Listen to Moments Move Us Season 2 Episode 9: Leading with Vulnerability with Sylvain Trepanier
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New Podcast Episode: Leading with Vulnerability with Sylvain Trepanier
What You’ll Learn:
When you imagine a leader, you might think of someone with authority, confidence, and strength. These qualities have their place, but true leadership means forging connections with others, which is impossible without some level of vulnerability.
Providence’s SVP, System Chief Nursing Officer, Sylvain Trepanier has been building a safe culture that invites diversity of thought and elevates every team member. Can you guess one of the cornerstones of his leadership style? Vulnerability.
In this episode, Sylvain reflects on how leading with vulnerability has helped him foster diversity of thought, remain present in tough times, and build relationships in healthcare.
Themes: Vulnerability, mental health, nursing shortage, nurse retention, mindfulness
“I am inspired by nature and nature fills me up in a way that I get re-energized. I get inspired by it. It allows me to be completely connected to who I really am. I think it’s probably the best way that I can explain it. I just think of one posting that I did recently that everyone is different. We talk a lot about how you and I look different. We don’t, I think, talk enough about the fact that you and I don’t think the same way. And it’s very important that we realize that whether you are a leader or not, in order to really fully see others and that for others to see you as who you are, you kind of have to understand that we are all very different. And for that one, I chose different starfish that were like different colors and different sizes.”
“One way that I believe anyone can invite other perspective in the conversation is by being very deliberate in calling it out. A small example, I was just on a call at the end of last week, and I’m always troubled and I always take a pause whenever we have a discussion and everyone is on the same page—or worse, no one’s talking. I always stop when that happens, I call it out. I go, ‘Silence is just not an option, because I’m not going to assume that all of you agree, because I know that some of you may not, and I want you to know that it’s okay. I want to hear from you,’ and then I just start calling on people. Now, sometimes I may not necessarily call on the right people, and the more we get to know each other, the more I might be able to identify folks who may not necessarily think like the same way that I just articulated it, and I know they might have a different opinion, or they might want to approach this differently. And I invite them by calling them out and say, ‘I want to hear from you.’ And then once I hear that, maybe we’re all in the same train, and I’m going to reiterate one more time, ‘There has to be somebody on the call that feels differently. There has to be somebody in this room that doesn’t agree with this, and I want you to know that I’m okay with it. I want to hear about it.’ I think that is one simple way to ensure that you invite all differences to come to the table.”
“I was chatting with a group of thirty [to forty] aspiring nurse leaders, and we were talking about vulnerability. I don’t remember exactly how I got to this point, but somehow, somewhere in the moment, I’m finding myself sharing with them that I once had a panic attack in an airplane. And as I say this out loud, I’m realizing, I’m actually admitting, right here and now, that I’ve had my moments, and yes, it does impact me as well. And there was part of me that thought, ‘Gee, maybe Syl that’s a little too much. It’s a little too personal.’ But quite frankly, the reason why I was thinking this way was really because I was judging me. That, all of a sudden, I was admitting that—I mean, a panic attack is an anxiety disorder. It is what it is. So yeah, in the moment, I was not sure that I should have done it. But hindsight 20/20, I realized that I did it as much for them as I did it for me. That’s often what happens, right?
In the conversation, I don’t remember all the details, but part of the reason why we got there was around stress and the impact of stress. And when you don’t really care for yourself as much as you need to, that you don’t know what path this can take you on. And for me, at that time in my life, I just was not recognizing how much stress I was under. And you know, My God, Syl’s been able to do this and that, and whatever, and never had any issue, and I can take it on, I’m strong. Yeah, and? Like everybody else, there is so much that one can manage. And the conversation we had after that was, then more people opened up. More people realized how close they were themselves to [being] on the edge—and how it’s important for them to recognize that, to call it out for themselves, so that they don’t have the panic attack at 30,000 foot in the air. It was a really good conversation. You and I could have conversations with aspiring leaders about the importance of self-care and all of that, but it can be very academic, and we took the conversation out of that and made it real, and it was powerful.”
“There’s always an audience of one. If I find myself in a group setting, it really doesn’t matter the size of the organization, the size of the meeting. I’ll make a point of connecting, looking at you, seeing you. I’ll make a point that someone’s going to see me in that audience, and I think […] maybe the secret sauce is by being fully present in the moment. We say being present is important. And there’s your physical presence—I’m here, right now. Human beings have this uncanny capability of being physically present and emotionally or psychologically absent, and no one [might] know that. So being fully present, meaning physically, psychologically, and also understanding the circumstances that either I find myself in and then the audience finds themselves in. That’s the beginning of the secret sauce right there.
