The Connected Leader - Janice Kaffer

Michelle C.: Hello and welcome to the Get Social Connected Leader podcast where I, Michelle Carvill, interview business leaders around the practicalities of how, in this hyper-connected digital age, they are embracing digital technologies to tune in and connect and communicate. You can find all the episodes of the podcast together with show notes via our website

Michelle C.: In this episode of the Get Social Connected Leader podcast, I'm delighted to introduce Janice Kaffer. Janice has been serving as the Chief Executive Office and President of Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare in Windsor, Ontario, since 2014. In this role, Janice provides executive leadership to an organization with 130 year history of service to the Windsor, Ontario community. Along with more than 1100 staff employed at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, Janice and her team are engaged in realizing a vision for a healthier community that is inclusive of everyone with a particular focus on those who are vulnerable or marginalized.

Michelle C.: Janice is an alumni of three post secondary institutions, Centennial College, Trent University and Queen's University , and has been a proud registered nurse for more than 33 years throughout Ontario and Nova Scotia. Janice draws her strength and inspiration from her friends, her colleagues, and particularly from her family. She has three grandchildren, Alison, Nathan and Courtney who have told her that it's okay to color outside the lines.

Michelle C.: Hey Janice, thank you so much for being on the podcast. And so you're a CEO, you're a leader, you're active on social media. Can you tell me a little bit about how you started using social media and why?

Janice Kaffer: Yes. Thank you very much for the question. It's interesting because I think in many ways my journey to using social media has been a little bit like my journey to being a CEO. I started off not really knowing exactly what it was I was going to do. I wasn't entirely sure whether or not social media was a vehicle for me or not. I had tried once before, several years ago, to start engaging on a couple of social media platforms more publicly, and a couple of false starts and I kind of walked away from it and decided it really wasn't going to be for me. I didn't know what to say, and I didn't know whether anybody would even have any interest in what I had to say.

Janice Kaffer: And so I think for me, it kind of came along around the same time as I got this job at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I took on the CEO job and started to find my feet, so to speak, and realized that trying to do the job the way the fellow who had been in the job before me was going to be a really big mistake. I needed to find a way to make the job and to have my role be me, and a lot about me. And so, for me, it needed to include a whole lot of things like connection to my family, connection to my community, some of the things that I care about, that I'm passionate about, as well as the usual stuff that you put out for work.

Michelle C.: Yeah. So that's interesting that you tried before and you've dabbled and I hear this quite a bit, you know, people try it, they're unsure about what to say and therefore there's a bit of fear around, "Well, what if nobody's interested in what I've got to say," and getting sorted about it. How do you blend it with your work then? Your message, you knew you had to do something differently, but now you wanted a new way to connect with the community and indeed, this new role. What did you go around? How did you start that? Which channels did you turn to, for example?

Janice Kaffer: Just like I did with my job, I actually listened a lot first. At the beginning what I did was I started my Twitter account, restarted my Twitter account. So I have two, I have one that's kind of from my default position when I retired, and it's really just about me as a grandmother and the things that grandmothers pay attention to. So you know, that's kind of the one that I don't use very often and it's one that I'm building slowly just in terms of different sites and different people that have things to say that matter to me around children, and children's health, and children's rights and things that are happening for children around the world.

Janice Kaffer: And then my work one, I started an account, and then I started following local media channels and I get a sense of what people were talking about. Went to some of the well-recognized and well-researched and pretty balanced health information sites, and paid attention to what they were talking about. Had a conversation with my communications team at the hospital and talked a little bit about, you know, what I was thinking about doing, making sure that my comms team was okay with where I was going, and some of the things I wanted to talk about. And then just dove in.

Janice Kaffer: Actually, my first tweet was about a fire, of all things, that had nothing to do with health at all, but it was really just about something that was happening in the community. I remember sending it out into the universe and thinking, "Well, you know, that was kind of painless and nobody's going to care." But it was that first first foray over the first few weeks where I started to really get a sense of what I wanted to talk about on social media, and mostly on Twitter at the beginning. It has evolved a little bit and continues to evolve, but mostly Twitter at the beginning.

