Runway Lights and Workplaces – The Connection

There are two separate stories to share. One revolves around my 90 year old Dad. The other involves malfunctioning runway lights at the Fredericton Airport.

They intersect, I promise. Here we go…

Last June, Ontario took quite a turn, shifting from a Liberal to Conservative government. The Tories decided to make some sweeping changes in the way they govern, including the way that they administer contract work, and at the same time, ensuring a reduction in expenditures at the bureaucratic level.

(Translation: a serious abbreviation in my potential consulting contracts.)

Being proactive, I decided to post something on Linkedin to hasten potential opportunities for me. (

A few gracious individuals reached out, and one, in particular – Robert Laurie – invited me to explore a new business in which he was involved that provides positive workplace solutions by supporting wellness and mental resiliency.

My first reaction was “Are you kidding? I’m an environmental facilitator!”


Undertaking some outdoor facilitation. Or bird watching. One of the two.

But with Robert’s patient input, I realized that the work I do to facilitate involves getting people/teams/groups to work together in a positive and supportive fashion. Then they can work together “positively” for their task at hand. So yes, the skills I use as a facilitator can easily and effectively be used to help foster more positive and healthier workplaces.

Now, my Dad. Most Sundays, I am lucky enough to be able to share lunch with my most remarkable father.


Mr. President, and me!

He’s smart, well read, caring, compassionate and a great lunch date. He is also insightful and very, very aware of issues surrounding him – from political antics in the U.S. (he can quote line and verse from Bob Woodward’s FEAR) to what’s happening at his Senior’s Residence. He is, by the way, the President of the Resident’s Organization there.

He has some medical issues that require a PSW (personal support worker) to visit him each morning. Because of his grace and good cheer, he has endeared himself to them all, and they each try to be the one to visit “The Doctor” in the morning.

This Sunday, as we sat down at our favourite lunch spot,  Dad proceeds to tell me about his morning. The he reflects on the fact that lately, every time one of the PSW’s comes to his room, she or he starts by saying “We’re understaffed this morning”. Dad went on to explain that clearly, absenteeism is becoming rampant, and people are just not happy working there.

(Now, hold on before you think that this has impacted care at this residence. My father makes it clear that his care has not been compromised in any way. But he is certain that the care of staff is far from adequate, and ultimately, that will impact his own care. What to do???)

Oh, and lights on the runway? Last week, I made the plunge. I registered for a Workplace Framework – Mental Fitness and Resiliency Practices Training Workshop ( being held in Fredericton and was at Pearson Airport ready fly out. But alas, the wind had knocked the runway lights out, so no flights coming or going to Fredericton. Meaning, no training for Susan.

So how do these stories connect? In Canada today, we spend at least 1/3 of our lives at work. Our working environment can have a significant impact on our overall health and wellbeing. According to Statistics Canada, 1 in 4 working people have left a job due to stress, and in any week, 500,000 Canadians call in sick due to stress, anxiety and depression…like at Dad’s Senior’s Residence.

IMG_3596 2

My office colleague…hogging all the space on my chair!

Employers are increasingly recognizing the damage that stress can do in the workplace, including :

  • lost productivity due to staff absence;
  • increased workloads for workers who have to cover their colleagues’ work;
  • higher staff turnover.

Most of us work in constantly connected, always-on, highly demanding work cultures where stress and the risk of burnout are widespread. Since the pace and intensity of our work culture are not likely to change, it’s more important than ever to build mental fitness and resilience skills to navigate our work environments.

I do not mean through a single workshop for staff where you can tick off a box and say “Yup, Healthy Workplace Training, DONE!”.

No. This needs sustained and embedded positive efforts.

I’m going to go back to take the workshop as soon as possible, hopefully with fully functioning runway lights wherever I land. I will be able to help organizations who want to have strategies in place for promoting, embedding, and building capacity in positive workplace practices.  SO, I’ll ask you to consider what your workplace is like. What are the costs – on you and your colleagues – of a negative work environment?

If you would like to learn more about how simple it is to create a positive workplace culture, then get in touch with WMA Wellness. Or me. Or both! We can set you and your workplace on the path to positive!


My preferred positive, happy, healthy workplace!


“Drift” into this shop

I hate that feeling. If you’re a woman who enjoys doing activities that are often viewed as a man’s sport, you know the feeling I am talking about.

Take fly fishing. You walk into a fly shop and the “guys” are standing there, having a Tim’s and talking about their latest fishing adventures. When they see you, they stop talking. They turn.  And stare.


I suppose I would stare if I saw someone else standing in the water fly fishing, wearing a life jacket!

