Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Being True to Oneself and the Path of Authentic Leadership

Podcast image for episode 59. Has HIROC logo and Healthcare Change Makers artwork. Photos of Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor (London Health Sciences Centre).

(Access show transcript) London Health Sciences Centre’s (LHSC) Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor shares her key leadership insights, lessons for leading by example and community building in healthcare.

Show Summary

For Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor, being a healthcare leader and change maker is more than simply being the one at the helm. In this episode, Jackie offers a deep dive into her background, her experience in healthcare, and how she takes actions to cultivate an impactful organizational culture.

Underscoring the importance of authenticity in leadership, Jackie believes leaders should be genuine and true to themselves. “It takes time to develop trust and that commitment to be believed and understood,” says Jackie, emphasizing that healthcare leaders should always be creating a culture of empathy, continuous learning and excellence within their hospitals and healthcare communities.

Throughout the episode, you’ll be able to hear about LHSC’s commitment to health equity and community engagement, which shines throughout the discussion. She stresses that healthcare professionals have a duty to look beyond hospital walls and consider the social determinants of health, working with community partners to make a difference. She shares personal experiences and valuable advice on the courage to speak up and be oneself in leadership, encouraging others to do the same. Her vision of leadership as an opportunity to bring kindness, community building, and purpose-driven leadership to healthcare is truly inspiring.

Mentioned in this epsiode


Imagine you could step inside the minds of Canada's healthcare leaders, glimpse their greatest fears, strongest drivers, and what makes them tick. Welcome to Healthcare Change Makers, a podcast where we talk to leaders about the joys and challenges of driving change and working with partners to create the safest healthcare system.

Philip De Souza: Hey, listeners. It's Philip and Marc here from HIROC. Hey, Marc. How are you doing today?

Marc Aiello: I'm great, Philip. Excited to be bringing our amazing listeners another superb podcast episode.

Philip De Souza: Speaking of our amazing listeners, thank you all for listening to Healthcare Change Makers. It means the world to us.

Marc Aiello: And we encourage you to keep engaging with us. If you have a story idea, or perhaps a guest you'd love to hear on the show, just drop us a line at communications@HIROC.com. We always love hearing from you.

Philip De Souza: Okay, let's get to the real reason we're all here today. Our guest is Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor, president and CEO at London Health Sciences Center. Now, if you haven't heard Jackie speak, then I'm giving you a heads-up right now. Go grab a pen and paper, because she's going to share a ton of valuable knowledge with you today.

Marc Aiello: You're right, Philip, the listeners are in for a treat. I also felt very inspired and motivated hearing Jackie's stories on the show, so let's get to it then.

Philip De Souza: Hey, listeners, we're so delighted today to have Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor from London Health Sciences Center with us, so welcome. Welcome, Jackie.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Thank you so much, Philip. Happy to be speaking with you.

Philip De Souza: Before I get into the tough questions, I do want to start off, Jackie, by just saying, for me personally, I know this may sound whatever, but you're an inspiration, because you've broken down some barriers, and it's because you've made an impact and I can see it. And I know I talked... I was just mentioning to you earlier how my CEO, Catherine, talks about the impact you make, and other people in the sector, like our good friend, Jason, talks about the impact you make. So I just wanted to say thank you, first, before we get into interview, thank you for that.

I think it's important that we have some leaders, such as yourself, who I can look to, and other people of color, but not even that, but just in general, can look to and be like, "How can I be like Jackie?"

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Oh gosh, thank you for saying that. I don't have a comment after that, thank you.

Philip De Souza: Talking about it just now, what do you personally attribute to your drive to make an impact?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Wow, that's a great question. Honestly, I don't know if it's the same for everybody else, but I was so focused when I entered healthcare, I was completely motivated by the fact that I grew up with family illness, disability, in my family, it was what I knew, our whole childhood and my memories are always revolving around how the health system intersected with everything in our lives. And I just found through that, at a very early age, something seemed not as perfect as I had hoped it would be for just the experiences we had, and I was motivated to see how, in some small way, I didn't imagine what way, that I could maybe be part of the system through a profession and make it better, have, in my own way, some sort of impact. So I was really always purpose-driven in what I thought would be impacting one life at a time, or one family at a time, through becoming a physical therapist, and it evolved from there.