Michelle C.: And do you feel that from when you started with Twitter, let's say, and your message and has it taken on a life of its own? It's interesting that you call that your work persona, but there's a lot of ... there's quite a nice blend of the conversation that goes on between on your Twitter channels for example. You get a real sense for the person that you are as well. So how do you balance that?

Janice Kaffer: That's a really interesting question because at the very beginning, when I talked about what I wanted to do with my communications team, one of the things we talked about was how to have a presence on social media. And a lot of CEOs really feel very strongly, and I follow quite a few different individuals and I've unfollowed some because they're actually quite boring, [inaudible 00:06:37] because all they talk about is work. And I think if you really want to engage your community, they want to know that you're more than the office. And in Windsor Essex we have about 400,000 people. We have a fairly small, tightly knit community, and if I was out there just talking about the things that happen in the hospital, I doubt very much that anybody would really engage with me that much.

Janice Kaffer: So for me it's a bit about who I am as a woman, as a wife, as a grandmother, as a mum. And so I talk about all kinds of things depending on what's happening in the world. I've dabbled a little bit into some of the the political issues here in North America, just kind of skirting around the outsets of some of this stuff that is more contentious. But it's evolved though, honestly Michelle, over time and you get, I think just like with the job, you get more comfortable putting yourself out there and saying some things that maybe in the beginning you wouldn't have said.

Michelle C.: Yeah. And do you still align with your comms team? Is it still? Do you ... is there a process? I know when I was interviewing some leaders and some CEOs when I was writing, that a few of them had, "Every week I sit down with my PA. Every month I meet with the comms team." Some of them had a process. How does that play out for you? The practicalities of actually being social?

Janice Kaffer: Well, I think the comms team would like me to have a much more rigorous process than I do. I fly by the seat of my pants a little bit from time to time. We actually have a detailed communications plan for the organization. So you know, we go through and we have various items that are coming out that are good news stories, celebrations, pieces of information about what's happening at the hospital, quality metrics, stuff that happened that you want to be talking to the public about. And the communications team has that mapped out, including some of the things like professional weeks. So Nurses Week here in Canada's coming up in May, so we're starting to talk about what that's going to look like.

Janice Kaffer: And so when there's something going in the hospital, sometimes we will connect and say, "Okay, so is it me that's going to take the lead on the social media or will it be the hospital and will I follow and retweet, and kind of magnify the voice of the hospital?" And sometimes they magnify my voice. It really ... it kind of is very iterative and fluid and it depends on the issue and frankly, it depends really on how much passion I have for that particular topic and how much I think what's happening in the community will give me a voice for that particular issue. It very much depends on the day-to-day and the issues. and it depends entirely on what it is that's happening inside the hospital in our community.

Michelle C.: Brilliant. And I suppose you touched there on the organization because the organization is active on social media. Is that something you have driven moreso because you're so visible and you're so social.

Janice Kaffer: That's a really good question. I don't know, to be honest with you. I know that we use a lot of social media for ... we use social media quite a lot, actually. for all of our communication. So we even use it for recruiting directors for our board. We don't use a traditional advertising as much. We still do, because we like to support our local journalists and local media outlets as well. But we do use social media a lot and the media locally in Windsor Essex has really moved to connecting through social. So the media will connect with me through my Twitter account to talk to me about things too. And so that's a nice direct avenue for journalists to be able to get in touch with me. To kind of test the waters on items that are happening in the community. Do I have a point of view? Do I have a perspective? Is there something I want to talk about?

Janice Kaffer: And that's been very helpful for both of us because I don't know what it's like where you are, but here in North America there are fewer and fewer journalists trying to get stories, local community stories out. So having that direct contact is helpful. But I think the hospital evolved. We have a great Communications Manager, Nicole is her name, Nicole Crozier, and she does an amazing job at really taking a look at what's happening in the community and what's happening in the hospital and trying to find that fit in communicating. And so our social media platform at the hospital, Twitter and Facebook primarily, but I know they're experimenting with Instagram, has really grown. We have a small team though, Michelle, so it's not like we're a giant hospital. We're a fairly small hospital.

