DWHLI and CNA celebrate their partnership and plan 2016 events



Earlier this month Judith Skelton Green, Julia Scott and I sat down with Anne Sutherland Boal, CEO of the Canadian Nurses Association, and Carolyn Pullen, Director of Policy, Advocacy and Strategy to put the final touches to our partnership agreement to offer together our 27th Leadership Institute.

Dorothy Wylie, retired Professor of Leadership at University of Toronto Nursing, after whom the Institute is named, and Karima Velji, President of CNA, joined us for dinner and celebratory toasts.

A few collaborative events are scheduled for 2016. In February we will offer a webinar about leadership competencies for health care professionals, and their importance in today’s complex and rapidly transforming environments.

We are hard at work designing a leadership workshop for participants at CNA’s Biennium in June in St John’s NB. In October we will offer our 27th week-long Institute with CNA. We are thoroughly enjoying our collaboration – truly a “meeting of the minds” – as we are very much on the same page about the value and importance of leadership at every level and in every discipline providing healthcare today.

Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute in New Partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association

Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute Canadian Nurses Association

New Partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association
The Dorothy Wylie Health Leadership Institute (DWHLI) is introducing a new and significant partnership with the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA).

The institute is a unique Canadian leadership program that brings together health-care leaders from all disciplines across the country for a concentrated study of leadership principles, models, skills and tools. Established more than 15 years ago, the program offers a refined, highly-specialized and interactive leadership learning experience. A recent survey found that more than 75 per cent of institute alumni said their experience had a positive or profound impact on their personal life and career, and it was described as a “catalyst for change.”

DWHLI has chosen to work with CNA, the national professional association of registered nurses, because its program will be an excellent companion to CNA’s existing suite of professional development offerings, including continuing competencies, advanced practice support and specialty certification. In its 111-year history, CNA has demonstrated a sincere commitment to health-care leadership, and now it will connect more professionals from across Canada to the institute’s innovative work. By working together, the two organizations will extend the reach of the institute’s program, explore new blended learning approaches and integrate advanced technology to enhance participation.

Work is already underway to deliver the 2016 program jointly, with the first offering in October (details to follow). Both organizations look forward to this dynamic collaboration for the advancement of health leadership.

For more information, please visit: Health Leaders Institute or cna-aiic.ca

Self Organizing on First Day in the Polyclinic


I had been anticipating my first day at the Polyclinic and had some natural apprehensions. Where to go and how to get there on the subway and then streetcar? How much time to allow? How to find the Workforce Entrance Gate on that huge perimeter of the Athlete’s Village? Would I know what to do at the clinic? What would my colleagues be like? Did I have all the necessary badges and uniform parts? Really helpful to have had the Olympics experience! (See earlier blogs on this site).

On arrival Day 1, I realized I was not alone with my questions. As a dozen or so of us gathered in the entrance hall to find out what’s next, I could sense there were many others who felt the same way. A brief welcome by the leaders who had been working for months and even years to plan for this day, and a quick tour of the facility, and it was “let’s get to work to get this place setup and operational”.

Teams self-organized in minutes to get at the jobs. Some got busy setting up lines on the floor to direct people to different stations (ER, Pharmacy, Family Medicine, Sports Rehab and Specialty Clinics, which included Radiology, Ultrasound and MRI). Others began to get reception desks and appointment books ready for action.

One of my jobs that day was to count and organize splints and braces, setup a cart with a sample of each, and store the others for easy access. The storage room looked like this! IMG_4405

The athletes weren’t in the Village yet so we had some time to get organized but teams were starting to come in soon. It was Game On to be ready.

The Polyclinic as a Complex Adaptive Human System


As well as supporting my country and city – and the benefits of international Sport in general – I love my volunteer gigs at the Games (2010 Olympics and 2015 PanAms) for 3 main reasons: i) it keeps me in touch with what’s new and different in clinical practice in healthcare; ii) helps me understand how younger, newer practitioners are the same or different from my demographic group, and iii) fuels my curiosity and understanding of complex human systems and how they operate and learn.

Thus this blog, which I’m using as a personal discipline to categorize my learning in some meaningful way. Putting pen to paper – actually fingers to keyboard – forces me to clarify for myself, and for you the reader, some of what is swirling in my head about systems, how they develop, learn and change, and hopefully continue to grow and improve.

