Leadership Practice – Leading in the Trenches – An Interview with Lynda Foley

Leadership has become an increasingly ‘hot’ topic in the last decade.  There is no shortage of books espousing the next best leadership ‘something’ to help you manage and lead your people more effectively.  I thought it would be helpful to hear from someone who has been in leadership for 30+ years.  Someone who is leading in one of the most complex organizational systems I have ever worked in – Healthcare, and find out, from her perspective, what’s worked well, and the challenges she has faced. Perhaps you may even take away a few gems to use in your practice of leadership.

Lynda Foley is one of the most inspirational and seasoned leaders with whom I have had the good fortune to work with.  I have learned from her leadership style and feel honoured to have had the opportunity to partner with her for four years, supporting her, her senior leadership team and her Home Health portfolio she led.

Lynda Foley’s Bio

Lynda possesses over 30 years of management and leadership experience in Healthcare.  She joined Interior Health in 2013 as their Executive Director of Acute Services (11 hospitals). Prior to that, Lynda was the Executive Director of Home Health, End of Life, PATH (Transitional Care Unit) and Delta Hospital at Fraser Health Authority for four years, and has been in leadership roles with Vancouver Island Health Authority and worked in healthcare in Alberta for 29 years.

Lynda is a graduate from the University of Calgary with a Master’s Degree in Nursing and a major in Organizational Leadership.  Lynda has always been keenly interested in promoting her learning and researching in the area of leadership in complex healthcare systems.

Lynda and I spent 90 minutes by telephone to gather this valuable information on her view and experience of leadership. Let’s find out what she has to share with us!

Question: How would you describe your view on effective leadership?  What’s contributed to this perspective?
Lynda’s response:

Lifelong Learning:

For me, leaders today have to remain lifelong learners – there is no saying “you have arrived”.  You have to be passionate about your beliefs and interests and recognize that leadership is a journey.  I spend a great deal reading articles and blogs regularly, seeking those every day ah ha moments.

Adaptive Leadership:

My perspective is that you have to have confidence in your ability to be immune to ambiguity – you can (and will!) get thrown a curve ball every day. Flexibility is important, not everything can be planned. Last week we had three natural disasters:

1) forest fires

2) gas outage; and

3) an electrical storm with a major power outage in our hospitals.

I had to think on my feet and direct my team.  I think that currently with the government forcing new regulations and the ongoing dealings with our unions, we have to be able to adapt and find new ways to reach our goals. When needed, I reset my course to align with our vision, so I can stay focused on where we are headed and help my team reach their goals.


It is important that my team work as a team; teamwork is critical to success.  There is no “I”, WE set the goals towards the vision. If my team is successful, I am successful and then my boss is successful – it’s as simple as that.


Effective leaders are good communicators. I work hard to have my thoughts organized so I can communicate my message.  I work intentionally at this, especially when I am under stress, so that I don’t get overly excited.  I plan my thoughts out and communicate to my team – I can’t overemphasize how important communication is.

Emotional intelligence is wrapped up in your communication, along with your interpersonal and critical thinking skills. Learning to master these makes for effective leadership. In addition, communication helps to empower the team to define the goals and work with a lot of leash.

I believe no one likes to be micro managed.

Loyalty and Passion:

I believe great leaders generate intense personal, professional and organizational loyalty – if the value fit is there.  I have 38 years in the healthcare trenches; I am very loyal to the industry and I am loyal to my profession and to healthcare in general.  You can’t work in an organization and not have that passion. So it’s about that passion, and you invest yourself to gain the personal proficiency in your trade.

Lateral and Vertical Leadership – building leadership capacity at all levels:

Building capacity in an organization is key for effective leadership. A nurse may say to me that s/he is not interested in management, but s/he could be a great leader at the bedside – traits you need across the organization; so pay attention to lateral leadership at all levels as well as vertical leadership.  It’s a whole intersection and it’s beautiful when you start to see it happen.

Question:  What is an example of a great leadership moment you witnessed or have had the opportunity to be a part of?
Lynda’s Response:

A great moment starts when those around me get the direction we are heading towards. I remember when we started discussing a big organizational change I was leading and we were formulating the future state. I was getting excited as the connections were being made and we were painting the future.  If you can get the vision out there for people, there are a lot of ways to realize a vision; many hands can be involved to get to the future vision.  I always get excited when my team understands and get on board with the vision. I am a great starter and I love when all the pieces come together and the vision is coming to fruition and people jump on board. I love watching my team connecting the dots and experience how they begin to integrate the other work we are doing. This is what jazzes and excites me.   These are the moments for me – creating, defining, delivering and meeting the mark….making it come to life.

Question:  What is a leadership challenge you are most proud of having overcome?
Lynda’s Response:

Challenges can be an advantage. I had one change I was leading and my vision was not to just integrate the change within our own Portfolio, but I was looking at how to do it across sectors – between Community and Acute.  The challenge was to encourage working in a collegial and collaborative fashion to develop a model that would be seamless for the patient. There were so many patient stories we heard – about having to come into Acute care and even if the care was good in the hospital, we never looked at the whole system in terms of how to mitigate our patients’ healthcare concerns.  Even though there is much talk in healthcare about integration, it’s not happening across the continuum of care.  This was a big ah ha! We dialogued about the patient experience and we were able to shift everything – including the physicians’ perspective and their thinking about the value of community (not just hospital care).   We overcame the challenge by speaking different languages and by breaking down our silos.  We created a service delivery model that was different because of our mental maps being different and by having all the programs involved we didn’t have to retrofit it into purely the Acute setting.  I was scared to lead this as it was something that had never been done and yet, by involving cross-sector representation, we accomplished it and we won Fraser Health’s Above & Beyond award for this initiative.

Question:  What message would you like to impart to other leaders from your own lessons learned over the years?
Lynda’s Response:
  • Great leaders have to make things happen – they have to be action oriented.
  • If you make a promise, you better be able to fulfill it because how you show up matters; it’s integral to your reputation. Your reputation is a big deal as leader.
  • You must have courage to stand alone. Leaders have to have that tenacity and energy – you can’t succumb to pressures when you believe it’s the right thing.
  • If you have a value set, you have to stay true to you.
  • Be humble and bring presence.  There is an art to this. You have to be able to get in the trenches and do “management by walking around”. Be present. I travel a lot; I go out to field all the time and make it a priority to meet my staff, do safety walk arounds, have a presence and then I am showing up and modelling it.
  • Be responsible. In my industry that means be responsible to the public purse – to patients/staff who work for us and then make sure to be honest and act with integrity.  If you say something you have to deliver, that’s about integrity.
  • If you are wrong –admit it and own it.
  • Showup – People I work with get that I am not perfect. I may not know everything, but I can help you find it and will work with you to realize your goal; My job is to help it come to fruition and help you be successful.


Erica’s final thoughts…

What I appreciated most about the interview with Lynda was hearing how she summarized her great leadership beliefs, how she behaves as a leader and how this cascades into building high performing teams.   I also have always appreciated Lynda’s authentic ways and her willingness to be vulnerable, even in this interview.

One Response

  1. I like this very personal look at a leader in the trenches. I’ve seen Lynda leading in action and she is the quintessential orchestra leader. She searches for and recruits the best musicians available, discusses the score with them, and then expects and trusts that each of them will play their very best–at every performance.


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