Michelle C.: Yeah. And so that's really interesting, isn't it? Because I mean, I hear all the time about people making connections with the journalists. The journalists now want to connect in the briefest way, and they like to be briefed with a tweet. They go onto social media. I mean, I don't know any journalists that aren't on digital or social. So from a kind of traditional media perspective, things have changed, haven't they and have been? I know when I was writing and I wanted to get him involved and interview people, the simplest way to get involved with somebody directly was to tweet them, and they can either asy yes or no. And it's just such a direct channel. If somebody's on Twitter, particularly Twitter I think, it's a definite invitation for the conversation.

Michelle C.: That's great that that's connecting that way, and the team. What do you feel that communicating via social media for you as CEO, what about the CEOs? What about the peers? What are the the other people that you're liaising with. Do you connect with a lot of them? What do you think is bringing to you, personally, as a leader and indeed, how is that impacting your organization, if at all?

Janice Kaffer: For me as a leader it is actually a part of my networking. I think when I first took on the job of CEO, I really didn't understand fully the job, and there great Harvard Business Review article that I just tweeted out this weekend.

Michelle C.: I saw that on Twitter, yes.

Janice Kaffer: And it really speaks to some of the first early learnings. But one of the things nobody talks to you about is the loneliness when you first get the CEO job, right. There's not a lot of people that you can talk to, but the job is, by its very definition, isolating because you're the person in the organization that has ultimate responsibility for the decisions made. And you can't go about complaining and whining about that, no matter how difficult the job is. Right? For me, the network, building a network, face-to-face, through email, through conferences and through social media was an important part of my first couple of years in the role.

Janice Kaffer: But I think Michelle, honestly what it's given me more than anything is a direct pipeline into the community and a direct vehicle for the community to connect up with me. I can't tell you how many times I've had a DM from somebody in the community saying, "I really liked what you said, I'd like to sit and talk to you." And lately, one of the most important groups that's been reaching into me are young women, young women who are looking for opportunities to network and connect with established leaders in formal leadership roles to find their way. And it's incredibly ... I just find it incredibly exciting to have those conversations with these young women. I'm talking with probably about three or four of them right at the moment. That's about as many as I can bring into my circle right now. And all of them connected to me through some social platform or another.

Michelle C.: Brilliant, I mean, brilliant. And that's really ... I mean I totally understand why that would be the case. And isn't that ... I mean, before social technologies really, how else would you do that? I mean, you'd write to a very busy CEO and it would probably be set there for a long time, whereas that directness of the social ... You mentioned something else I just wanted to pick up on Janice as well, that when you first went onto social media, one of the things that you did, same as you did when you got into your role, with listening. It's something that I, anybody who speaks to be about social media, I am ... the others are, "I don't know what to talk about. I don't know what to do." And I'm like, "Just go on there and listen. Just look and learn and just see what's going on. And then it becomes intuitive. But don't stop listening."

Michelle C.: It sounds to me that that listening piece has been a really important part of what you do and continues to be.

Janice Kaffer: Oh, absolutely. I sometimes find myself consumed a little bit with the listening because it can get very overwhelming, depending on how many points of view you're listening to, right? Especially when there's a lot going on in the world that is related to health care or some of the social justice issues that I pay attention to. And when you're thinking about trying to get a perspective, it's important that you listen to different points of views. So you know, there are some folks out there that they look for and listen to what they want to hear. That does not help you find a way to lead your people, or even lead yourself through change in difficult times. You have to listen to all the points of view and all the perspectives. And I think that that is where you have to take the time and you have to do a little deeper.

Janice Kaffer: You can't just scroll through your feed and think you've got the morning news. You have to go deeper into some of the items. And so for me, I'll find things that I want to look at and then I'll go into the media stories, I'll go further into different people's feeds to see where they're getting their information. And that's helped me to build a bit of a library of sorts of organizations and people that I think are relevant and are in tune with what's happening in the world. And sometimes I'll select somebody to follow and they look good for a while, and then you see that they're actually, their perspective is skewed one way or the other.

Janice Kaffer: And so it's okay to be skewed, but you have to make sure that you're not just listening to that single point of view because, as an organizational CEO or as leader, just frankly as a human being, it's important that we have all the points of view in order to come to a place where we understand what's happening.