Then the fellow who actually works there approaches you with a curious smile. Often as not, he asks you if you’re there to get something for your husband/boyfriend/other half (who surely must be the one who fishes).

That used to happen to me. So I’d take a deep breath, stand tall and say something like “Nope, I’m out of leader material, I need some Hendricksons, Adams and maybe some Hare’s ears. And some new hemostats”.

That usually made the guys shake their heads and wonder how this woman knew their language. But it wasn’t comfortable. Or pleasant.


There are shops where I so feel comfortable, like The Tying Scotsman in the Margaree Valley.

Over the years, I’ve entered plenty of fly shops. I’ve often had that feeling, where I am something of an imposter trying to blend in. Even though I do know the language and can talk about casting for steelies in the winter, or nymphing or what it is like to hook a brookie on a dry, it still happens.

But thankfully, not all the time. It was about 2 years ago when I needed a 6-weight fly rod. I’d done my homework, narrowed it down to 2 different brands, and headed into Toronto to this new fly shop called Drift Outfitters ( My friends Alex and Sean both told me I’d like the shop, and a website check showed me they carried both brands. So, I ventured downtown with a bit of trepidation, a thick skin and a credit card.

(Now before this becomes an advertisement for Drift, please return to the original premise of this story – the feeling of entering somewhere and feeling out of place, on display or otherwise uncomfortable. Pause for a moment and think about that feeling. Put yourself there, so right now, so you’re feeling a bit off balance and delicate as you continue reading…)

I strode into the shop, prepared with a selection of retorts to throw at the “guys”.  There were two young men behind the counter and I metaphorically “braced” myself for that look and the question.

But to my complete surprise, Harry looked up, grinned and said, “Hey there, how can I help you today?” And the look on his face was welcoming and interested and ready to help. I was startled and delighted and blurted out “A 6-weight. I need a new 6-weight”. And before I knew it, Harry was out from behind the counter, drilling me with questions, and ready to show me a few different rods.


There truly are more women in the river in 2018!

Why was this shop different? Or why was Harry (and then Chris, and Alex and Rob, the owner) different?

I think it’s a combination of a few things.

  1. First, more women are fly fishing and so more women come into fly shops, and staff need to be prepared. There was a time when I’d be the only woman on the river, and now, I take great delight in seeing other women out there, casting and bringing in (and releasing) fish.
  2. Second, I think that many of us have done a great job with our children promoting gender equity. Jaime once told her Dad that she wanted to do a girls’ sport…she wanted to fish! These young men are Jaime’s generation, and they love everything about fishing and want to share that love. Couple that with their gender perspectives, and you get a reception that makes everyone feel welcome.
  3. Third, I believe that the owner sets the tone for the welcome. Rob has an unpretentious way of making each client feel like we are the most important person who’s walked into the store. Ever. And that makes all the difference.

In these days of #metoo that seem to colour the newspapers and air waves, it is so refreshing to walk into a shop and know you are both welcome and wanted.

So, yes, now that I think about it, this I actually this is a plug for Drift Outfitters! But  even more so, it is a plug for their families and the people who have influenced these young men to become the way they are. They have created a wonderful, welcoming store, and they give me hope that the generations of young people coming after me are ready to make a difference…starting with one fly fisher after another!


I do ocassionally catch a salmon!



To Sniff or Not to Sniff

My neighbour (and good friend) David Donaldson, and I kind of do similar work. David works for Tidal Shift as Director of Client Solutions (and Grand Poobah). More importantly, he and his wife love the same wine as I do, and we laugh a lot together.


Fuzzy Facilitators!

A few weeks ago, David asked me if I’d be an expert guest on a webinar he was doing for clients and students about facilitation. The idea was an interview format, where he spends a few minutes setting the stage, introduces me, throws some questions out, and we’d be off to the races as we both explore and answer the questions. All the while, people will be coming and going in and out of the webinar and participating as they see fit.

Of course, I’d love to!

David arranged the webinar so that neither of us had to go anywhere. He walked over to my house, set up the camera and computer, and we were ready to go.

His questions were designed to find out how I addressed challenges while facilitating: How do you deal with
• Disengagement
• Disruption
• Let me steer (those who like to take control)
• ‎Discussions going off track

As facilitators, we all have our own tips and tricks that work for us, but I tend to introduce some common ground rules that set the stage, encourage participation and define how we are going to carry out our discussions. I write them on a flip chart in the front of the room and refer to them throughout any session.