I love watching complex adaptive systems in action – how the many parts of a rich, intricate and complicated system make the whole, how the system’s purpose – in this case to provide welcoming, meaningful healthIMG_4408care to the athletes and team members of the Toronto Pan Am Games – is played out by hundreds of people learning how to work in concert with others to make it happen.

The Polyclinic pictured here is a temporary structure located in the centre of the Athletes Village in the Donlands in Toronto. It is surrounded by Athletes’ living areas that will be turned into beautiful condos after the Games. It is a really nice part of town, easily accessible public transportation, easy access to lots of great spaces, with a brand new YMCA on site, and I’m told most of the condos are already sold.

Volunteering in the Polyclinic Pan Am Games Toronto 2015


Canada Day was my first volunteer shift in the Polyclinic in the PanAm Athletes Village Polyclinic. If you don’t know what a Polyclinic is, you’re not alone. My understanding is that it is a European term that denotes a health/medical clinic that provides a wide variety of services – thus “poly” from the Greek meaning “many”. In this case, many services.

The PanAm Polyclinic provides all kinds of services from Family Medicine to a fully-stocked ER, Specialty Services such as Dermatology, Cardiology, Dental, Optometry – Bochner Eye Institute and Loblaws are donating time, expertise and hundreds of pairs of glasses for the teams – and of course, full Sports Rehab Services (Physio, Massage, Chiropractic, and Sports Medicine, Physiatry).

There is also a Public Health office staffed with City of Toronto nurses to deal with any outbreaks or other public health concerns – there are thousands of condoms on all the services desks for the taking – they are snapped up quietly by many – and not just the athletes!

I am one of 3000 volunteers in the Health/Medical Services at the Polyclinic and the many Competition Venues and Fields of Play across the Games. There are about 6500 participating athletes from 41 different Pan American countries, competing in 36 different sports.

Planning has been in the works for 6 years and has involved 16 different communities surrounding Toronto the north, west and east. According to the Chief Chef for the Games, 500,000 meals will be served in the Athletes’ Village alone. These Games are the largest multi-sport event ever hosted in Canada. The cost for public security and traffic management is in the neighbourhood of $250M.

If you watched the Opening Ceremonies Friday night – or better still were actually there, you’ll know that it’s all very exciting for Toronto!


Thinking about Occam’s Razor


While watching an episode of Madame Secretary the other night, I was interested to hear the main character mention Occam’s Razor as she wrestled with a complex issue and the need to get at the variables, understand them and make decisions about how to proceed. Knowing my interest in complexity and complex adaptive systems (CAS) theory, a friend told me about Occam’s Razor awhile ago. I had never come across it before, despite lots of reading about complexity and complex systems – obviously not reading the right things, Ann! Thanks.

Wikipedia tells us that Occam’s Razor (which is also sometimes written as Ockham’s Razor) is a problem-solving principle devised by William of Ockham in the 13th C – believe it or not. William was a respected English Franciscan friar, philosopher and theologian.

The principle of Occam’s Razor states that among competing hypotheses which predict equally well, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. Other, more complicated solutions may ultimately prove to provide better predictions, but—in the absence of major differences – the fewer assumptions that are made, the better – according to the theory.

Called also the Law of Parsimony, it tells us to KISS or keep it simple, and not over-complicate. This of course makes a lot of sense and it also reminds us to quantify, qualify and verify our assumptions. Wikipedia goes on to say “ For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there is always an infinite number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypothesis to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are better testable and falsifiable.”

The fact that we are still considering William of Ockham’s ideas, 7 centuries later boggles the mind, and makes me question how much more we know or don’t know today than we did centuries ago.

It also makes me wonder about the fit between Occam’s Razor and complex adaptive systems’ theory. This is for another time.

Situational Leadership and Complexity


Andrea writes: Recently I had the opportunity to attend a workshop given by the Canadian Institute of Organizational Development (CODI) facilitated by Marilyn Laiken about Leading Teams in Change Environments. The workshop focused on Situational Leadership theory developed and published originally in the 70s by Hershey and Blanchard.