But I would say, Philip, that I've never ever not been purpose-driven in every opportunity I've had, and the purpose has always remained the same, just to make things better.

Philip De Souza: Well, I can definitely feel it, because what you are putting out there, it's so authentic, and that's, I think, why people are drawn to you, to your style, and want to be part of the change you're making, so thank you for that.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Wow, thank you.

Philip De Souza: So you've been in the role of president and CEO of London Health Sciences Center now for coming up on two years. So given that you were part of the community before becoming the CEO, what's something you've learned about the organization along the way, and your staff, since stepping into that role?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: One of the things that I definitely have learned about team LHSC, everyone, volunteers, the staff, physicians, learners, just everybody, is that it was tough during the pandemic, and we all went through the pandemic together, and I did know that everyone was strong and resilient and all the things we all had to be across the system, but I actually learned... And as CEO, you get to create even more ways in which staff and individuals can reach out to you, and I totally opened the channels for that, because I know that I want to hear from those that would know better than I would about what could be better, what we need to do to recover from this really terrible period we all lived through.

And what I learned about staff and everyone here is that just when you think you couldn't ask more of them, they give you more. They lean in even harder and stronger, to be able to see more patients, to be able to support their colleagues, to be able to support me, they just have been outstanding. And so, when you go up in leadership, it becomes, in many ways, a lonelier space, but I learned that it doesn't have to be, if you basically are the same and you even create more overt ways in demonstrating you want to be the same person, people just come into that. So that's a learning that I had. I've been doubled down on creating this space of accessibility to me so that I can create that opportunity to continue to learn myself.

And then, I think what I learned as an organization is when you're on the inside of LHSC, despite the fact that we're a community of 15,000 people, more than 15,000, it feels so family-like that you forget how big you are. So what I learned in this seat now as CEO is that when I go out and interface outside of our walls, no matter what the stakeholder group, I'm likewise very conscious of creating space for those voices and any assertions or expectations that we're going to be the big LHSC coming in. That's not who we are, we don't want to be that big foreboding partner. So I just learned that, sometimes, a big organization of our size can feel that way, and almost foreboding to others, and so that was a learning, and I'm glad that I cottoned onto that so that I could then create the space for our stakeholders.

Philip De Souza: And does your clinical background help you today in leading the organization as well, and connecting with patients and families and staff?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Yeah, every day, Philip, every day I am grateful for the privilege I have of remaining a registered physical therapist, and I stay current in my regulatory and professional association materials, and I am serving through the lens of a physical therapist in my CEO role, I never forget it. It's interesting when you are a health professional, and the very things that you bring to the direct patient care experience, you bring it to your leadership decisions. And so, I would say, for me, my clinical background grounds me in what I do and how I look at things every day.

Philip De Souza: Very cool. And what is your approach to developing leaders at the organization, both formally and informally?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Okay, everyone is, in their own way, a leader, and my philosophy personally is that as many decisions that can be made locally by those who would know, ought to be supported to be made locally. And so, it's interesting, there's a number of things I think interesting about this time of all of us coming out of a pandemic where health human resources are scarce, and we've seen a migration of not just people out of the sector, but people coming into the health system who want to work a little differently. I think when we have that reality in front of us, it's the perfect impetus to say, "Okay, what was it about the leadership trajectory that was perhaps stilted or stifling or linear, and what do we have to do differently now to not only keep people on the path to leadership, if they want and choose that, but also seek out and encourage people in their interests they might not even know?"

So informally, we're doing what we call talent spotting on a regular basis, every current leader is charged with that. And what that is is identifying individuals who, through some action or their own initiative, express even the remotest inkling about an interest in leadership, and offering them a plethora of courses free of charge that we have available at the hospital, some of the content in which we've created ourselves over the years and cataloged, and some that are from outside sources that we're making available.