  • Show up – be present (this is a fancy way to encourage people to put down their cell phones!)
  • Listen first
  • This time together is precious
  • Trust and respect
  • Contribute (don’t dominate)
  • Let differences motivate you

Forestry workshop where the facilitator was listening first.

Now allow me to digress.

The other morning, as most mornings, I was out walking my two wonderful dogs. IMG_5901I knew I had a lot on my plate that day, and I was anxious to get the girls out, get them moving, then get them home so I could get to work. We went one of our normal routes, around the tennis courts, up the hill and then headed towards home. Lucy was preoccupied with sniffing. Apparently, EVERYTHING needed to be thoroughly sniffed and investigated, and this took a great deal of time. Time, according to me, that I did not have.

Grrrr. I could feel my anxiety rising. Every time she’d stop, I’d hear myself say “No, Lucy, come on, no, Lucy, no!” (repeat and repeat and repeat). Roxy, the older dog, just looked at me as if to say “But that’s Lucy, that’s what she does. Lighten up Susan.” (I’m sure she was thinking that anyway).

I finally stopped and listened to myself. Everything I was saying was negative. Don’t stop, don’t sniff, no, don’t walk there, don’t…, no….all uttered in an exasperated tone.

Time to pause.

If I were facilitating a meeting, I would never tell my clients/participants what not to do. I would focus on what to do. I would be positive, give ideas and options, and would not be demanding. So why am I doing this with my dog?

(I find so often that lessons from my personal life can be instrumental in my work life, but I sometimes forget that work lessons can help with the rest of my life, too.)

So, I paused. I became present. I listened to Lucy (for the record, she is quite a loud sniffer). I reminded myself that our morning time together is precious – she is 12 and Roxy is 15. In dog years, they are both seniors, and you know what that means. Lucy trusts me, I need to do the same for her. I won’t dominate, but I will lead her to where I want her to go (in this case, home!). And instead of telling her what NOT to do, I will tell her what I want her to do – heel!

And when she knew what I wanted, she walked next to me quite happily. Imagine that!

And so, going back to facilitation, when you have to deal with disengagement, disruption, people who like to take control of the discussions and discussions going off track, make sure you set your ground rules ahead of time. And consider those I’ve shared. Usually people, like my little Lucy, have their own agendas (for the record, sniffing is critically important, especially after it rains). But most people are also willing to take direction, if it is delivered in a positive fashion.

Follow your ground rules, and you’ll get home in plenty of time!


Ground rules followed and on our way home!




Any of you out there interested in creating change? I believe we all are…just some of us are more motivated to do something about it! The Toronto Blue Jays are taking part in the postseason for the first time since 1993, and the changes they have made in their lineup are part of the reason. New pitcher, change in left field, and more, have all been positive changes.

Everyone with their hand up....they must be ready for change!

Everyone with their hand up….they must be ready for change!

Change, for anyone, is hard. Large changes or transformations within an organization – like a baseball team or soccer team – are even harder. It means taking all those individuals and helping each and every one of them to change. Sounds like a lot of work, and not very easy, when you look at it like that.

McKinsey is a global management consulting firm that does extensive research into improving client performance ( Their latest findings suggest that investing time and effort UP FRONT to design initiatives for change works better than putting equal time and effort in after the change has started. These findings suggest that the most effective initiatives involve four key actions: role modelling (BE the change), fostering understanding and conviction (help people to understand and believe), reinforcing changes through formal mechanisms (put it in their job specifications) and, and developing talent and skills (provide formal and informal training). These actions are critical to shifting both mind-sets and behaviours.

Yes, her eyes glazed over and I think I put her to sleep with my talk about change management!

Yes, her eyes glazed over and I think I put her to sleep with my talk about change management!

I can see you now, eyes all glazing over and wondering why you’re even reading this. I’ll tell you why: you’re reading this because it is going to make a difference in how you do change management! McKinsey’s research demonstrates that when companies or organizations (or teams) design a portfolio of change initiatives based on all four of those key actions, success is like to follow.

They go on to suggest that you must ensure these change initiatives complement and support one another, but at the same time, are truly innovative. Indeed, some companies indicate that just using tried and true activities often limits successful change. The most effective initiatives focus on an organization’s strengths and take advantage of where they are already effective, preparing and encouraging change in unique ways.

For you Jays fans out there, or supporters of Toronto Football Club, it means finding out what the team does really, really well, supporting that, and then introducing the change…say, like a new pitcher or incredible striker. And the team morphs around that introduction.

At the same time, the research tells us that being systematic in prioritizing change initiatives also helps to predict successful change. So preparing and planning for change in a systematic way, laying out which initiative will follow which other initiative, is going to help you in your change efforts.

