Myrianne Collin – Executive Director of LaSalle College
July 2, 2020-
One on one
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1. In this period of chaos, as a leader, what prevented you from sleeping?
Let’s just say that I was driven by my survival instinct. That may be a strong word, but I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything I could to preserve my organization. By day, that translated into a role that I naturally take on, that of a unifying leader, and I made it my duty to be a strong captain for the team.
I was taking part in the action and rallying my gang to ensure that, despite the crisis, our services kept being offered to our students. It was at night, out of sight, that I allowed myself to worry. That’s when I untangled the mess, readjusted the game plan, reviewed my priorities, realigned the actions to be taken, and took a step back from the situation. As soon as the day dawned, I was ready to move forward and help the team with a solid plan, and above all, to support them if necessary. Any doubts, concerns or worries, I kept them to myself as much as possible. I must admit that I didn’t sleep much for several weeks and that the adrenaline kept me going. I was genuinely surprised by how much energy and resilience I was capable of. I found that the strength of the team allowed me to recharge my own batteries!
Of course, the nature of the organization and the educational mission of the Collège certainly led me to act with such commitment. I have a great sense of accountability to the stakeholders: the 4,300 students, nearly half of whom are international, the teachers, and all the administrative staff. Even though the Collège has many years of expertise in remote education, we had to really transform to allow, as of Tuesday, March 17th, the maintenance of all our classes virtually. We quickly organized teacher trainings and deployed technological tools to allow students to attend their online classes. This transformation brought its share of anguish and emotion for all involved resources. This was entirely understandable given the unprecedented situation in which we found ourselves. And the most extraordinary thing was that our teachers took up the challenge successfully for the students. The college stage is, for many, a transition to higher education, and we didn’t want to delay their academic progress. Not to mention the significant cost of studying in Canada, at a private college, for international students. There was no way we were going to let them down. So we worked hard to ensure that their programs would continue to be available to them in spite of the crisis. I knew the solutions were available, and one of the best things we’ve accomplished is, without a doubt, the mobilization of the entire team in this strategic transformation. Everyone rallied towards the same goal, with the same determination and passion to make it happen! It was phenomenal to see the demonstration of this commitment, day after day.
2. As a leader, in times of crisis, what personality trait is accentuated?
Without pretension, in times of crisis, I see how strongly my leadership is deployed. I have no worries assuming the role of captain and I am deeply convinced that I can weather the storm with my team. I combine the strengths and challenges of individual resources as well as those of the team as a whole, I make sure that I have a clear, understandable game plan that everyone can agree on, I celebrate successes, and I keep smiling even if I am completely discouraged! (laughs) I love the dynamic that I can get from a strong team and I really cherish the privilege of being the captain. Let’s just say that this leader role, during the crisis, made me feel alive, completely and totally fulfilled.
On a negative note, what I always have to keep my eyes peeled for – and even more so in times of crisis management – is the desire to jump on the ice rather than remain the team’s coach, in control of the strategy and game plan. I tend to take the field with the team, out of a desire to contribute. I have to consciously make sure I don’t lose sight of my role as a leader, a guide, a conductor, a coach.
3. What is your most interesting discovery about yourself, since you first stepped into a management position?
I don’t know if I’ve learned as much as I’ve seen, but I would say that my energy is multiplied tenfold in the chaos and the madness! I know it doesn’t make sense and I’m not looking for chaos, but when I have to face it, when the clock is ticking and I look ahead in the unknown, I like it! It doesn’t discourage me, it doesn’t disconcert me, it doesn’t make me dizzy, it motivates me and it feeds me! I even find a resilience that I am always surprised to have, despite the years. Chaos energizes me and calm bores me. I even find that the best question to ask yourself as a leader is not “are you able to manage in chaos? ” but rather “do you enjoy managing chaos? “… And the answer is likely to be quite different and, above all, very revealing for each leader.
4. What inspires you now on a daily basis?
People. Without a doubt: people. The commitment and energy of others in this storm amazes me, inspires me, stimulates me. In fact, on a human level, what we are currently going through as a team is indescribable and precious. Despite the distance, I have never felt as close to my people as I do now. In our own way, we have each revealed a piece of our personal lives… In videoconferences, for example, we got to meet the children, see the cat, greet spouses, chat about their space and decor… we shared a certain intimacy. We allowed ourselves moments of vulnerability together. Stress and fatigue eventually came into play. These are elements of great truth that we wouldn’t normally have had access to. Personally, I also allowed myself to demonstrate my vulnerability, all while keeping my cheerleading hat. Sharing positive energy is contagious. It becomes a give-and-take. I got to charge my batteries by supporting my colleagues. The human factor is one of the most memorable parts of this period we’ve been through.
