Keeping the Leadership Culture Strong at Schlegel Villages

There is no question that strong, supportive leadership is critical in the nourishment of an efficient, cohesive team in any setting, but it’s more important than ever within a healthcare system struggling to regain footing after a few dark and difficult years.Jamie Schlegel and a fellow leader embrace on the stage at the annual leadership retreat.

Schlegel Villages has long recognized this reality, which is why the organization invests in leadership development in several ways, including the annual Leadership Retreat. For the first time since the spring of 2019, leaders from every Village across the organization gathered in-person this April to learn and share different perspectives on the many angles of effective leadership.

As the organization recognizes 70 years of serving seniors and building inclusive communities, the 2023 theme at the Spring retreat focused on the leaders as “Culture Keepers.” There were 350 people gathered to reflect their commitment to preserving and celebrating their leadership culture. It was clear throughout the two-day event that strong leadership is the key to advancing the organization’s strategic goal  ‘To Honour and Live the Schlegel Culture as We Grow.’

A few weeks after the retreat, five leaders from Toronto’s Fairview Nursing Home took time to reflect on their personal commitments to better support their teams.

Recreation Director Crystal Hill spoke of the fact that in the past year, there has been some turnover among her team and the simple concept of being present with each of them when they are working in their respective neighbourhoods was reinforced at the conference.

“I've connected with them really well on a personal level, I think, but it's more of a professional level and seeing how they're doing,” Crystal says. “I plan to spend dedicated afternoons – say one afternoon on Queen or one afternoon on King – and make sure I'm supporting those new team members so if they need any guidance or questions with anything, then I'm there.”

It’s a logical and simple commitment, but one that needs to be reinforced as new team members become part of Village life and people transition into new leadership roles.

Molly Pulipra is a relatively new leader within the small home, and she says she intends to take more time to connect with her team on a personal level so she can better understand them as people, not just in their professional capacity.

For exercise therapist Diana Lopez, her commitment is about further building trust with the team so they have an open channel of communication and they know they’ll have what they need from her when they need it. “I want to have more difficult conversations and be more comfortable in approaching each situation with more curiosity,” Diana says.

Each of the leaders have chosen a different commitment to focus on, general manager Saurabh Bhatnagar points out, which is different than the entire leadership team focusing on one area.

“What we found was that the inspiration from these conferences was very real in the moment,” he says, “but then it can sometimes get lost in translation. The Village commitments are good but we wanted to break it down to individual levels and hold each other accountable.”

Assistant director of nursing care Victoria Kurzinger is also a relatively new leader, having joined the Village in the throes of pandemic response in the spring of 2022. Like Diana, approaching different team and Village dynamics with a sense of curiosity also dominated her conference learnings.

“There's so much to learn from people who have been in healthcare environments for years and years, and I can gain so much from them,” Victoria says. “Just learning from people's experiences, staying curious and really leveraging that; allowing myself to be vulnerable and putting trust in them;” this is where Victoria’s energy will go in order to build confidence with her team and be a keeper of the Schlegel leadership culture.

Saurabh points out that as Village teams and the sector as a whole look to the future after such strain in battling pandemic, relationships based on empathy, respect, and the ability to laugh together must thrive again, and many of the sessions at this year’s retreat brought this important reality to light.