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:
It really does change an interaction when you can be present with someone. It does make the moments matter.
For years the healthcare industry has been dollars-focused and business-minded. Cassandra Crowe-Jackson, Chief Experience Officer at Sharp HealthCare, says the silver lining of the pandemic is the shift in perspective and taking a people-first approach in patient and employee experience.
In this episode, Cassandra shares her strategies for making people feel seen and how it allows her to lift up others. Listen to learn ways to make your team members feel valued and create something powerful, together.
What To Listen For: Connection, Gratitude, Transparency
Rebecca: Dr. Mehta has a number of actionable strategies that she uses to help her connect and support her teams. But first, let’s hear how a quilt inspires her to be fully present in every patient encounter.
My story, in this world of human connection, began with a blanket. This story is about five to six years back when there was an elderly patient, unfortunately, grappling with cancer. His elderly wife was the only support system he had. They were admitted to the hospital. I was the one taking care of them, and I would spend that extra few minutes here and there to connect with somebody to talk about their day, some non-medical way to connect with them.
They were in the hospital for about seven days, and then they went back home. Unfortunately, after a couple of weeks, they had to come back to the hospital, and they requested me. They were like, “We want Dr. Mehta, is she still on? Can we make sure that she’s the one who takes care of us?” I was obviously honored at that they wanted me to take care of them, and the wife had a quilt. She stitched a quilt in the period that she was home taking care of her husband, to thank me. Beautiful. I still have it to this day, and she was saying, “Please keep doing what you’re doing, Dr. Mehta, you matter, what you did matter, and we will never forget you.” That was my a-ha moment. I was doing my clinical care. I’m seeing 20 patients a day. Somehow there was a way, there was a magic that was happening in those patients’ rooms where I was able to connect. And I got a sense that I have a little bit of a bigger calling to impact more lives. And, humbly, I submitted to that and took on the role of patient experience improvement and human connection.
Rebecca: That is so beautiful. I feel now, people are asking themselves, like, “What is in this for me?” The work has gotten so much harder. The patients are sicker. How do people keep coming back to the well when you have people on your team that are struggling? What are some techniques or what are some things that you tell them to do? Or, how do you inspire them when it gets really hard?
I feel what’s happening in healthcare, and in our society in general, with burnout, that’s the second pandemic. It is all on the leaders. We cannot expect frontline nurses, CNA staff, physicians, providers, to do this on their own. We’ve been heroes for too long. Now we need our hospital leaders to come in, step in, and really be curious. Do not assume your team wants that pizza, or just one or two breaks. What do they really need to make their shift better? What tools do they need? Don’t assume. And really provide them with the tools.
The second for me is: be compassionate. Your team is going to make mistakes. And for us, we have to have a safe space to be able to say, “Okay, this is what I’m struggling with, I want to talk to you about it.”
So that’s the second C for me. The first is curiosity. Third is we really need to be clear. We need to, as leaders, set clear goals. We cannot tell our nurses and physicians, “you’ve got X amount of patients, and by the way, we don’t have PPE. And by the way, there’s no vents. And by the way, I want you to come again tomorrow and do a shift.” So, be clear what you can do and what you cannot do, and message clearly.
The most important C for me is to celebrate. To celebrate and congratulate them in a very consistent manner. We think, “Oh, you just say ‘good job.’” It’s intuitive to do a good job, so that’s fine. As leaders, we have to be intentional in celebrating and recognizing our staff. And be consistent with all of this by being curious, being candid, being compassionate, but being consistent. You cannot just do it because it’s the flavor of the month right now and then three months later, everything fizzles down. So, as leaders, the call of action is to follow all of these Cs.
Rebecca: Right now, people are talking a lot about the parallel pandemic of this sort of “Great Attrition” that’s happening. What would you say to a physician who is thinking, “Maybe I shouldn’t even stay in this work anymore?” And, what do you think about when you think of how to attract and retain the right people?
I feel very fortunate where I work, in Vituity, in that, we have sabbaticals. So, for a physician, for a nurse who is burned out, who’s been doing this for so, so many years, it is up to the leaders, I feel, to give the space. So, for folks who are burnt out, you have to do what’s best for you, right? So, it would be wrong for me to say, “no, no, no, everything’s going to be rosy. Everything’s going to be great. Please stay.” But at the same time, if you stay, if you allow the leaders to now take care of you who are now waking up and saying, “yes, employee experience is as important as any other experience,” if you just give a second chance to healthcare I promise you the compassion you have for the patients, the noble cause, why you joined medicine, is still needed, is still there. So, “you are critically important” is what I would say to them. Take the time for yourself. So, if there’s a sabbatical time, if there’s a PTO, take it now. Advocate for the tools you need. Advocate for the time that you need to really fill your own cup before you can pour it to the patients.
