CEO blog: Interview with Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care London and #LEADSFramework expert

On January 16, Holland Bloorview held its inaugural #LEADSFramework speaker series with Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health Care London. The LEADS in a Caring Environment (LEADS) Framework is an approach to health leadership that we recently adopted at Holland Bloorview. Through this framework we are supporting leaders across the hospital to model courageous leadership that embraces risk-taking and unleashes passion, creativity and growth in the organization and inspires a no boundaries ethos as described in our No Boundaries strategic plan.

During her presentation at Holland Bloorview, Gillian shared her personal approach to leadership and how she implemented the LEADS Framework at St. Joseph’s Health Care London to make a broader impact on the health system. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to interview Gillian to learn more about what we can all do to become better leaders and change agents.

Gillian and Julia 2019-01-16 1
Dr. Gillian Kernaghan (right) and I (left) after she spoke at Holland Bloorview about the #LEADSFramework.
  1. How did you get into health care in the first place?

When I went to university I thought I might go into teaching. The lifelong learning in health care attracted me and I went into medicine. I became a family doctor in the community and then moved into health care leadership while practicing part time until I became CEO.

  1. Systems transformation is a key part of the LEADS framework. It’s also part of our No Boundaries strategy at Holland Bloorview with our commitment to connect the system. Why is systems transformation such an important part of health leadership?

It is widely recognized that we need to take a systems approach if we are going to create a high-quality sustainable health care systems that meets the needs of the people we serve.  The solutions are complex and require all parts of the health care system to work together to find ways to move forward. Research shows that leadership is a critical success factor in system transformation.  Leaders who can live in the uncertainty, set direction for the future and have the courage to take steps that move us to a more desired future are needed.

  1. You’ve had tremendous success implementing change throughout your career. What advice do you have for leaders to ensure they are advancing impactful and sustainable change?

There is no magic solution to create a sustainable, affordable quality healthcare system.  You have to have a long-term vision based on key principles and then relentlessly pursue change that moves you in that direction.  You need to celebrate the small wins. You need to recognize that there are no heroic leaders and it is in drawing on the strengths of a team that change happens. A leader needs to listen well to others and be able to integrate thinking to find a way forward.

  1. Are there unique features of physician leadership or unique insights into leadership you have as a family doctor yourself?

Physicians are cultured to listen to a person’s symptoms and develop a plan of care.  In leadership, spending more time on listening and not quickly moving to diagnosis and solution is required. This is a cultural change for physicians.  Leadership requires you to take the long view of change and not require the regular affirmations that come in clinical practice.  Patients and their families often tell you how much they appreciate and value you…this is less common in leadership and individuals must be self-motivated to find the joy in small wins that take you to the larger goal.

  1. Have you had a special mentor or influence in your professional or personal life?

This is a question that is often asked and I recall listening to Colin Powell whose answer resonated with me.  I have learned from many with whom I have worked, observed and read about what it means to be a good leader.  I have also learned what attributes I did not want to manifest in my leadership.  It is in the synthesis of all this input that I have found my authentic leadership style, character and behaviour.

  1. Do you have some favourite leadership books you’d recommend?

I have had the privilege of teaching the research and work in the book Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability for many years.  It is a foundation in relationships and leadership.  The work on Strengths Based Leadership outlined in the book of the same name has transformed my focus from weakness based coaching to strength based coaching and recruitment.  I have been inspired  by Jim Collins book Great by Choice where he speaks to the organizations that survive and thrive through change.  Those organizations who have the wisdom to find the 10% to change and the foundational essence of the organization to take forward.

  1. Personal well-being is important for all of us. How do you unwind? Is there a recent work of fiction you’ve read or a favourite TV show or movie for when you need to unwind?

I love to play especially with my three sons who are now grown and married.  We ski, kayak, bike, hike, scuba dive and generally play together.  It is not hard to unwind in the beauty of the outdoors.  As a woman of strong Christian faith my strength is found in my relationship with God both in day-to-day life and especially during challenging times.



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