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9. Leaders supporting leaders: Leader's role in building resilience and psychologically healthy workplaces during the pandemic and beyond

Learning Objectives

COVID-19 has posed unprecedented challenges for Canadian health leaders at all levels. The capacity of healthcare systems has been tested as has the resilience of those leading the response. The pandemic has revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of Canada's federated healthcare system. The learning objectives from this ongoing three phased action research project are: To examine, oved the different phases of the pandemic, how leaders have supported one another and worked to create and sustain psychologically healthy workplaces; and 2. To define the eight actions that emerged as being critical to creating and sustaining psychologically healthy workplaces.


Initiated in the Spring of 2020, this action research study used semi-structure interviews (n=45), focus groups (n=3) and a survey, to describe and assess the evolving challenges facing healthcare leaders. The project chronicles personal experiences of leaders as they progressed through the first 4 waves of the COVID and how leadership styles evolved. Relevant data answers three questions: 'what happened' relative to the issue of resilience and psychologically healthy individuals and workplaces; 'what did we learn' and 'what should leaders do differently going forward'?


High level results from what leaders tell us are: 


Wave 1 to 3: 

•    Shift from command-and-control leadership style to collaborative and distributive leadership.

•    Compassion and empathetic leadership required for self and others.

•    Frequent, decisive communication required to build trust and counter misinformation especially from social media fueling polarizing ideas.

Wave 4: 

•    'Super humanized' to 'dehumanized' leaders.

•    Significant fatigue as leaders are bone tired. Chronic stress and moral distress at an all-time high.

•    Systems thinking required on workforce shortages and wellness.


Based on the data gathered, eight actions emerge as being critical to creating and sustaining psychologically healthy workplaces: 1. Build personal resilience. Leaders need to recognize in self, the factors that symptomize personal burnout and stress. 2. Practice compassionate leadership. Leaders recognize that individual 'storms' will require 'healing' leadership to address them. 3. Model effective interpersonal leader behavior. Leaders must become comfortable with a variety of leadership styles. 4. Ensure frequent and authentic communication to build trust and counter mal information. 5. Participate in networks and communities as can provide safe spaces to share experiences and learn and grow. 6. Apply systems thinking to examine the rules/regulations that exists to facilitate/impeded collaborative work environments. Cocreate innovative approaches and facilitate nimbleness. 7. Balance short and long term commitments, emphasizing collaborative and systemic leadership. 8. Contribute to collaborative, national strategy to facilitate truly collective response to the challenges of workplace wellness such as the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and those efforts that address equity, diversity, inclusivity, Indigeneity, and accessibility (EDIIA). 


The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that to weather current and future storms in our human based health system, we must build resiliency at individual, organizational and system levels. By working together to foster psychologically healthy workplaces and sharing leading leadership practices, we can achieve better health for all Canadians. 



Ms. Kathy MacNeil - President and CEO, Island Health



BGen / Bgén Scott Malcolm - Commander Health Services Division, Canadian Armed Forces 

Deanne Taylor - Corporate Director Research Interior Health; Scientific Director, Rural Coordination Centre of BC (RCCbc), Interior Health

Doran Walker - Chair, Emerging Health Leaders

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