In addition to that, we are formally supporting leadership growth and development through acquiring the Canadian College of Health Leaders, Certified Health Executive Certification, and we're formally putting every level of leadership through that in cohort waves so that we can create this group of individuals who have the same framework of leadership and speak the same language, and thereby encourage and inspire other leaders. But we're also thinking about, even from a recruitment perspective and an internal succession perspective, we're thinking about ways in which our regulatory colleges have looked at the way we recognize professionals and leaders, and we're adapting to something called Prior Experience Assessment Reviews. So instead of looking for a specific credential that someone might need for a leadership role, we're actually asking ourselves, "Has their experiences to date, even outside of health, enabled them to bring some characteristics or competencies that the health system of today and tomorrow needs?"

So we're just expanding our thinking about leadership, and the approach to encouraging people to bring their whole selves and their new ideas and their different ways into our leadership sphere.

Philip De Souza: I like that it's a multipronged approach as well, so I hope, listeners, you took notes as well. But I love the talent spotting, a bit more informal, and the courses and the library of resources you have, and of course our friends at the college, it's good for the CHG. And I like how you talked about the cohort and how it allows the group, those to take it together and as course, have transparency, be on the same page. And you mentioned the succession and the recruitment, that was really good. And I loved your last point about the prior experience, because sometimes, if you're only looking for a specific credential or you took this course, only then are you qualified. But it sounds to me, with this system you have in place, it looks at those things as well, but it also looks at past experiences in someone's career journey no matter where they were.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Totally. I think didn't we all learn the stuff we're made of through the pandemic? Didn't we all juggle family, friends, neighbours, coming together, learning about things that were way outside of our normal day-to-day scope? I think it's such a lost opportunity if we don't think about what people bring in their lives to the work environment.

I don't think we can think about anything we're doing today in the same way we thought about it five years ago.

Philip De Souza: As you were talking about it, I was even thinking about it from even before the pandemic, when university days, I was working in retail, and colleagues were working in the hospitality, and even picking up those skills, people skills, those are sometimes, people underestimate those things, but learning to say hello, and being comfortable in your own skin and saying, "Do you want to try this on?" That's a really important skill to know too.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Philip, that's a perfect example. I think once upon a time, when the whole pace of life was a little slower, and I'm old enough to remember that time in the health system, where it just seemed like everybody moved a little more slowly, nobody passed each other in the hallway without saying hello. We need to get back to that. We need to get back to understanding that sometimes, it's the soft skills that'll take us further.

Sometimes it's the very essence of human connection, kindness, just the pause before the action that'll make the difference. That's the leader of tomorrow we need in healthcare. It's not all about efficiency and what you know. And in fact, I think the most important things in leadership, you're taught before the age of seven.

Philip De Souza: Absolutely. Switch gears a bit. Earlier this year, you were awarded the 2023 YMCA Woman of Excellence award in health, science and technology. So it's an amazing accomplishment, congratulations. So can you share with us a few examples or initiatives that seek to advance health equity, either at London Health or within the community you serve?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Well, thank you for that congratulations. I have to say, I was shocked and completely overwhelmed, to be honest with you, in every way about that, because... I was and I am, and I remain that way, and grateful for it.

I fundamentally believe that, as London's only acute care hospital, this is where Londoners birth, this is where Londoners come for emergency care to one of our three emergency departments, and because we are the acute community hospital for London, as well as a regional, academic, tertiary, quaternary center for the region and the province, I never forget that we have to care about everyone in the community, and we have to care about them before they arrive at our doors, no matter how they get here, and we have to care about them after they leave our doors. So what we're doing at LHSC now is ensuring that we pay very much attention to our community role in terms of recognizing the social determinants that bring individuals to us, recognizing that if we lean in and partner with community and social services agencies, with the education sector, with fire, emergency services, police services, our city council, our business development community, that we can make a difference, and perhaps prevent the need for health in our walls if we pay attention to the health supports outside of our walls.

