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A Coaching Transformation

How Sanjay Gomes learned that leadership is often about giving up control and cheering on the team.


Sanjay Gomes doesn’t consider himself a coach. “It’s not something that comes naturally to me,” says the Calgary-based Vice President for North American Operations at Compass Group, a support services company that serves major construction and resource development firms.

Over the course of several years, Sanjay successfully rose to the executive ranks at Compass Group with his exceptional talent for managing operations. Because his success had been driven by his technical skills, he had always assumed that having the right answer was the most important part of being a leader. Things changed for him after taking the Queen’s Executive Education programs at Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.

“I did a 360-degree turn in giving up control that I never really had in the first place,” says Sanjay, who, having reflected on leadership and strategy at Smith, embraced the value of an inclusive and collaborative decision-making approach and started having more meetings with his team. “I am far better as a leader if I have engagement from all members of my team…a transformational leader has the humility to accept that you don’t have all the answers, and understands that a group approach is far better than an individual approach,” he adds.

Sanjay credits his change in leadership style with increased success in a challenging business market. With the new culture of inclusion and team empowerment, Compass Group’s ESS North America team was able to predict market changes ahead of its rivals. Sanjay’s team identified areas where it needed to improve, particularly in delivering safety, guest experience, food service and client value. The company also drove towards being a low-cost producer (part of Sanjay’s “aha” moment from taking the Strategy Program at Smith), and invested in its people, processes and technology.

When major market turmoil hit the oil, gas, mining and military sectors, Compass Group continued to win new clients and grow its portfolio at a time when rivals were simply trying to stay afloat.

“That is a direct result of forming a stronger team bond,” says Sanjay. “I’m one of many leaders within the group who evolved our styles from ‘we know best’ to inclusion.”

But success doesn’t come without giving something up. For Sanjay, raising a high-performing team means letting go of ego, and shedding the old notion that passing over colleagues and having the right technical skills to deliver tangible results are the most critical factors in achieving success.

“It’s not the charismatic leader over the long term that ends up with the best share price or market value,” says Sanjay. “It’s the humble leaders who make it all about their people.”

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Vice President, North American Operations, Compass Group – ESS North America

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