The following is a guest column from Jennifer Gillivan, president and CEO of the IWK Foundation.
As we all come to terms with our new reality and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives and on our businesses, I was asked to reflect and share my thoughts on leadership through this challenging time. Immediately my thoughts go to our grandparents and great grandparents who faced world wars, the Spanish Flu and the Great Depression. Think about the hardships and sacrifice they faced and overcame. I think now of my own grandson who is only two years old who will someday ask me about COVID-19 and the pandemic that gripped and forever changed the world in 2020. What will I tell him?
The enemy is unseen and so the world is now in a position where the only way out is to work together, to help each other and to combat the virus eventually with a vaccine.
The battlefield is not in the trenches. It doesn’t matter how powerful you are, how rich you are or what you believe in—this virus does not discriminate. The enemy is unseen and so the world is now in a position where the only way out is to work together, to help each other and to combat the virus eventually with a vaccine. It is easy to be a good leader when things are great but true leadership shows up in the mostly unlikely ways and through people who don’t necessarily have the title but the heart of a leader.
As the leader of a health care foundation, I am privileged to see first-hand true leadership at all levels—from the patients and families themselves to the amazing staff at the IWK Health Centre. The dedicated health care team at both the IWK and Nova Scotia Health Authority, paramedics and everyone working in essential services are truly our unsung heroes. These are the front-line people who will help win this battle and get us all to the other side. These are the people we keep squarely in our sights every day so we do what we can to make sure they have the support they need when they need it most.
We are starting to hear stories of individuals who are stepping up and leading the way, putting others before themselves, and doing what is right to help others. People who waived the rent for their tenants, neighbours who are stepping up for the elderly in their neighbourhood, children who are finding creative and useful ways to help others. What can we do both as leaders of our own organizations and as neighbours?
…none of us will ever be the same. What I do know is you can’t often control what happens to you but you can control how you react.
I honestly believe that the world will be forever changed when we come out of this challenge. Some of us will get sick and some of us may even lose someone close to us. But one thing is for certain: none of us will ever be the same. What I do know is you can’t often control what happens to you but you can control how you react. As hard and difficult as this is at this time, I am determined to get my family and my team through this crisis. Wherever I can help my community I will. Reminding myself every day of what I am grateful for grounds me.
Over the past month I had the advantage of both connecting with my colleagues across Canada and learning and listening to them about the spread of the virus. As well, I have family in Ireland and through that connection I was able to truly understand how serious this crisis was and the upcoming impacts ahead for us.
This knowledge provided me the time to strategically mobilize my team at the IWK Foundation. We were able to implement our business continuity plan, use our risk assessment tools, utilize the training that we have learned and practiced with Symplicity Designs and prepare to work remotely not for two weeks but for several months, if needed. My primary focus was the health and safety of my team and then continuing the business. The IWK Health Centre relies on the Foundation to help fund their urgent priority needs and we need to do everything in our power to be there for them when they are going to need us most.
It is essential to provide routine, structure, purpose and goals during a time like this.
I have the honour of working with one of the best teams in the business and a very committed Board of Trustees. Although working remotely, the team continues to meet virtually every day and our leadership team is meeting weekly. It is essential to provide routine, structure, purpose and goals during a time like this. I also continue to monitor the health and well-being of the team and their families.
We are connecting with and supporting all the donors and companies who have supported us. They have always been there for us and now is the time for us to be there for them. We are also using this time to do the many tasks and jobs we never seem to have time to do; including the creation of new and innovative programs to help us lift off when we come out of this pandemic.
As a leader I truly believe you have to model the behavior you want to see in your team. Being calm, organized and optimistic in the face of great challenge is very important and continues to be my attitude. There are many unknowns ahead of us but what I know won’t change is the need to look after our sick children and women at the IWK. So as long as that need is there, we owe it to every child, every young person and woman to work as hard as we can to support their care and the teams who care for them.
Will we do business differently when all of this is over? I would say yes and as a leader I am determined to not only survive this pandemic but to get to the other side with battle scars for sure. Losses will happen but we can also learn lessons, find new ideas and see possibilities. When everything is at risk you have a choice and the choice we are taking is to get through this crisis, find the way forward and grow as individuals and as a team.