Rebecca: Taking the time to recharge is something that I think so many of us struggle with. And I think it actually filters down even to taking a few minutes in the course of a day to pause. How do you manage that, Swati? Because I know you’re a practitioner, you’re a leader. How do you balance?
The things that I routinely do, before every patient encounter, before knocking on the door to see an admission at night or anything like that, I take four deep breaths. It may seem silly and simple, but it’s the first thing I do because I feel there’s a little bit of a baggage from my encounters before, some bad news I gave, some sad news I gave, something that, you know, so much stuff I have to do, but that patient in front of me, who I haven’t seen yet, who I haven’t met yet doesn’t deserve that. Doesn’t deserve that baggage. The second is a little bit funny for me but is that I talk to nature. I go for walks. And if there’s a bird on a tree, or if there’s a snail or a creepy crawly next to me, or an ant who’s busy building something I appreciate them. Because it’s not just necessarily appreciating your team, or appreciating your children, or your family and your connections, but it’s appreciating mother earth and saying, “thank you for letting me have this fresh air.”
Having survived COVID and this pandemic, I feel just connecting with the nature around you for a small walk, a small, short, quick walk, it could be 15 minutes before lunch or something that you do, and really connecting with, looking at the clouds, the sun, the air, everything.
Rebecca: I love it. And thank you for your vulnerability because, you know, I think it’s hard sometimes to share some of the, maybe more unique or quirky things that some of us do, but in those quirky things, do you think about vulnerability?
I believe it’s a strength. I believe that leaders who do not show vulnerability, honestly, will have a team which we will be silent, and will not be able to share their vulnerabilities. So, you have to truly lead by example. I’ve always believed that being vulnerable makes that other person believe you, that there’s authenticity in you, that you are human, and you’re not just asking them to move the needle on some data. This is the person who has walked the walk. And I have always found value in showing that aspect of me to my team, and my patients, for sure.
I have countless scenarios where I have talked to my patients about my kids or my parents who are back in India and I can’t visit them. For example, just last night I saw a patient and he, unfortunately, due to the sickness of dementia was not able to talk to me, but their daughter was there. And I just told the daughter, “thank you so much for taking care of your dad. I wish I could be there for my dad who’s back home in India” and I could see tears in the daughter’s eyes because she works so hard and just being vulnerable and talking about my own dad, and just thanking her, I felt was a huge connector for us. Finding those moments to connect is so critical and not being mixed up with just the clinical work, because our care is so much more important than just medical care that we give.
Rebecca: Absolutely. Is there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners before we transition to the last part of our conversation?
I think my call to action, my request, is, do an act of kindness and be brave. Take those chances.
Rebecca: I think we all can take that in, and execute and think of you, Swati.
One of the things that I think is really tough right now is for leaders to be able to take a pause, and when they’re with a team member to really be curious, be present. How do we get them to kind of pause?
To really be able to walk the walk I feel there are a couple of things that I have done that I felt were successful. One is, do a hybrid of virtual versus face-to-face. In a sense for me, it was go to the shift when that night shift provider’s doing a graveyard shift. When has the hospital leader actually walked in at 9:00 PM and said, “Hey, how’s your shift going?” Call in if you can. Yes, I know as leaders we are busy as well, but carve-in the timeblock in Outlook to say, at least once a month I’m having a check-in. It could be a 15 minute check-in, it doesn’t have to be an hour, and be curious about, what are the tools you need? And what one non-medical, non-professional thing you want to know about your team member to really connect with them? Do you know their wife’s name? What is the next big occasion in their lives?
If you do that 15 minute connection, I think that’s much more important than thinking, “I am too busy.” And also, for us leaders, how about we share and do this with our managers, and they do it with their direct reports, right? So, kind of the trickle-down effect of leadership. The culture begins from the top. And that’s why I feel, get the momentum going and having 15 minutes of connection.
When you talk about celebrating and congratulating teams, what are some meaningful, impactful ways that you’ve seen that go well so that team members can accept it and they can feel your authenticity?