Michelle C.: That that is such a valid point, as you say, not just across social media, but generally in life, isn't it? And people do get a bit, I mean, that's where the social channels get a bit of a bad rap in as much as the little bubbles, the social media bubbles that can be created if you're only staying within the little network, the confines of your network. But of course the listening and the learning can come from expanding that view as you so rightly said. And so Janice, you're active every day, you're daily ... I see you active particularly on Twitter. That's where I follow you and see what you're ... I'm not stalking you, but I like to see what people are up to, particularly if they're coming on the podcast.

Michelle C.: What would you say, I mean, digital technology. I was recently at an event and it was all about modern leadership and how highly connected we are and how digital is having such an impact on leaders and leadership. And you know, this feeling of having to keep up, and things are changing so quickly. What would you say to other leaders, because the whole spirit of this podcast is around educating and just sharing what you're doing in much the same way as people want to hear what ... how to make it as a CEO if these young women are speaking to you in that mentoring. There's a lot of CEOs, there's a lot of leaders out there in the same spirit that are nervous, afraid, not afraid, but there's a fear element of getting involved with social media in case they say something wrong or all those reasons why people dip in at the beginning and sometimes come out of it.

Michelle C.: What would you say has been your biggest learning so far around digital and social activity? Is there anything that you wish you'd known kind of at the outset that would've made things simpler?

Janice Kaffer: I think if I had known at the outset how much time it was going to take to do it and to do it well, I would have really thought long and hard. I still would've done it, but I probably would've thought a little bit differently about planning a little bit more for the impact of being a social in my life. The CEO job isn't a nine to five job. No CEO would ever tell anyone that they go to work at nine o'clock, they come home at five o'clock and they to shut everything off. Life doesn't work that way when you're in that office, in that chair. So for me, it's an extension of my job. It's an extension of my public servant responsibilities. I'm accountable to the community. And so in my own way, this is my commitment to the community and to my organization inside family and my outside family to communicate what's happening and where we're going as a hospital and how that can benefit the community.

Janice Kaffer: But I think, I think for people who are not sure about going into it, I think there's two things that for me were really important that I learned very early. One is you absolutely have to be authentic because people can suss it out if you're not. If you're trying to do a lot of corporate speak and you don't really believe what you're saying, folks get that. And not only do they not listen to you, but it does flow over into your other communication channels, right? Like if you get it right, it amplifies and magnifies everything else you and your organization do. Because it is another way of validating, for the community, that you are legit, that you are who you say you are and you are doing what you say you're doing.

Janice Kaffer: And the other thing is quite frankly, is to have fun with it. Have a sense of humor. We all, I think, sometimes take ourselves so seriously and we think if we make a mistake, the world's going to stop. It isn't. I've made lots of mistakes. I've sometimes, you know, the thing with Twitter and not having a correction, like you can't go in and fix. The edit button is essential for Twitter at some point in time, but it does give some authenticity to what you do. Right? Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody does typos. Everybody tweets something they wish they hadn't.

Janice Kaffer: So by making mistakes, you're joining a community of fallible people and that's okay. We're all fallible and so for me, those two things are important. I try to have a sense of humor. I try to bring ... I do a lot of emojis and gifs and all the little fun things because I think some of the people in my community like that. I'm sure I've irritated some as well, but that's okay. I probably irritate them in real life too, so it's okay. I think really it is just, it's another vehicle of having a conversation with your community and bring your real self to that conversation, you'll be fine.

Michelle C.: Absolutely. And you're so right, that authentic aspect is ... and it is, it's just be you, isn't it? I know that's a difficult thing. Some people are like, "Well, what does that mean?" But it was interesting. A couple of other people on the podcast have said exactly the same. It's about your human a being. Just because you have a title, particularly as the CEO and you have that responsibility, you're still a human being. And there's that, there's a fallibility, it's a human thing, isn't it? To make mistakes and to say, "Okay, so what next?" And in some cases just have a sense of humor about it, you know?

Janice Kaffer: Oh heck yeah. Honestly, Michelle, the thing that somebody told me a long time ago when I was making my way through senior management roles, is to always be really, really careful about listening to your own press. Because if you buy into the fact that you are all that and a bag of chips, it's one of my favorite sayings. If you buy into that, then nobody, nobody is going to ever take you seriously except the people that believe that about themselves. And if you're in a room with nothing but a bunch of big egos, really like we've been there, I've been there, and there's nothing more wet blankety than being in that kind of a space.

