 troops with detachments. There, she was also responsible for joint and international operations with foreign partners like the U.S., British and Afghan armies – all at the age of 34.

“What I always feel about my experience in the army, or anyone’s experience in the army, is that it accelerates leadership development,” LCol Taylor reflects. “It takes leadership and confidence and it exposes you to experiences and responsibilities that are very difficult to match in the civilian sector.”

During her service, LCol Taylor was inspired by the success of other strong female leaders in the CA like, Major-General Jennie Carignan.

“She’s this highly respected army officer who happens to be a woman which makes other women recognize that they can be a highly respected Major-General commanding operations, and still be everything that it means to them to be a woman.”

Having MGen Carignan’s presence in the CA was something that LCol Taylor didn’t even know she was missing. 

“I believe most of leadership is gender-neutral, that most of leadership is about service before self, being competent, understanding where you’re going and how to help people get there with you. That is not tied to gender at all. But there is a piece of mentorship that you don’t even know you’re missing until you see it and you realize what it can offer.”

Knowing that other women in the military watch her, the same way she looks to MGen Carignan, is a great privilege and a responsibility. 

“Sometimes it feels intimidating but at the same time, I now see the value of seeing people who look like me in places where perhaps I hadn’t seen them before.”

These insights and experiences have informed her next bound, as she calls it.  LCol Taylor retired from the CA in July of 2019.

But she’s not done serving her country yet. Just six months after retiring, LCol Taylor joined the Reserve Force with 36 Canadian Brigade Group, “I still love to put the uniform on, I still feel like I have a lot to offer.”

To all other young women who find an army pamphlet and are contemplating enlisting, LCol Taylor has this to say, “It was an incredible ride and it left me with skills that I think would have been impossible to attain at the age and the rate that I attained them in any other profession. I would say go for it and enjoy every minute of it.” 

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