The most important thing in my mind, if we can do anything, is real-time. It has to be a real-time celebration, when that moment happens. So, for example, we do leader rounding in our hospital. As a leader, you go into a patient’s room, ask them how they’re doing, not necessarily talk about the clinical stuff, but ask, “How has your experience been? Is there anyone you want to recognize?” And as, and when, they call out that nurse, they call out the CNA, or the cleaner who gave them that extra pillow, we as leaders, it is on us to go back to the leader of that team and tell them, “Hey, that physician, that nurse, that CNA did an exceptional job. This is the patient who said it.” So, in real-time, leader to leader, if that trickle down happens, morale and culture improves.
Second, obviously we are not able to touch a lot of patient so how do we make this into, for example, what you do at Wambi? I love it, Rebecca. The fact that we get that gratitude going in a way that the patients, just before discharge, or in real-time, when they really think about, “let me recognize this staff,” they write it down and our staff feels really appreciated. So, you know, using technology, doing the old school one-to-one leader rounding, and when it comes from peers as well. So, have peers recognize peers, and you are just in the backseat as the leader. Because, you know, you might sign the certificate of, “hey, you did a great job”, but at the same time, “Who nominated me? who thinks I’m doing good.” That curiosity between nurses, physicians, and all, really is a juice that makes us thrive. So that’s what I feel the three-prong approach is: do leader rounding, walk the walk, do real-time feedback, use technology to really get the gratitude juices flowing, and always, always try and see what peer recognition could look like.
Absolutely. And you know, one of the things that is critical is the specificity of it. Being able to tell a story, to identify a moment, and like you said, sometimes it’s things that aren’t mind-boggling. Sometimes it’s something really small, like someone brought you an extra pillow, or that environmental services worker who really goes above and beyond for your family when they’re visiting and they need an extra box of issues.
I know of a couple of examples. There was a nurse who was so good at tucking in her patients all the time. Always making sure their nice, tucked, warm, and that mattered to the patients”. A small thing, like spending that extra minute to be like, “How are you doing? Are you warm? Are you cold? Are you fine? Are you comfortable?”
And then there was another physician in the emergency department who took off his own shoes and gave them to a patient who was, unfortunately, homeless, and then walked around in slippers for the rest of his shift. And this is happening. This is actually happening. It needs to be recognized. So, recognition, like you mentioned, cannot be non-specific and hollow. If there’s a story tied to it, if there’s a concreteness tied to it, it is so much more meaningful, and improves the wellness of our team.
Wow, that is so powerful. And there are so many experiences like that, that happen every second in a health setting. I think our jobs sometimes are trying to illuminate those stories so that they become the everyday and the talked-about versus the one-offs.
Absolutely. And the point is also, that when you have gratitude, when you really are intentional about the recognition, then when there is some constructive feedback that you give, it’s taken much better. It’s followed through better, versus when you feel like, “All I hear from leaders is negative, ‘Do this more. Get the red metrics to green.’”
Can you tell us something about yourself that most of your work family doesn’t know?
I sing the funniest, most ridiculous songs to my kids when I’m feeding them. So, I become a comedian, and I become an opera singer. And gosh, if my team would hear this right now! Haha!
Haha! Is the content usually about getting them to eat or is it about other things?
I make a medley of all their songs from Cocomelon and all of that stuff, and then I make it my own. I add my own words and I personalize it. So, I would like to trademark them for sure.
If you weren’t in the role you are now, and you could do anything in your career, what would it be?
I think I would be a chef because I like to nurture. And I think nurturing with food is one of the biggest things someone can do, you know, ask you anyone who really cooks a good meal for you. And it just feels that that really brings love to the table, literally. And that’s kind of what I would love to do.
Is there any particular type of cuisine that you would want to specialize in?
I always, always like the fusion of Indian and Mexican together, and I want to open that restaurant. Let’s see if that happens in this lifetime or the other.
That sounds unbelievably delicious. Those are two of my favorite cuisines. Final question: if there was one skill that you could be exceptionally great at, what would it be?
Honestly, teleport. Anytime. I want to be able to go to India and back without a 20-hour flight, and just travel. That’s one thing I’ve really missed in the pandemic, incredibly. So if that was a skill, yeah, forget the planes, teleport here I come!
Explore transformative stories from healthcare executives as they share impactful moments of human connection from their professional journeys.