• Leading in the Trenches – Leadership Lessons from Lynda Foley



    Leadership has become an increasingly hot topic in the last decade.  There is no shortage of books espousing the next best leadership lessons to help you manage and lead your people more effectively.  I thought it would be helpful to hear some leadership lessons from someone who has been in leadership for 30+ years.  Someone who is leading in one of the most complex organizational systems I have ever worked in – healthcare – and find out, from her perspective, what’s worked well and the challenges she has faced. Perhaps you may even take away a few gems to use in your practice of leadership.

    Leadership Lessons from Lynda Foley

    Lynda Foley is one of the most inspirational and seasoned leaders with whom I have had the good fortune to work with.  I have personally learned from her leadership style and feel honoured to have had the opportunity to partner with her for four years, supporting her, her senior leadership team, and the Home Health portfolio she led.

    Lynda Foley’s Bio

    Lynda possesses 30+ years of management and leadership experience in the healthcare field.  She joined Interior Health in 2013 as Executive Director of Acute Services for their 11 hospitals. Prior to that, Lynda was the Executive Director of Home Health, End of Life, PATH (Transitional Care Unit), and Delta Hospital at Fraser Health Authority for four years, and had been in healthcare leadership roles with Vancouver Island Health Authority and in Alberta for 29 years.

    Lynda is a graduate of the University of Calgary with a Master’s Degree in Nursing, as well as a major in Organizational Leadership.  Lynda has always been keenly interested in promoting her learning and research in the area of leadership in complex healthcare systems.

    An Interview with Lynda Foley

    I spent 90 minutes on the phone with Lynda to gather this valuable information on her view and experience of leadership. Let’s find out what leadership lessons she has to share with us!

    Erica Groschler: How would you describe your view on effective leadership?  What’s contributed to this perspective? 

    Lynda Foley: 

    On Lifelong Learning: For me, leaders today have to remain lifelong learners – there is no saying “you have arrived”.  You have to be passionate about your beliefs and interests and recognize that leadership is a journey.  I spend a great deal reading articles and blogs regularly, seeking every day ah ha moments.

    On Adaptive Leadership: My perspective is that you have to have confidence in your ability to be immune to ambiguity – you can (and will!) get thrown a curve ball every day. Flexibility is important, not everything can be planned. Last week we had three natural disasters: forest fires, a gas outage, and an electrical storm leading to a major power outage in our hospitals. I had to think on my feet and direct my team.  I think that currently with the government forcing new regulations and the ongoing dealings with our unions, we have to be able to adapt and find new ways to reach our goals. When needed, I reset my course to align with our vision, so I can stay focused on where we are headed and help my team reach their goals.

    On Teamwork: It is important that my team work as a team; teamwork is critical to success.  There is no “I”, WE set the goals toward the vision. If my team is successful, I am successful and my boss is successful – it’s as simple as that.

    On Communication: Effective leaders are good communicators. I work hard to have my thoughts organized so I can communicate my message.  I work intentionally at this, especially when I am under stress so that I don’t get overly excited.  I plan my thoughts out and communicate to my team – I can’t overemphasize how important communication is. Emotional intelligence is wrapped up in your communication, along with your interpersonal and critical thinking skills. Learning to master skills these makes for effective leadership. In addition, communication helps to empower the team to define the goals and work with a lot of leash. I believe no one likes to be micromanaged.

    On Loyalty and Passion: I believe great leaders generate intense personal, professional and organizational loyalty – if the value fit is there.  I have 38 years in the healthcare trenches; I am very loyal to the industry and I am loyal to my profession and to healthcare in general.  You can’t work in an organization and not have that passion. So it’s about that passion, and you invest yourself to gain the personal proficiency in your trade.

    On Lateral and Vertical Leadership: Building capacity in an organization is key to creating effective leadership. A nurse may say to me that they are not interested in management, but they could be a great leader at the bedside – traits you need across the organization. So, pay attention to leadership at all levels (lateral leadership) as well as vertical leadership.  It’s a whole intersection and it’s beautiful when you start to see it happen.

    Erica Groschler: What is an example of a great leadership moment you witnessed or have had the opportunity to be a part of? 

    Lynda Foley: 

    A great moment starts when those around me understand the direction we are heading towards. I remember when we started discussing a big organizational change I was leading and we were formulating the future state. I was getting excited as the connections were being made and we were painting the future.  If you can get the vision out there for people, there are a lot of ways to realize a vision; many hands can be involved to get to the future vision.  I always get excited when my team understands and get on board with the vision. I am a great starter and I love when all the pieces come together and the vision is coming to fruition and people jump on board. I love watching my team connecting the dots and experience how they begin to integrate the other work we are doing. This is what jazzes and excites me.   These are the moments for me – creating, defining, delivering and meeting the mark….making it come to life.

    Erica Groschler: What is a leadership challenge you are most proud of having overcome?

    Lynda Foley: 

    Challenges can be an advantage. I had one change I was leading and my vision was not to just integrate the change within our own portfolio, but I was looking at how to do it across sectors – between Community and Acute.  The challenge was to encourage working in a collegial and collaborative fashion to develop a model that would be seamless for the patient. There were so many patient stories we heard – about having to come into Acute care and even if the care was good in the hospital, we never looked at the whole system in terms of how to mitigate our patients’ healthcare concerns.  Even though there is much talk in healthcare about integration, it’s not happening across the continuum of care.  This was a big ah-ha moment and source of many leadership lessons! We dialogued about the patient experience and we were able to shift everything – including the physicians’ perspective and their thinking about the value of community (rather than just hospital care).   We overcame the challenge by speaking different languages and by breaking down our silos.  We created a service delivery model that was different because our mental maps were all different, and by having all the programs involved, we didn’t have to retrofit it into purely the Acute setting.  I was scared to lead this as it was something that had never been done and yet, by involving cross-sector representation, we accomplished it and we won Fraser Health’s Above & Beyond award for this initiative.

    Erica Groschler: What message would you like to impart to other leaders from your own leadership lessons learned over the years?

    Lynda Foley: 

    Here are some of my top tips…

    • Great leaders have to make things happen – they have to be action oriented.
    • If you make a promise, you better be able to fulfill it because how you show up matters; it’s integral to your reputation. Your reputation is a big deal as a leader.
    • You must have the courage to stand alone. Leaders have to have that tenacity and energy – you can’t succumb to pressures when you believe it’s the right thing.
    • If you have a value set, you have to stay true to you.
    • Be humble and be present.  There is an art to this. You have to be able to get in the trenches and do “management by walking around”. Be present! I travel a lot; I go out to field all the time and make it a priority to meet my staff, do safety walkarounds, have a presence. I am showing up and modeling it.
    • Be responsible. In my industry, that means being responsible to the public purse – to the patients and the staff who work for us, and then making sure we’re being honest and acting with integrity.  If you say something you have to deliver, that’s integrity.
    • If you are wrong, admit it and own it. 
    • Show up! People I work with get that I am not perfect. I may not know everything, but I can help you find it and will work with you to realize your goal; My job is to help it come to fruition and help you be successful.

    My Final Thoughts…

    What I appreciated most about the interview with Lynda was how she summarized her great leadership beliefs, how she behaves as a leader, and how this cascades into building high-performing teams. I also have always appreciated Lynda’s authentic ways and her willingness to be vulnerable, even in this interview. I hope you’ve learned some valuable leadership lessons!

    Labelled Tinkerbell and Mighty Mouse by colleagues and clients, Erica Groschler is a culture catalyst and leadership mentor. She engages teams, supports them through change and empowers them to be at their best.  Connect with Erica on Twitter, the Incrementa website, or her personal site.

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