Breaking the Glass Ceiling

So, welcome to Women Who Lead, a program about uncovering the secrets often not spoken about that can tell us as women the journey that we have and becoming leaders around the world. For most of us who are in leadership positions, we’ve got a lot war rooms and there are many who want to lead and even greater ways and aren’t looking for answers as to how we can find those pathways. Often pathways that has been blocked to us for a century… So, my guest are the ones who have made it to those furious destinations, CEO positions and have obviously learned a great deal in their journey there.

Today I want to welcome a wonderful woman, her name is Chris Power. I knew her as the CEO of the Capital Health District, a large institution in Nova Scotia. She had to deal very strategically with the budget of just around 900 million and 12 thousand employees. She is now the CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute in Ottawa, Canada’s capital. And I just want to say Chris before we begin; your effort in reaching these positions of influence has been well recognized. Chris for many years has been acknowledged as one of “Canada’s top 100 most powerful women” so much so that she was inducted into the hall of fame for the organization. She also has been recognized consistently as one of the top 50 CEOs in Atlantic Canada and as well has been inducted into their hall of fame. There are many other accolades and awards that Chris has been a part of, but I think we’re all more interested in finding out what Chris’s secret to success has been achieved made her way to this great achievement.

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Lesley:  So, welcome Chris Power to this show “women who lead.”


Chris:     Thanks Lesley. It’s wonderful to be here.


Lesley:  You know, Chris, you’ve navigated from the bedside as a nurse to top positions in the healthcare field. And I’m really curious when you start it out in that nursing position, did you have your site the type of goals and achievements that you have reached at this point in your life?


Chris:     You know, Lesley, it’s funny so many people ask me that and when I mentor young students or young people all the time they tell me that they have a game plan, they’ve got an end-game and they’ll always say, “I want your job.” But you know, when I started I never did, I just wanted to be the best at what I was doing, and so I started off as a nurse. But thinking I wanted to be at position at some point in time, but because my husband and I decided to get married very early in life, I said, “I’ll become a nurse and then I’ll be able to work evenings and weekends and go to med school.” But once I started as a nurse I just loved it, and I thought, “I’m not going to keep on doing this for a while.” And I never…that my sight on being a CEO but I just…you know, I was raised by my parents who always said, “You’ve got to be the best at what you can be.” This isn’t about outdoing other people, this is about outdoing yourself. And so always strive to be the best and so I did. And one of those people who get bored quickly at what I’m doing is I always needed to change things up, so I would always set up my hands, always cheer for things, want to do things in that. I think in retrospect made me standout of this from others, so I was recently tapped on the shoulder to take on more progressive responsibilities and jobs as I went. And again, never really thought about being a CEO, just thought about loved what I was doing always made it fun, always made it interesting, always asks for more, and it just kept helping me progress through jobs and through life.

Lesley:  Well, you know, I think one of things that women who are listening are curious about is how you made it between the levels of middle management to the CEO. And statistics are horrendous, I think, that you know that we have more educated women than ever before. Our middle level management is actually filled of over 50 percent by women, well educated women. And yet, you reached to the CEO position and fall to a 4 percent factor of women in chief operating, chief executive officers. So, what do you think is required to get beyond that turtle which seems to be facing so many women?


Chris:     Well, you know, it was interesting for me because when I got to be a vice president which was really difficult journey because it’s healthcare off. And if there is a pecking order and you’ll continue to rise through there but often you get there and that kind of hit. And so, it’s lot would just have it for me, I think I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve been ready because I stayed ready through education and always staying a step ahead. I applied for the CEO job of our organization when there’s CEO left, and the board had asked me apply so I did. And I didn’t get the job, first job I was never successful at getting and so that was a blow but I didn’t get it. And when I asked the board chair for feedback why I didn’t, I said, “Okay I didn’t but tell me why so I can prepare next time.” Because once you make that decision that you want to move to the next level, you really kind to get that in your butt. And so, his response to me made me curious at the time but really changed my life. Because he said to me, “Well, Chris, you’re a nurse and you’re always going to be a nurse. And you’re a really good nurse and we need you to continue to do the kinds of things you’re doing but you’re never going to be a CEO.” And I thought I was so angry at him, but after I let that sit with me for a while, I thought, “Well, if this is how people experience me here, then I need to go away, I need to have a different experience. I need to get where people go to know me and start to really learn what it takes to be a CEO.” So, even though it was so difficult for me to hear, it was something that propelled me, so I did. I started as… And again I thought would have it, I called a couple of times for a few different jobs around the county and I chose the vice president job or they chose…we chose each other. I think it’s how it went, it’s really in Ontario. And I moved my family, and my husband came and one of my children. I just decided and I told the CEO, “I want to be a CEO. This is the first time I really wanted to be. So, I’m going to attach myself to your hips and I need you to be a mentor for me. That’s part of my deal coming here.” And he said to me, “It’s a deal because I need to have a successor and so that’s why I’m hiring you.” So it was wonderful. Like for three years I worked and learned from him, learned what to do and what not to do which is just as important. And after three years in Nova Scotia the organization I left, the CEO left and they called me. And it’s interesting in Nova Scotia often you have to go away to come back and that was the case for me, and when I came back I was a different person. I had learned many, many different things; I’ve been exposed to different things, so my whole career has been in Nova Scotia. So this advice I give to many young men and women to say, if you have an opportunity go away and breathe different air then do it, because it is so instructed and so helpful for your career to really help you to grow in a way that… I thought I was in everything, I thought I was worldly; I thought I knew it but I didn’t.