Janice Kaffer: When people are able to engage with you and they see you as real and legit and somebody who makes mistakes and has to apologize, and gets on the floor and place Legos with my grandkids or your grandkids or whatever, then they can, when you talk to them about really tough stuff like social justice, like feminist agendas it's like gender parity, when you talk to them about palliative care in my hospital, when I talk about the fact that we've been on a five year journey to do something better at Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare. When we talk about mental health and addictions, I think somehow it's easier because they know me. They know things about me and they know I'm not just a talking head, that I really am a real person and I might be a real person on Twitter, but they can give me a call and come and have coffee. And that's okay too.

Michelle C.: Exactly. It's building trust, isn't it? Trust that what you're talking about, that you all have this genuine, you know what you're talking about and saying, "It's not all sound bites and PR talk, it's you." And it's building that trust that you're going to get the same conversation if you do come and have a cup of coffee with me in my office as you're going to get on Twitter.

Janice Kaffer: Exactly.

Michelle C.: It is a big trust piece, i think, going on with ... it really does build that important bridge.

Janice Kaffer: I think so. And I think as leaders we have to trust ourselves. Because if we don't trust ourselves and put ourselves out there in whatever fashion, whether it's social media or any other ways that a leader chooses to put themselves out there, you actually have to be seen to be taking risks sometimes because organizations where the leader doesn't take risks, or organizations that don't innovate and create new ways of thinking. Right? So you know, you have to be willing to put yourself out there in some way or shape or form. Start small, figure it out. I mean, there's some amazing social media leaders and there's some great leaders that aren't on social media. The two, they are not mutually exclusive. But where I think you get the benefit from the community lens is when you have somebody who's willing to engage in all kinds of different ways of having conversations.

Michelle C.: Exactly, and you're absolutely right. I mean, I do talk about social media and leadership being almost inextricably linked, in as much as it's an aid. It's an aid for visibility. It's almost you can walk the floor at scale via social or via social technologies, not necessarily just externally on external channels, but internal social media channels, with being able to connect and communicate with your employees in ways that, particularly if you're a large organization and you've got offices all around the world, it's very difficult for that leader to be transparent and to be visible and indeed, to be listening to what all of those employees are saying and to have conversations with them without technology.

Michelle C.: It can work to a great benefit really, to assist as an aid to leaders, rather than something that, "Oh, this is going to take a lot of time." If it's spun the other way, it can be very empowering.

Janice Kaffer: You know, it's funny because when you say that, I start thinking about when I was in grad school. One of the management theories is the idea of managing by walking around. Right?

Michelle C.: Yes.

Janice Kaffer: And the idea that the leader is known to be a person, you know what's going on in your organization and your staff, your people that are working in your organization get to know you. Twitter is a way of doing that, if you, if you use it right. When I go around on the units in my hospital, I talk about things that are going on in my life. I ask them what's going on in their life. Social media is a way of doing that in a more open and magnified way. But it is the same conversation.

Michelle C.: Yup, exactly. Exactly. Brilliant. I asked a few questions about you Janice, because obviously I'm following you on Twitter. Not everybody on the podcast is just yet, but I'm sure they will be after listening and tuning in. But you talked about time, and if you at the beginning you'd have put a bit more time in. How much time do you practically spend on social media? Has it become ... and I ask this question because I'm personally interested. Do you now separate what you do on social from the role as such, or is it just part of the job?

Janice Kaffer: It's part of the job for me, and part of the job that I can do anywhere. Right? So one of the more difficult things for me is carving out the time where I'm not going to be on social. I have three grandkids and one of them actually told me when I was hanging out with them, I was answering some stuff on email and I went onto my Twitter and my grandson said, "Amma, you need to put down your phone." I think it's really good that I got that reminder because I shouldn't be working when I'm with my grandkids. They find their way into my work, like you've seen on my feed there's pictures all the time.

Michelle C.: Yes, yes.