And I think with that commitment to serve our community, it means that health equity is something that we are organically tackling. Well-documented evidence that goes back decades, every community has challenges with equity in our health system sphere, and we believe that that's an upstream and a downstream approach to combat that. So that's our commitment over the past two and a half years, and we're just now earning, I think, the trust of some of our community partners and agencies that I would say we hadn't formed relationships with before. It takes time to develop trust and that commitment, to be believed and understood, we're backing into their solutions, we wouldn't be expert, we just know that we ought to be there. And that's what we're doing, in a nutshell.

Philip De Souza: No, that's amazing. And I love the point about, you hit the nail with the word commitment. I can tell that you and your team are committed to the community, and because of the building of trust, the community is now committed to supporting and being that engaged partner with you, and that'll definitely have win-win written all over it.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Thanks, Philip. I just know that if you work in healthcare, it doesn't matter what your job, you're so privileged, you're so fortunate, and the duty, I would say, you have, because of your good fortune, is to look and really see how you can use that privilege in service to others. There's no other commitment that could be greater when you have that privilege of working in the health system, because health does not start at the doors of the hospital, it just doesn't. And in fact, an inattention to everything outside of our doors can create the need to be in our doors. And it just makes sense, but it is a commitment and we're dedicated to it.

Philip De Souza: Absolutely. And quite frankly, it's also a culture change, because like you said, that people may not have trusted the systems around them in the past. And so, to reframe that, to say, "Hey, you are the community, we want to make sure that you don't end up here, so how can we help you with that?" And so, I think that in itself is a huge undertaking. It's not... People may think, "Oh, it's easy. They just put in their strat plan and..." There's lots of work involved, for sure.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: And just on that point, it's a really good point, throughout the pandemic, everyone, every community, every hospital across the province and in the country, probably around the world, have wait lists and wait times that have grown, have just that added pressure to catch up with what we lost in access during the pandemic years, at the height particularly. And that, I think, you want to be overt in recognizing that, and making sure that your community knows that you're doing everything in your power to make that catch-up period as short as possible.

Philip De Souza: And I also really value the point about in healthcare, service to others, and that's why we make it a point to find stories, and that's what we were talking about earlier today, about your team was talking about emergency preparedness, and we were like, "Wow, if one other healthcare organization across Canada can learn what you and your team have implemented, that's joy to us." 'Cause we were like, "Wow, one other healthcare organization learned from another healthcare. It's not us dictating and lecturing, it's like, wow, these folks at London put this in place, they tried it out, they implemented it and it's working, let's share this and amplify this." And so, me and my team, we make it our services to you, and to your community, and to the community healthcare professionals, to say, "Hey, let's learn from one another and share that." So I'm so happy you mentioned that service to others, because you're right, it's anyone who touches healthcare who has that passion. I know we do, for sure, and I can feel it through you as well.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: No, totally, Philip. I would say HIROC is one of the... I would say you are the catalyst for system excellence across the system. I would just say we don't take the support lightly, I know it's a service provision, but we actually don't feel like that, we feel as though it's a partnership with HIROC, in all candour, because it is conversations and the materials and the relationships that you develop with the hospitals, every one that I've worked in throughout my career, it's been the same, and it's so incredibly important that it's a two-way.

So appreciate that, I appreciate your comments and the opportunity to just put that in.

Philip De Souza: Having a good network of people around you is important, and these people can be your support system and sounding board, of course, and mentors as well. So do you personally have a circle like this that you go to? And if so, has there been a piece of advice that stuck with you that someone has offered you personally?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Great question. I don't think anyone reaches any level of success without a circle of people who just lift them up in every way. And the circle, obviously, is always small the higher up you go, but there's always a circle. And I would say my circle has included my parents, I would just say, they always gave us, each of us, myself and my siblings, the impression that we could fly, which is a gift I've always cherished. And then, I had, early in my career, a few individuals throughout my academic career, Molly Verrier was a professor at the University of Toronto, she's still, I believe, a professor emeritus there, and she just was one of the people who was constantly saying not, "Can you do it?", "When will you do it?"