The fundamental underpinning of the theory is that there is no single best leadership style and that different situations require different adaptive leadership responses. What counts most is the ability of the leader to read the situation – including both the work to be done, and the maturity and experience of the team – and make an appropriate leadership response. The theory proposes a series of stages of development of the individual and the team, and identifies ways leaders can adjust their leadership responses to each stage. The model has endured. I asked myself why AND could it have anything to add to leadership in a complex environment?

I originally learned about Situational Leadership while developing a workshop with Dr. Raye Kass at Concordia University in Montreal. Her synthesis of what the model says about leadership was that it is “the capacity to observe and the willingness to react.”

What makes this a useful definition is that it takes the emphasis away from the leader and the style, and instead it stresses the leader’s ability to question, observe, and respond effectively. What is the context? Where is the need? What is the basis for the response I am considering? Am I ready to respond to what is going on using the best of my leadership skill?

Knowing the different stages of Situational Leadership (Telling, Selling, Participating, Delegating) and my own personal preference (Participating) is an important self-awareness skill. The leader’s requisite tools are the ability to observe, assess and diagnose the situation, react appropriately and learn. The act of leadership is based in inquiry (what is going on right now? what does the situation need from me?)

The goal of leadership in complex systems is to develop people and teams so they become self-organizing, autonomous contributors. The very act of leadership shifts from a command and control model to a dance of influence that anchors on both relationship and task. A stage theory may seem the antithesis of a complexity lens perspective – and I’m not sure that each stage is as linear and progressive as one might expect.

The theory endures because it offers new perspectives on leading in complex systems, which few leaders today can avoid. By focusing on the context, the goals, the people and their needs, Situational Leadership has something special to offer anyone trying to grow as a more effective leader in a complex adaptive system.

Sometimes command and control is exactly what makes it all work


Andrea writes: Last weekend I attended The Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia with my Mom and some close friends.
Other than the trees, the beautiful azaleas, and of course the golf, at The Masters you can’t help but notice the fluidity and order that ensures everything gets done in a certain way.
No one runs. No one shouts, “Get in the hole!” There is no autograph-seeking. If you place your chair at the 18th hole, it will be there, untouched, when you return. When you line up in a very long queue to buy lunch, it all works incredibly smoothly.

It’s estimated about 35,000 people attend on each of the 4 days, and it is ever so orderly. Observing the thousands of attendees –it struck me that sometimes Command and Control, and its orders of hierarchy, can really work. As I watched what is arguably the most prestigious golf tournament in the world I asked myself: So how does it all work?


The Masters, like golf itself, is heavy with rules, etiquette, and expected decorum, most of it in place for decades. For instance, there are only certain places you can walk, times you can move, strict rules about when silence is required, and when and how you are allowed to cheer.
Occurrences such as cheering at the wrong time, are rare at The Masters “but we must eliminate them entirely if our patrons are to continue to merit their reputation as the most knowledgeable and considerate in the world.” This 1967 quote is from Robert Tyre “Bobby” Jones Junior, President in Perpetuity of the Augusta National Golf Club. Little has changed since then and the expectations for certain behaviours carry over generation after generation.


There are clear and unwritten yet well-understood agreements among all the stakeholders in the world of golf. Although Augusta National is arguably among the strictest arbiter of rules and decorum, all private clubs (and many public ones) expect a certain level of customized behaviour that is agreed on culture in the sport. Agreements among the stakeholders uphold the expected customs, etiquette and decorum.


As well as unwritten agreements to follow the rules, and the many polite and cheerful staff moving everyone along (even through the restrooms), there are carrots and sticks to ensure compliance.
Tickets to The Masters are won, through a carefully managed lottery. If you follow the rules you can attend the most celebrated golf tournament in the world, at one of the very best clubs in the world, and take your friends and family as guests, for life. Extremely prestigious as a public sporting event, tickets are much sought after.

If you don’t follow the agreed upon rules and etiquettes, your tickets are forfeited forever.
When at Augusta for The Masters, without your prohibited cell phone, eating your egg salad sandwich on soft white bread with a cup of pink lemonade, you can’t help but feel you have been transported back in time. Certainly no one would suggest that there is a modern or “moving with the times” feel to Augusta and The Masters – which is both remarkable and somehow quite lovely.