And do you develop these innovative, creative initiatives by yourself, locked in your little change management office? NO! We know that involving people across an organization (or a team) with the design of that change will be wayyyyy more successful that ignoring them.

Brilliant defending!

Brilliant defending!

When I coached my daughter’s soccer team, I recall struggling with a defensive line problem – too many balls were getting past our defence into our net. It just seemed so obvious to me to sit down with my defence players to brainstorm ways to improve. It was the players themselves who came up innovative ideas, and created their own demanding practice drills that tightened up our defence. I coached the drills, but because the players had such a critical role in how we were going to strengthen our game, they chose to work hard. Talk about a change in behaviour and performance. FYI, we won the league that year.

You too, can win your league or at least be successful with your transformation when you adopt a multi-initiative approach to change. Consider how to role model, help your folks to understand what’s going on, use formal AND informal change mechanisms and develop (or bring in) talent and skills. Mindsets, behaviours and your entire organization are sure to change…is a good way! Just look at those Jays…some positive change, and they are on their way to the World Series!

For the sake of a Community

I started playing fiddle about five years ago. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I travel down to Toronto each week with my friend Eleanor and we play in a group called MSR Fiddlers (March, Strathspey, Reel is the acronym). This is a diverse group of folks of all ages, stages and abilities, brought together by the simple love of Cape Breton music, step dancing and the generous and loving spirit of our leader, Sandy MacIntyre.

Three "hatted" fiddlers!

Three “hatted” fiddlers!

I don’t remember much about my first year of playing with this group. I struggled mightily as I tried to learn the instrument, play and memorize tunes, and try to keep my feet from stomping when we’d really get a tune going. Trying to fit in was not on my list of priorities. Then again, this is not an organized group – we slip in at staggered times, acknowledge one another with a head nod or and wave, sit down and launch into tunes. This community of people come together once a week and play music, nothing more. 

And then Leona got sick. 

Leona and Fiona - different in age but sisters in spirit!

Leona and Fiona – different in age but sisters in spirit!

Leona, a Cape Bretoner through and through, was like sunlight on anything she touched. She makes me smile just thinking about her. It was her second battle with cancer, and despite her motorcycle adventures in the summer and her zip lining in the winter, our group knew that this battle was her last. So one evening a few weeks ago, at Lucy MacIntyre’s bidding, we did something that we’ve never done, at least not in the 5 years I’ve been going to play music. 

Eleanor, warming up for a performance.

Eleanor, warming up for a performance.

We introduced ourselves to one another.

Names were exchanged. Street addresses and e mails, laughter and wishes and things that could have/should have/might have been done years ago. Characters like The Professor, The Teacher, Poodle Man (he brings his miniature poodle!) and The Older Lady now had real names. People learned that they actually lived down the street from one another. 

We were a disparate community of musicians who had morphed into a community of friends in a moment, simply because one precious member of our community was going to leave us. 

I believe we all have different communities in our lives. Our immediate families are a community, often extended to cousins, uncles, aunts, once removed or otherwise. I have my yoga community that meets every Thursday night, none of whom know my family. Or my friends from work, who make a huge community and are separate from other parts of my life.

Much loved members of another community of mine!

Much loved members of another community of mine!

These communities may or may not overlap, but it is our inclusion in those communities that gives us strength, a sense of belonging and a place in the world. They don’t have to be large; they just have to be.

Leona Au Coin, though if she were alive would most likely deny it, was a cornerstone of our fiddle community. She chose to learn the fiddle after having a stroke. She wanted something to help challenge and restore her brain. She somehow reached out to all of us in her own way, and helped shape us into this unique congregation of musicians and friends. 

Her funeral is next week. Our community of fiddlers will gather at the funeral home with our fiddles and honour her life the only way we  know how: play her favourite tunes. Because of her, we know each other’s names and we feel connected. We’ll also see members of Leona’s other communities at the funeral – her family, her travel friends, her work friends; so many people will be there to celebrate her life. And we will blend those communities, if only for a day.

To all my friends who read these musings of mine, I would ask that you take a moment and consider your own communities. You might surprise yourself when you realize how many communities you find yourself in. And to honour my Leona, take a moment and be thankful for those communities, and let all the members who touch your heart in some way know how very, very special they are.

Taking my own advice, if you are reading this, whether I know you or not, you are very much a part of my community, and I am so grateful for your presence. 

A small part of our community!

Eleanor, me, Anastasia and Leona – a small part of our fiddle community!