Lesley:  So, going away becomes really important. But what I’m really interested and also in is the type of stereotypes that you were given as the feedback as to why you couldn’t become the CEO. What do you think is inside of that stereotype? Woman, nursing, therefore you can’t be a CEO? What’s in there?


Chris:     So I think what’s in there…just organization that has male leaders that took the whole time. I think that was what people just expected CEOs were, right? They were men and that nurses were good at doing nursing times to things but they weren’t CEO material. And I thought, “Really? That’s few that people can hold here? How are we going to break out of that?” And so, for me, breaking out of that was demonstrating that I could be different, but I couldn’t do it in the current context in where I was there, I couldn’t because that’s how people saw me. So for me, going away and coming back with a different view and a different perspective was what I think changed people’s minds. It’s when I interviewed for that job it was entirely different response.


Lesley:  Now, I’d like to know about the different person that Chris Power became when she went to Trillium. First of all, Trillium must have been more open to having a woman exceed beyond VP position. So it was something culturally different side about Trillium, would that be fair to say?


Chris:     Yeah. I think it was and I think a lot of it was the leadership. So, the CEO at that time was Ken White, he was incredibly innovative. The organization was beyond as somebody who worked, you know, they were leaders of the pack. They were doing amazingly innovative things, they were huge risk-takers. They had relationships with industry that typically know hospitals were doing. So, they were very open and he was just driven about having high-performing team. Like you were going to succeed beyond your capability, and he drove us to that. So, it was coming from an organization that I think it’s mediocre as how I would describe it. So, you know, there were lots about to high achievers but for the most part there wasn’t an expectation that you were…to going to an organization where it’s not just on if you’re not high-performing and doing the best you can. So, I was driven because everybody else was, you know, just charge in this environment. And so, I’ve tried to recreate that wherever I’ve gone because it’s so exciting and energizing, and you just get the best out of everybody.



Lesley:  You told me about “driving.” So the kind of style that actually drives people to reach that level of potential, what’s inside of that? What’s the recipe of that type of leadership?


Chris:     So, I think a big part of this is somebody believing in you. Somebody continue mentoring you and challenging you, and saying, “You’re doing good but I know you can do great.” That’s how I was raised. My parents see I come home with 95, and they say, “That’s good though, why didn’t you get a hundred?” So, we were driven like that as children growing up. And then I was in an environment where nobody drove me that way but I kind of drove myself, but being in that high-performing kind of work…and having somebody who gives you accountability is your responsibility. So hold you accountable for yourself but helps you find your wing to fly, right? Just lets you go, lets you make mistakes, helps you when you’re there but just keeps pushing you. It’s a risk taking kind of environment but that has had some side effect, right? So if it hits you it doesn’t hurt you too much.


Lesley:  Amazing. I mean I love that. Risk taking which has the side of things that that’s actually a very unique kind of environment. You also learned some things not to do as much as you learned things to do. Well, what are two other things that you learned at Trillium not to do in the leadership position?


Chris:     Well, you know, sometimes when people…sometimes I watched our CEO really get upset when we work at a certain…you know, didn’t get to a certain point, and so we kind of lose it. That was his style and we all knew it, and we all kind of protected it around that. But it was really in spiteful for me to watch that and say “Okay” that’s how he reacts to it. But that was a good lesson for me to say that’s not how to do it, right? So if you don’t…And so in the world that I lived in as CEO when people didn’t succeed or made mistakes, and it was never directed at one person for this particular CEO, it was at all of us. I never reacted that way. So it was always “Okay. Alright we made a mistake what did we learn from it? So, how are we not going to do that again? How are we going to make it better next time?” So, it was a much more…people I think felt safer in the environment where you can just talk about, and say, “Alright, well we just spent a million dollars of that sales, so I’m not going to fire you. I’m going to pix your brain and find out what are the things we’re not going to do again, and so let’s make it better.” And you know, it allowed people to really flourish and not worry if mistakes were made we could fix as we go forward. So that was one of the things I learned from him. And from other CEOs that I’ve learned, some of the worst CEOs I’ve worked for which who I’ve learned the most from and that’s why, right? Because you just watch them and you say, “I’m never doing that.” Selling people out, or embarrassing people when they did things, or calling people out in front of other people, like that’s never been my style. If I had something to say to people and they get the feedback, it’s always behind closed doors. I’m never going to make people feel small, it’s always my philosophy. I want to treat others the way I want to be treated.