The benefit is that thousands of people, circulating in a coordinated and orderly fashion, navigating fast food lines, and quick restroom breaks, enjoy for a brief time a revered and time-honoured institution that has managed to resist most calls for change – at least for now.

What is the cost for such order? The need for incredible manpower – a very large number of staff members monitoring and controlling patrons and ensuring compliance – is evident. Strict adherence to rules, and immediate consequences for rule breakers is mandatory. Emergence and creativity is left to the golfers.

In a complex and dynamic world, a VUCA world (see previous post) golf clubs still have the luxury of control that few organizations, try as they might, can afford to keep.

Why Wicked Problems Need a Complexity Lens


Andrea responds: Wicked problems are like complexity. They have interdependent agents that interact in unpredictable ways and produce a pattern or emergent trend. They are non-linear, their “cause” and “effect” can be simultaneous (does eating too much cause you to be obese? OR does being obese cause you to eat too much?). The solutions can therefore have unintended consequences (does forcing kids to exercise make you more stressed? and more likely to eat? less likely to exercise?).
Each linear solution is wrapped up in contradicting forces and opposing perspectives that keep the current status in place. Some of the solutions to a Wicked Problem can emerge from seeing it through a complexity lens, and using lessons learned from complex adaptive systems.
I first ran into the term “wicked problems” at an Art of Hosting seminar in Pembroke in 2009. The Art of Hosting brought together professionals who wanted to tackle Wicked Problems in the world by hosting conversations that matter.
The people at Art of Hosting and other groups using whole system semi-structured conversations believe that there is no simple solution to a Wicked Problem. They hope that getting as much of the system – and as many stakeholders as possible – in one space, and asking “Wicked Questions” may provide the beginnings of a solution. Wicked Problems can involve many stakeholders with competing and complementing information, values and perspectives. The solution involves unlocking as much new and diverse information as possible in order to find new and generative patterns in the system.
This is not to say there is no solution to Wicked Problems. For example, childhood obesity has begun to drop in the last couple of years.
Viewing the Wicked Problem as a whole system issue, and inviting as many stakeholders as possible to the table, can bring greater clarity to system mapping, and enhance the possibility of enabling potential solutions to emerge.

Complexity and Wicked Problems


We hear people talking about “wicked problems”. We’re thinking that global warming is a wicked problem but is the conflict in Syria and the Ukraine? Is the missing Malaysian airliner? Is the growing gap between rich and poor in Canada a wicked problem? Is the extreme poverty in developing countries positioned alongside extreme wealth and waste in the developed world a wicked problem? Is traffic gridlock in major cities like Toronto a wicked problem? So we asked ourselves – what exactly is a wicked problem anyway?

Horst Rittel, Professor of the Science of Design, and his colleague Melvin Webber, Professor of City Planning at Berkley are said to have coined the term in a 1973 paper titled Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.

A wicked problem, they wrote, is one for which each attempt to create a solution changes the understanding of the problem. Wicked problems cannot be solved in the traditional linear fashion, because the problem definition evolves as new possible solutions are considered and/or implemented. They are said to be stubborn, intransigent and even hard to describe. It is difficult to actually define “the problem” because there are so many factors to consider.

Lawrence J. Peter (a Canadian scholar famous for describing the Peter Principle) once said, “Some problems are so complex you have to be highly intelligent and well-informed just to be undecided about them”.

Wicked problems are said to be tough or even impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, dynamic and interlocking factors that are often hard to recognize and describe. Wicked problems resist being de-constructed or de-layered (people refer to the analogy of peeling an onion). Solutions are rarely right or wrong but better, worse, good enough or not good enough, say many social complexity theorists.

So it’s likely that global warming can be considered a wicked problem and maybe the conflict in Syria. The situation in Ukraine seems more straightforward as does the missing Malaysian airliner? The growing gap between rich and poor in Canada is solvable with social policy so maybe not a wicked problem? The global equivalent probably fits the criteria because the solutions are less obvious and more diverse people, cultures, governments and societies are involved and must be engaged to care. Traffic gridlock in major cities like Toronto probably not, since solutions are quite clear – more transit and bike lanes, with incentives not to travel alone by car.

We’ll be watching for more on “wicked problems” and likely revisiting this topic again. We’d love to hear what you think?