There is one thing that I do that I know is very much appreciated. It’s a trick that I learned a few years ago. When I enter a group or a conversation, if there’s a clear elephant in that room, I’ll be the first one to call [out] the elephant in the room. I think that as a leader, when you come in and you acknowledge the issues and you don’t hide behind them—I know it sounds cliché, it sounds easy, but it’s also much easier to figure out a speech or a conversation so that you don’t get to it. I’m the other way around. I will literally go right for it and call it out. I think that is also one way, and that’s a little bit of that secret sauce as well, so that people feel that I’m connected with their reality, like I understand what their reality is. Let’s face it, in my role, it could be very easy for me to be completely disconnected to what’s going on at the bedside. So, to that end, I choose to be in our ministries and visit and chat with people and look around and experience what others are experiencing. And I get like a fraction, a nanosecond of what they live every day, but I make sure that I call out what I see so that they can share with me whether I’m on the same planet as they are.”
“Trust needs to be present right in this space in order for people to feel comfortable.”
“Every time I have an opportunity to show vulnerability, I show it as much as I can, and even to a point where I understand that it makes some people uncomfortable—but there’s more to gain out of being vulnerable than not.”
“A lot of it has to do with how one chooses to see life. I am constantly reminded that there is so much good in the world, and I’m very grateful for that. Instead of focusing on what’s bad, it’s also important to see what’s good.”
“One of the many lessons that life gives you as you get older is you also learn to let go of certain things. You also learn that it’s okay not to control everything. In fact, it’s cool not to control everything. So, there’s a little bit of that too, that you have to figure out a way to recognize wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, that there are certain things that are just simply out of your control, and you have to be okay with that.
And you have to be okay with being comfortable, being uncomfortable. If there is one thing that this world pandemic has taught me is how to be more comfortable being uncomfortable. If I’m a practicing nurse in an environment where I feel like everyone else is controlling everything, and I can’t control anything, and I’m not happy about the situation, I would encourage that nurse to figure out that there is something that we control. There is always something that we control. What is that? So that you can latch onto this, because in the moment, that’s really what’s needed.”
“I’m also reminded of one of the many definitions of mindfulness, which is [that] really nothing lasts forever. Nothing lasts forever. If anyone out there is listening to us and has, like me, had a panic attack once in their life, whatever that looked like for you. One of the best things that one can latch onto is knowing that although in the moment it feels like it will never end, here’s the coolest thing: it does end.
From my experience, I’ve noticed nothing lasts forever. It’s a pressure relief valve of sorts to remind yourself, that when you find yourself in the moment where it doesn’t feel good, you don’t really like it, just know that it is going to end. But at the same time, it does happen for the good moments too. So, what does that mean? That means that then you really need to embrace it while you’re living it.”
“Unless we chat, unless we show curiosity for one another, unless we respect one another’s perspective, we’re not going to get to a viable solution.”
“I see an amazing opportunity for us to further demonstrate one, our value proposition, but as equally important is an opportunity for us to recreate, redefine is the importance of nursing services in any equation. I think about where we are right now. It doesn’t matter who you quote and what you read, it all leads to the same thing, and it’s not a rosy picture. By 2025, some will quote you that in the United States alone will be 2.5 million nurses short. By 2030, the International Council of Nursing offered a thirteen million nurse [shortage] worldwide. All of that to say that it doesn’t matter how good we are at hiring people, it doesn’t matter how good we are at retaining people; we will never have enough nurses if we keep on doing things the way we’ve always done them. That actually excites me. This is an amazing opportunity for us to write the textbooks that are going to be read by the generation after on how we stood up and identified ways at which we responded to the signs of the times. I say responding to the signs of the times.
For me, being a nurse, doesn’t matter what I do as a nurse. This is it for me. This is my moment. This is the moment where I have an opportunity to inspire others. To think that we should be doing things differently, to work differently, to really create an environment and an expectation so that nurses find joy in their practice. Making sure that we ask nurses to do what they are trained and educated and are passionate about. Give up all the stuff that can be done by somebody else—delegate. Let’s elevate somebody else’s practice so we can elevate now. All boats will rise by us blowing this up. Let’s blow it up and let’s create something that we know together that nurses are going to be excited to do and they can leverage and everybody else around is going to be as equally excited.”
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