Feb. 18, 2021

Deena Hinshaw describes what leadership is like at the centre of Alberta's pandemic response

Chief medical officer of health tells Haskayne students: 'What’s really important to me is making the best decisions with the most current data, while acknowledging where the trade-offs lie'
Deena Hinshaw
Deena Hinshaw Government of Alberta photo

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, MD, has been an exemplary leader during an unprecedented crisis. On Feb. 10, Haskayne MBA and EMBA students were privileged to hear from Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, on her experiences helping to manage the province's response to the crisis, how she stays focused and productive, and what leadership means to her.

The virtual event was hosted by Arthur Korpach and Heather Cuthbert, the 2020-21 Jarislowsky Co-Fellows in Business Management run through the Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business (CCAL). The fellowship provides a unique opportunity to enrich the Haskayne student experience through engaging successful business, social sector and public sector leaders as role models.

Heather Culbert and Art Korpach.

Heather Culbert and Art Korpach.

Kelly Hofer photo

Hinshaw spoke candidly about her experience. She explained that in her role, her responsibility is to work with the Alberta Health Emergency Operations Centre to provide recommendations to the provincial government based on the most up-to-date data and scientific evidence.

Much like leaders in business, leading during a pandemic comes with a lot of uncertainty. She noted that there is no one right way to navigate this pandemic. “I try to be as transparent as possible. I certainly don’t have all the answers. What’s really important to me is making the best decisions with the most current data, while acknowledging where the trade-offs lie,” explained Hinshaw.

She also gave attendees a glimpse into her leadership style. She favours day-to-day feedback and recognition. Working in a crisis situation doesn’t offer the luxury of waiting for a formal performance review to let her team know what’s working and what isn’t. When collaborating with multiple stakeholders in a political environment, Hinshaw emphasized the importance of active listening. “Every person deserves to be treated with respect. Differences in opinion can come from heightened emotions during times of crises, worldviews and experience. I really try and hear the words and the intention,” she says.

Throughout the event, Hinshaw stressed the importance of recognizing the difference between opinions on a topic and what the data says. Listening to all opinions is important, but just as important is distinguishing false information from the facts. She encouraged Haskayne students in attendance to be mindful of this, and to reference official evidence when faced with individuals who are spreading false data and false scientific claims.

Given the intensity of her role, many students were curious how Hinshaw personally deals with potential burnout. She explained that leaning on her family for support, mentorship, humour, faith traditions, and finding the joy in small moments have helped her through this challenging time. Hinshaw also said that recognizing she’s part of something bigger than herself has helped provide the perspective she needs. She believes this is how we’ll get through this pandemic: by acknowledging that we’re interconnected, bringing along the majority and working as one team.

The Haskayne School of Business, CCAL and Jarislowsky co-fellows thanked Hinshaw for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to share her experience with our graduate students.

When asked what the best piece of advice she ever received was, Hinshaw replied with wisdom passed down from her parents: “Do the right thing, even when it’s hard.”

Learn more about the Jarislowsky Fellowship in Business Management.