January 6, 2023
By Jennifer Rodrigue, Director, Communications & Corporate Services
Shirley Labossiere, Chief Operating Officer & Chief Financial Officer, retires this month after dedicating almost 20 years of her career to compassionate and innovative leadership at St.Amant. It’s clear to any of us who have worked closely with her how valuable her experience, direction, insight, relationship-building, and compassion are to the team she leads and to the organization as a whole.
Recently a colleague noted that no one has ever listened to them as well as Shirley. And upon reflection, I agree. In addition to strong finance skills and business savvy, Shirley knows how to organize and motivate teams to work together to operationalize new programs and services and has been an immense support to our fundraising structure and goals. Shirley’s gift to all of us has been in modelling compassionate and caring leadership. Her first questions are always about how a decision will affect people we support and/or families and how we will support our employees. Shirley’s care and support of her team have seen many of us through challenging times.
More than anything, Shirley has mentored and coached her team to understand leadership, to think critically and compassionately when making decisions, and to understand how to advocate and push new ideas forward. We are all committed to working hard in that vain to continue to push for better services and inclusion for everyone we support.
It’s impossible to share the feeling of gratitude and thanks in a way that seems fitting – thank you Shirley for being a generous leader and mentor and for improving our community through your dedication, perseverance, and commitment.
Her last gift is her closing interview and her final words of wisdom.
What prompted you to come work with St.Amant?
After my early years, I worked as a health care aide followed by years of education and advancing my accounting career in “the corporate world.” This left me feeling very unsatisfied. I knew I needed to make a change and find work where I could use all of my leadership and business skills in an organization that wasn’t wholly focused on making more money.
I had worked at St.Amant as my first job while in high school and the experience made a big impact on me, so when the Vice President position was posted it seemed like exactly what I was looking for. One of the questions I was asked shortly after joining St.Amant was “we hope you will stay a long time, what would make you want to leave” and my response was “being bored and not challenged.”
I can guarantee you I never was bored or unchallenged in those nearly 19 years!
What’s the most significant change St.Amant experienced under your leadership?
I would say the biggest change has been to the culture of the organization. Breaking down silos between programs and services, seeing each other as collaborating as opposed to competing, and truly living our values has taken years to achieve.
In recent years it has been heartwarming to often hear stories of:
- leaders reaching out to and supporting leaders of other programs and service areas
- all the Directors striving for the good of all people supported at St.Amant and their families
- common use of compassionate and respectful language amongst staff and with people supported
- recognizing and encouraging each other in everyday situations
- sharing of information and lessons learned with each other and with other organizations
That seemed like an impossible task a decade ago but through modelling by leaders, transformation did happen!
What will you miss most about the job?
The team – all the Directors, Managers, and the many others that I have interacted with on a regular basis over the years. It’s unfortunate that the last three years were overshadowed by the pandemic I didn’t have the opportunity to see people in the hallways and around the building for those casual and meaningful conversations. I have and will miss those interactions.
I have to say there is a certain “magic” to being in a room full of people (even virtually) with positive energy who are all focused on finding better options and solutions for the betterment of others, often strangers. People who genuinely care and are thoughtful and committed to the people we support and their families. That is what kept me at St.Amant for nearly 19 years.
What is the secret to creating and nurturing a positive culture?
I believe that we all contribute to the culture, but leaders/managers have the benefit of having plenty of opportunities to model the desired culture.
- I think it starts with the simple use of positive and supporting language – words like “together” and “partners” and “we” rather than “I”.
- Ask “how can I help?” often and be ready to help.
- Ask questions of your leader until you can confidently explain and support the direction of the organization with a genuine smile.
- Assume everyone has good intentions and is trying their best – don’t be quick to jump to conclusions.
- If there is some tension with another person be curious and make it your challenge to make improvements to the relationship – treat it like a puzzle.
- When faced with a decision or issue try to consider “what is the right and/or compassionate thing to do/say in this moment.” Be creative and innovative in finding a solution within the boundaries of policies and budgets etc. (and don’t be afraid to challenge or change those if they are making good decisions difficult!)
- Be honest and as transparent as possible, trust and give trust.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for St.Amant?
St.Amant is so very unique in our range of services and sheer number of staff and people supported that I believe we should continue to lead by example and share our knowledge and experience with others. I think we are in a good position to create partnerships with other Reseau Compassion Network organizations to break down the silos that exist between populations with similar needs and wants (example of eliminating loneliness and boredom experienced by seniors as well as people with developmental disabilities). We are also in a very good position to pilot new initiatives that bring together different departments in government (like the Department of Families and Department of Health) to meet the common goals of efficiencies while improving the quality of life of service recipients. Those may sound like lofty goals but I do believe more collaboration and less segregation is the way of the future.
What was the hardest part of your job over the past 19 years?