5. What is the most interesting innovation that your organization has carried out during this tumultuous period?
The obvious one, being in the education sector, has been the online training transition. Many of us went through this process, we did it and have been doing it for the past 20 years! But what makes me even prouder is that it goes beyond classes! We have virtualized college life to enrich the online experience. As a team, we have focused on maintaining student life, easy access to the College’s network and online resources: the help centres, the meetings with our social worker, even our open houses have been virtual! It was an unhoped-for success. We got 50% more virtual visitors than we have ever had on campus. A huge team success, that we shared with our teachers, our administrative teams and our admissions office in particular.
Also, probably many of us will say that as we come out of the crisis, but the demonstration of creativity over the past three months has been spectacular. Ideas are coming out from everywhere! Creativity has been an incredible ally in this situation. It’s helping us at the moment, but there are things that we have developed that we’re going to keep forever! Wow! We’re going to take open houses back on campus, but I can very well foresee maintaining a virtual open house platform for our international students. Our social worker, of course he’s coming back on campus but the clips he has created for students, we’re going to be able to keep them and continue to make them accessible. The “solution approach” is a skill that came up in everyone’s mind.
On a human level, I created the “collective hug” with all 70 employees from the Collège’s administrative team. At the end of the day on Fridays, we all got together, virtually, to keep in touch, make sure everyone was well and to discuss the week. Initially, I had lots of ideas for different themes to base the meetings on. As the weeks went by, the themes ran out and I found it difficult to keep up with the meetings with new priorities popping up. I cannot tell you how many times I thought about cancelling these meetings! But I kept going and each time I told myself: I’m so glad we kept at it! My colleagues told me that they really appreciated these weekly appointments. It truly did wonders and allowed us to create a strong bond between each other, to discover some hidden talents within the team, to see the great openness of each person and to experience a lot of candour between colleagues. What a wonderful experience!
6. Who is your hero in this crisis?
Ah! the heroes, for me, are all the entrepreneurs. I’m going to get emotional… They’re the ones for whom it was their dream to be in business. The ones for whom the line between their personal and professional life is very thin. Think about it, it’s the man who opened a restaurant with his life savings six months ago and who had to close it down. It’s the woman who finally bought the shop she’s been coveting for 5 years… who set out to achieve her dream and finally finds herself with little or nothing to show for it. Their reality is a sad one. Suppliers want to be paid… There is a labour challenge related to subsidies… Customers are no longer there. These contractors have few ways out. All they can do is wait and hope. They are my heroes, the brave entrepreneurs. Despite the fire and the passion of entrepreneurship, who will be able to make it through? Will the money still be available to keep the flame burning? It is a sad reality and that is why we must support local business ad nauseam. Supporting an entrepreneur is also supporting his family. Let’s take care of our people.
7. For your organization, the broader economy, how do you envision the future in the short term?
I’m sincerely concerned. When you see all these local businesses filing for bankruptcy protection, when an important layer of small entrepreneurs is vanishing… what is going to become of our economic landscape? At the moment, there are many measures put into place to contain the bleeding. It now takes intellectual capital and support; the conditions must be right for this economic recovery to take place. The priority must be to focus on the industries that need to be transformed to support this recovery. In my case, the crisis we are experiencing highlights three important parameters in education. First, the economic contribution of international students. If the borders do not open to allow them to come to this country, there will be significant impacts on educational institutions, but also on the economy. Second, the way teaching will continue to change – and we must build on the technological gains we made during the pandemic. At the Collège, online training is here to stay. And the third aspect, young people are tomorrow’s business leaders. Making room for young people in businesses is quite a challenge right now. Asking companies to take on interns during a financial crisis is unthinkable. Their current priorities do not include offering their time to the next generation. We have young people who are now questioning their professional future. Did they study for nothing? For example, six months ago, the restauration and hotel industry was battling to get its hands on trained students, even at those at the beginning of their program. Now, the certainty of finding a job for these students no longer is. Let’s just say that it changes a lot of plans!
Ultimately, we need to bring our three ministerial bodies, Labour, Education and Immigration, around the same table to review our industry and transform it so that it can live in harmony with the business community. We must not forget or underestimate that education has an important role to play in economic recovery. The emergency measures must not be allowed to end without a defined plan for the future. I can assure you that we are not going to be picking up from where we left off before the crisis. We must have learned from this exceptional situation.
8. In closing, the question that kills, if you were François Legault, from here, how would you write the future?
Since the beginning of the crisis, we have all noticed our Prime Minister’s abilities to lead and to drive action. I would rely on these two skills to bring people together and to encourage all those who, like him, are driven by this energy to build and to transform. Together, they could address all the major issues that came up during the crisis one by one. I would seize the momentum of this creative dynamic to move things forward. Truly and concretely.
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