Philip De Souza: I like that.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Today, I am very fortunate to be, in the role I have, accessible to other hospital CEOs, not only in my region, but in the GTA, where most of my healthcare career has been, except for the last eight years in London. And reaching out to those colleagues, they are so generous in sharing what they know, sharing their learnings. There's not even a moment where they don't think, "How do I help?" That's been my experience, it's the quick response, "How can I help you?" I'm not a competitive person, and I think there's a fallacy about the need to be competitive in leadership. You're competing with yourself to do better every day, but it's not about competing with others. And I would just say that my experience has been, at every level that I've moved to, I've developed new relationships at that level with a handful of people who just have been generous.

Philip De Souza: I was recently reading an article about the importance of having courage to speak up, and how it also takes some practice, and that's another reason why I find you as an inspiration. We were at a few events together over the past year, and I know it's not easy speaking up, for me, it's difficult, but you did it, and I saw the reaction from everyone at those various moments, and people were like, "Wow," and because you spoke up, they learned something new, or they were like, maybe they didn't see something that perspective. And so, my question to you is, do you have any advice to other healthcare professionals to be more open to speaking up and sharing ideas and thoughts, and just generally being more actively engaged in making an impact?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Early in my career, maybe it was my first leadership role at the director level, I had an idea, and I wrote a briefing note for the executive I reported to, and when they received the briefing note, they thought the idea was too out there, too out of the box. And I was, at that time, writing that briefing note, but the way it moved from me up to the executive table at that organization at the time was that the briefing note would then be changed and cited the author of the executive. So when the briefing note moved up to the executive table, that leader changed my recommendation to a more casual, or a safer recommendation, I'll call it. And as the CEO left the room, at the end of that meeting, the CEO turned to me and said, "I would've thought you'd have been bolder."

And what I would say about that is that I learned then that it was okay... I am always easy on myself when I make mistakes, because I wake up every day and try my hardest to do the best I can do, so I'm very forgiving of myself when I make mistakes. And I grew up that way, my parents looked at mistakes as learnings, and there was no grief around making a mistake. What feels crappy is not doing something because you didn't try or someone else squished your idea. So when I had that early experience, it was probably around 2000, of someone taking my idea and changing it, and then it's being seen as a fail, that didn't feel good. And after that, I really doubled down on just being myself and owning my voice and sharing my ideas.

And I just learned over time that everybody has different ideas and everybody just wants to be themself, and if you just do that and just always walk in your own shoes, I just think it makes people more comfortable to start to do that as well, truly. So I don't feel as though it's courageous, I just feel as though I'm being true to myself, and I am always true to myself, I'm the same.

No matter what the room, no matter who I'm with, I'm the same person, it just is so much easier. I've received a lot of advice throughout my career journey about how I should dress, how I should be, and I know that all of that advice over the years, including advice I received from many people as I started this role, all well-intentioned, all fabulously, lovingly provided, I'm an introvert, and so the idea of having to put on an extra coat of... I just couldn't do it. It's hard enough for me to be out there without having to be out there and being someone else.

Marc Aiello: Thank you again, Jackie, of course, for this opportunity. Being in the background, it's just been such a pleasure listening to your thoughtful answers. My question is more about culture, and building a strong organizational culture, of course, is such a crucial thing. I was wondering maybe how you go about cultivating a culture of continuous learning, a culture of empathy and excellence, among the staff at London Health Sciences.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Thanks for that question, Marc. Thank you for that. I think culture is created a person at a time. I think in leadership, I think it starts at the very top. I think it starts with the board and the CEO and the leadership team being the culture that they want to exist. And so, I do think though it is a person at a time, it is never being too hurried to stop in the hall and talk to anyone who needs your assistance or who's passing by. It means when you make mistakes, owning them, and being very forthright, to not only the leadership team but staff, when a mistake has been made. It's being yourself so that others can be themselves. It is completely recognizing the importance of saying what you mean, and meaning what you say, and following through.