Janice Kaffer: But I should not have crossed that other line which is working when I'm with them all the time. There are times when something happens and I have to and I should kind of move away from that. But it is part of my job. It's very much part of my life, Michelle, because my job and my life are inextricably linked. I can't separate them anymore. It just is what it is.

Michelle C.: Fantastic. That's really inspiring, very informative, and I think it's just packed with lots of practical advice and insights. So thank you so much. In the spirit of finding out a little bit more about you, on my podcast, Learn About the Leader, I have these very quick five questions that I'd love to just fire at you, Janice, just to see where we go to, and it just gives people a little bit more insight. If you could change one thing in the world, pretty big questions these, but you know, let's go with it for a quick little podcast. If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Janice Kaffer: Poverty. No question. No question. For me, what we do in mental health and addictions, what we do in children and youth mental health, and what we do in our community from the perspective of really trying to keep people healthy, poverty is the biggest issue in our community that's leading to all sorts of health outcomes that are really problematic. And frankly, we're a society where people shouldn't live in poverty. So for me that's the one.

Michelle C.: Wonderful. And onto books. Which book have you read recently that's inspired you?

Janice Kaffer: I'm actually reading right now Brené Brown's Born to Lead. I've opened it and I've dived in a couple of time. I haven't been able to carve out the time to get further into it, but that's the one that I'm looking forward to. A good friend of mine has just completed Michelle Obama's book and tells me that I need to read that, but I only have so much time for reading, and so I really need to make sure it is something that is going to add value. When I go away on vacation, when I'm in my total Jan time, I read mystery novels to be frank, and I love whodunits. Those are the ones that I take away when I'm trying to just kind of turn off my brain.

Michelle C.: Yeah, perfect, wonderful. And, final but not last but not least by any means. What's What's the best piece of advice you have been given to date?

Janice Kaffer: I think I've shared that already, but it really is about not taking yourself too seriously. No matter what people say to you or about you, it will change. We're only as good as our last decision whether people like it or don't like it when you're in a leadership role. So you have to have that inner sense of self, and you have to know that what you're doing is the right thing to do. One of the mantras in our organization we use all the time is if we aren't quite sure about something, we ask the question, "Is this the right thing to do?" And if it's the right thing to do, have the confidence to do it.

Michelle C.: Yeah, I love that. Just about using great judgment isn't it? And again, bringing it back to that trust. Perfect. So thank you so much Janice. I've really enjoyed chatting to you on the podcast. Thank you so much. How do our listeners find out more about the work that you're doing? How do they follow you?

Janice Kaffer: Our organization is a Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, and you can find us at That's, and that will link to our Facebook page and all of our social platforms. For me personally, it's K-A-F-F-E-R, That's Kaffer, JKaffer, that's my Twitter handle, and for the record I need 15 ... no, 19 more followers to get to 1500, which is a fairly big milestone for little old me. But I enjoy talking to new folks, so if people decide to follow me, then I'd love for them to send me a little message and let me know what they're thinking about this podcast and why they followed me, and I like to get into conversations with people. So Twitter is the best way to do that with me. But I also have an email at, and I'm happy to talk to anyone else as well.

Michelle C.: Fantastic. So Janice, thank you so much for your time. It's been an absolute pleasure, and I very much look forward to sharing the podcast and finding out what people think.

Janice Kaffer: Thank you so much Michelle. I've had a wonderful chat with you too and I really enjoyed the conversation, and got me thinking about a couple of things. So I might actually do a little social media thing later on tomorrow on our conversation. So we'll see where my brain takes me today.

Michelle C.: Fantastic. Thank you so much.

Michelle C.: You've been listening to the Get Social Connected Leader podcast. Thank you to my guest, and indeed, thank you to you for tuning in. Please do feel free to share the podcast with colleagues and friends who you think will enjoy it and indeed subscribe to tune in for more episodes. You'll find the podcast and all the usual platforms and all episodes are also on our website, You'll also find some really useful digital and social resources on that site too, so be sure to check those out.

Michelle C.: So for now, from me, Michelle Carvill, your host on the podcast, thank you so much for tuning in and goodbye. Oh, PS. If you're a business leader with something to share around digital and social technologies, and you're keen to be a guest on the podcast, then I'd love to hear from you. You can email me