I worked at St.Amant for so many years because we are all committed to the very meaningful work we do each and every day in all corners and every part of this organization. The flip side of meaningful work however is the many ethical challenges we face every day and the weight of making difficult decisions – this definitely has been the hardest. I wish we could be everything to everyone but we have to live with the fact that we cannot. I try to put myself in the shoes of others in every situation but being exposed to the reality of the hardships of many families who need more support and/or are in crisis has been at times heartbreaking. I realize however that being personally impacted is the cost of caring and wouldn’t change that for anything.
What stands out as your biggest accomplishment/what are you most proud of?
All of my accomplishments are shared to some degree with other leaders, and would not have been achieved without the contribution and commitment of outstanding people and teams. I am so grateful for each of you.
There have been many things that I have been proud of over the years, including bringing forward and receiving approval for some very important and transformational government briefing notes and proposals. Developing and implementing many processes and systems to help us monitor and improve quality like policies, project management, and key performance indicators. Creating meaningful and relevant reports and presentations including those for the Mission and Quality Committee of the Board, Finance and HR Committee of the Board, and Board Packages.
I have had the opportunity to lead some very large complex projects like the welcoming and integration of the Hydra House employees and people supported, the development of the Complex Care children’s unit, and endless program and service re-alignments as we’ve grown. The more complex the project the more rewarding it was!
The biggest accomplishment however was likely assuming the role of Acting President & CEO (in addition to remaining COO and CFO) for 14 months, during which time I successfully led the organization as we faced the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic (through the fear and unpredictability of the first six months in particular). We made difficult decisions on a daily basis, we reconfigured the building and we became highly creative in how we did our work while keeping everyone safe.
The most rewarding part of my job however was having the pleasure of working with each of the Directors over the years (and there have been many!) My hope is that through modelling, coaching, and mentoring I have helped them on their journey to lead confidently and competently, discover their new strengths and abilities and feel valued and appreciated.
Looking back at your whole career, is there anything you would have done differently?
No, I generally believe that everything happens for a reason, and this was simply my path and overall I am very grateful. My early career took me into many different fields and roles, and I always challenged myself and looked for opportunities outside of my defined role to keep learning and developing. There were many great opportunities along the way and many huge challenges and barriers. Each of those steps made me the person I am.
I feel very grateful to have had this opportunity at St.Amant to make notable differences in the lives of staff, people supported and their families – even, and maybe especially when they weren’t aware of my role in some of those decisions and actions. I couldn’t ask for a better career outcome than that.
What are your plans for retirement?
I am most looking forward to having days with nothing on the agenda but a good run and some dog walks! But I will also be tackling the many projects waiting for me to complete them around the house and yard, catching up with friends and family, continuing to learn Spanish, and getting to that pile of books I am anxious to read. I plan on travelling and of course, I will continue to volunteer in new ways. I also hope to get to be a grandma one day! Then again I may also not stay fully retired long and may soon be taking contract or consulting work. It is quite a joy to simply consider all the options before me!
What do you wish all people managers would know:
- Be a good coach and mentor, but also be prepared to make difficult or complex decisions with confidence (well informed) to keep things moving forward. Know when each is appropriate.
- Every individual is motivated differently – not everyone responds to the same leadership style – be sure to adapt your style to each team member.
- Surround yourself by the best! Don’t be afraid to learn from those who report to you as well as your peers and supervisor.
- Be confident – the organization has confidence that you have the best skills, experience and knowledge to be in a position to lead this team/make this decision. Consult with your team members and carefully consider their feedback but don’t shy away from taking the lead. Processes can get bogged down when we are afraid to make a decision.
- Work life balance is key – rest and recharge in the evening, on the weekend, and on vacation. You are only at your best when you are taking care of yourself. Be kind to yourself.
Best advice to someone who wants to become a leader someday:
- Listen with patience and curiosity. Especially in one-on-one meetings with team members, sit quietly and listen until the other person has paused – you will be surprised at how much more you will learn if you wait for all the information and context before you respond.
- Have trust and confidence in the team that reports to you. If the trust/confidence is broken give feedback and an opportunity to improve before determining if the organization is just not a good fit. Your body language and your words should always reflect your trust and confidence in order for your team members to feel supported enough to flourish. And they will.
- Don’t be afraid to give and receive feedback – everyone wants to do well so tell them what they are doing well and where they still have room for improvement. Let them know that you are telling them because you care about them and their future. Ask your team what you could do differently or how you could better support them.
- Admit your mistakes (promptly), take accountability, apologize where applicable, learn from them and move on. Everyone makes mistakes, that’s part of learning and growing. Don’t dwell on your team member’s mistakes either.
- Always investigate any complaint or error with an open mind until you have all the information from everyone involved. Look for the true root cause of the issue or misunderstanding. Focus on working together to find a way to avoid it from occurring again in the future.
- Be calm and consistent. Your team will feel much more empowered to make decisions if they have a good idea of how you would proceed in a situation and in a time of urgency they will feel confident making a decision in your absence.
- Believe in yourself.
My final words to you:
I have passed you the baton – keep moving the amazing work forward!