It just means one person at a time, demonstrating the culture you want to live, and over time, I think that just builds trust, it builds understanding, it builds a lot of... The tipping point is arrived at, where then any other culture stands out, anything short of what you're trying to live and breathe every day becomes the anomaly, there's that tipping point that just happens. And I just believe that it's hard to work in healthcare, I'm not saying it's not rewarding at times, I'm not saying there aren't joyous moments at the bedside and in the boardroom, but a lot of it is hard, and it's a lot of pressure, and it's a lot of accountability that you're trying to get right, so joy at work is something you have to actually create and promote and mean as a commitment as well. And I think it's a great question, Marc, because you just build it over time.

Philip De Souza: Now, this is hopefully the easy part of the interview. It's called the Lightning Round, I'm going to ask you a bunch of questions. You can answer with one word, or one sentence, or however you want, it's up to you. So the first question is, what was your first job ever?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: I believe my first job was as a receptionist at the Nishnawbe Aski office in downtown Toronto. It was a summer job, I loved it.

Philip De Souza: What do you do to recharge?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: I spend time with my family and friends, that energizes me. I would say I don't get enough time with my husband and our adult children and my friends, so when I'm with them, I'm very present. I work hard, but I also love hard, play hard, and anytime I'm with family or friends, I'm just really present, just as present as I am at work. We're at work together, I think of work as my work family, so we're together 12, 14 hours a day, and there's no such thing as a weekend in my role, really, long evenings, so when I can and am on vacation, I carve out that time and I'm purposefully recharged in there in the company of my loved ones.

Philip De Souza: That's so true. Who is a living leader you most admire?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: I really admire Barack Obama. I guess he's not currently a leader, but if you're President of the United States, I guess you're always president.

Philip De Souza: If I came to you, I said, "Oh, Jackie, I need you to give a 40-minute talk, because we need to fill a gap in a conference or something, and it can be any topic whatsoever." And you're like, "Oh, okay. I can do this, I got this." What topic would come easiest to you to talk about for 40 minutes without preparation?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Kindness and leadership.

Philip De Souza: That's a good one, I like that.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: I would love to talk about that, 'cause I've just seen it so much in the last few years.

Philip De Souza: So you can give a bunch of examples too?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: I could give a bunch of examples.

Philip De Souza: If you weren't in healthcare, what would you be doing?

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: You know what? I think I would love to run a drop-in center, a drop-in center cafe, something like that. I'd like to have a place where young and older individuals in the community could drop in and be social together, maybe an exchange, a bit of an exchange, clothing exchange or something could happen in that space. Maybe a few laundromat washer-dryers could happen in that space, but I've always, always wanted to do that.

Philip De Souza: That sounds cool.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Create a community space that was just creating community.

Philip De Souza: Definitely what we need nowadays, and I would pop in. I could lead a talk with those who want to talk about any top trending TV shows or movies.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Okay. Well, I will hold you to that. If I ever do that, I will definitely come after you for that, promise.

Philip De Souza: 100%. Well, Jackie, this was an amazing conversation. I probably took 10 pages of notes here, just because you gave me so many great points, and things just even for me personally to work on myself. But I know our listeners will take a lot out of what you offered up today, so thank you so much for being with us today, Jackie.

Dr. Jackie Schleifer Taylor: Thank you so much, Philip and Marc, for inviting me. Thank you so much, appreciated it.

Thank you for listening. You can hear more episodes of Healthcare Change Makers on our website, hiroc.com, and on your favourite podcasting apps. If you like what you hear, please rate us or post a review. Healthcare Change Makers is recorded by HIROC's communications and marketing team and produced by Podfly Productions. Follow us on Twitter at @HIROCGROUP or email us at communications@hiroc.com. We'd love to hear from you.