New leadership at CLBC: honest, but effective?
Last week I attended the BC CEO Network conference in Victoria. Twice each year the Executive Directors and CEOs of most of the agencies providing supports to people with intellectual disabilities in BC get together for information sharing, networking and professional development. This conference was a little different – there was extreme anticipation about one of the speakers on the agenda.
That speaker was to be Seonag Macrae, the new CEO of Community Living British Columbia (CLBC), brought in from outside CLBC and who was just 7 weeks into the job. Ms. Macrae has taken over as CEO at a time when the provincial government continues to focus on balanced budgets, low taxes and reduced government spending and the Community Living sector in BC struggles with increased costs and long wait lists for services.
The previous CEO of Community Living British Columbia employed a top down, non-inclusive approach to managing services and controlling costs. This approach created a rift between the organizations in BC and CLBC, their funder. This rift eventually led to most agencies in BC withdrawing from the committees and working groups that CLBC relies on to understand the needs of the individuals with disabilities, their families, and the agencies that work with them.
The press release from CLBC announcing the hiring of Ms. Macrae highlighted her “particular skill of developing networks and partnerships as part of the process of building inclusive communities.” Could Ms. Macrae move things in the right direction?
The answer was a hopeful “yes.”
A summary of what Ms. Macrae did:
- She took the time to listen and show she cared. She spent time with the board of the BC CEO network prior to the meeting and seemed to have listened well and to have made a good impression on them.
- She was honest. She talked about the many meetings and consultations she has had with many different kinds of stakeholders and openly shared many of her impressions from them – not all were what the room wanted to hear. She also acknowledged the truth of the situation: increased demand for services, pressure from families to make the services more individual, pressure from government to reduce costs.
- She was open and direct. She admitted she does not have all the answers saying “she doesn’t even know everything she doesn’t know.” She explained how to get what you want from her:
- If you want help: give her meaningful data; create a story of innovation and how more resources will create better services and fiscal efficiencies.
- If you don’t want help: talk about what it costs now, what the increased costs and needs are and then ask for more to fund the gap in the same old way.
- She talked about the elephant in the room. She admitted the relationship between CLBC and the agencies was broken and that she was committed to “heal the relationship.”
Following her address and her fielding of questions, the board of the BC CEO network recommended to the members that they re-engage with CLBC as a sign of good faith with Ms. Macrae and most members seemed inclined to do so.
I found that she came across as open, gracious, self-effacing, humorous and non-confrontational. Very importantly, she did not underplay the serious nature of the current situation, going so far as to relate the final step in her hiring process. She described a pre-hiring meeting with Premier Christy Clarke, where she was told in no uncertain terms that the province is committed to its mandate of controlling and reducing spending and she needed to be on board with this before accepting the job.
In summary, Ms. Macrae did as well as could be expected. She delivered to me a lesson in advanced leadership skills that I have tried to share here. The real question of course is can she turn this situation around. Time will tell.
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