Lesley:  And that’s exactly probably one of the mantras of the leaders can actually have is that type of thinking about oneself and how one wants to be treated and to live with that to other people. So I’m also curious Chris, you know, in every job that I’ve seen you in, you’ve had to have your mantra, changing behavior. I mean, when I think of the job that you’re in right now in terms of safety, and the whole notion about in section, and hands and keeping them clean. You think changing habits, they are so deeply enrooted in people. And whether you are the CEO of Capital Health, you’re changing the behavior positions in terms of how you wanted to interact with them. What is your approach to helping change other’s behavior?


Chris:     So, what I’ve come to learn over the years is I can’t change anyone’s behavior but my own. But what I can do is create the circumstances and the compelling stories for people that make them want to change their own behavior. And so, I think the lesson I learned long ago I thought I could change others which started with my husband, which I thought I could change. What I learned early on is that’s just not on. So, it’s creating the burning platform, it’s kind of a cliché when you…and being able to tell the story and bring them along why we need to change. And that to me has been much more successful than just saying, “So it is written. So it will be written, so it will be done.” Because, we can say that but we all know that that’s just doesn’t work for us. So, it’s about bringing people along, bringing into the whole, giving them accountability and responsibility and they’ll use the positions as an example. When I went to Capital Health there was almost a physician crew against the previous CEO, and they felt very powerless as positions and they had enjoyed great power at one point in time. And so, I started my work just meeting with them, every each one of them, and listening to them in a leadership position. And then brought them in, sitting at the table, giving them responsibility, giving them accountability, making them part of the decision making engine. And it fundamentally changed their organization, because they started to have a vested interest in it. And we spent that kind of time, and energy and money on position engagement because it was so critically important. Not to have them as the ultimate powerful people in the organization but we could not be successful without them. And so it was trying to turn it around having a respectful relationship with them, listening to what they had to say. It took a lot of work, a lot of time, a lot of energy but it was worth every minute of it. And I used positions as an example but in any organization I think they’re…whoever your employees are, using those same kind of process is well worth the time and energy.


Lesley:  So, I have a daughter, she’s 25. She’s starting to really sense her focus and this is going to be my last question to you. You know, you and the achievements that you’ve made and the acknowledgment of those achievements, you must have some really three points of advice that you give a young woman who is looking forward into her life and has that quality of leadership. What does she do to tap into it and to start to really unleash it?


Chris:     Here’s the kinds of things I’d say to young women: first of all, don’t try to be a man. You’d probably see me with kind of women too…for a long, long way, they try to ask like men. Just be yourself. What you bring as a woman is incredible to any jobs that you have. But those who try to be a man and I’m not dissing men, they bring wonderful things as well, but stay true to be you are. Always stay one step ahead of everybody else. So, this is not stabbing people in the back to get ahead, but always try to do things that set you apart, right? So, when nobody was doing a master’s degree, I went back to get a master’s degree just to be ready and those were a lot of years ago. You know, when things needed to be done in the organization, I put up my hand and volunteer to do it. Well, because I was interested in it but it does set you apart. When you’re in a cast of thousands, you need something that set yourself apart so people notice you. Because I was tapped on the shoulder for lots of jobs because of that, and you need to recognize it at the time. But now I go back, so it was kind to say goodbye to I was doing. And the last thing I would say is be fearless, don’t be afraid to step out and to do some things. You know, let people see what you are, but also don’t be afraid to allow people to see your vulnerability. I think when people can see that you’re human and that you allow yourself to be vulnerable in front of people it’s not a fault, it’s not a defect. You are human and when people see that, they relate to you in a very different way. So, stay the course, make sure you’re staying ahead of the pack in terms of education and getting different things. Be fearless but be gracious.


Lesley:  Oh, I love that “Be fearless and be gracious.” And I think that’s a wonderful way to wrap up this very short time, I could talk to you wherever. And so, for my audience to know that I’ve been speaking with Chris Power who is the CEO of the Canadian Patient Safety Institute, a well and knowledge leader in everything that she does, and has given us I think the kinds of advice that are going to be consistent on this program. And first of all, it is “Don’t try to be a man. Try to be who you are.” And so, women who lead have found special unique quality in themselves that they learn how to tap into showcase, and place themselves in a unique way in the marketplace. And Chris has done a marvelous job in helping us understand that. For those of you who want to stay more in tuned with the people that I am interviewing these wonderful women and some things about them, please take a look at our facebook page “women who lead.” You can also find more about me LesleySouthwick-Trask@LesleySouthwick-Trask on facebook. We’re just about to get our website up and running where the profiles of these women and the recordings of these radio shows will be available. And you can always tweet me Lesley L-E-S-L-E-Y-S-T @L-south S-O-U-T-H –T. So I’d love some tweets on what you’ve heard today, what you like, what you want to hear more on. And let me look on this online “women who lead are women who can change our world and are doing it every day.”


Thanks Chris.

Chris:     Thanks Lesley. it’s a pleasure.

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