ROCK as a Leader: How to Thrive Through Change and Crisis

ROCK STAR by Sarah McVanel coming soonLast week I shared how creating meaning and contribution has looked different for all of us these last few months. If you missed it, check it out here.

I shared an exciting announcement. I have a new book for you! When COVID-19 hit and all my speaking engagements were postponed to 2021, I channelled that time into writing a book for our passionate, busy healthcare leaders getting us through this crisis (and hundreds of other small and massive changes).

Want to know a little bit about what it’s all about?

ROCKSTARS Are All Around Us

I’m not talking rock stars in the traditional sense (even they’re physically distancing…so much so there is a hashtag for that #quarentunes).  I’m talking about how you, as a leader, treat your people as the rocks that they are.

So often when I would do a team consultation or review engagement survey results or coaching a “low performer”, it became evident that they didn’t feel important, valued or heard. They felt that they were on the outs with their peers, disregarded as a complainer, and unsure how to add value.

Even for those who didn’t feel this extreme, many felt so frustrated with the lack of supplies, resources, peers and advanced training to do their job well, it got them down.

We need to treat our staff and middle managers like the rocks they are. How do we do that? That’s the first part of ROCKSTAR.

How to ROCK as a Leader

The ingredients in a resilient leader during change is simpler than you think, and the results you get are long-lasting:


Recognize, Organize, Communicate, Kindness = Satisfaction, Teamwork, Achievement, Retention

McVanel ROCK STAR CoverThink about it. Have you ever worked for someone where your work was valued, organized, clearly communicated, and you were treated with kindness and not feel like coming back to work, collaborative, feel good about what you were producing, and want to stay? And, the opposite: have you ever worked in an environment where you were just a number, there was no structure, you were in the dark, and people mistreated you, and you loved your work, wanted to speak up and pitch in, was highly productive and never thought about leaving (or calling in sick)?

  1. Recognize


If you’ve been following these VLOGs (you can subscribe here) and blogs regularly, you’ll know I espouse the virtues of ROCK in different ways all the time. If it weren’t such an issue still, I wouldn’t keep producing content on it! The reality is, many people don’t always feel valued. In healthcare and essential services specifically, many people feel like a badge or a number or a body filling a scheduling line, versus the talented, passionate, knowledgeable human being he or she is. We need to make our appreciation and recognition way more transparent, especially in times of crisis or change.

  1. Organize

Healthcare organizations are the most complex organizations to run. You have so many stakeholders, complicated funding formulas, new innovations, hundreds of roles and professions. That can intimidate us from fixing inefficiencies. Or we look at the sheer magnitude of what we need to do and we get overwhelmed. Not to mention many healthcare professionals have never worked outside of the field to draw upon the productivity, systematization and efficiency strategies other industries have embraced. The bottom line is: we need to do a better job of organizing providers’ work so we free up time for them to be with the patient. And those working behind-the-scenes or middle managers, we need to streamline our projects, meetings, strategic initiatives to only the most important things so that we have success and sustainability. 

  1. Communicate

communicateWe have a real division in how people wish to be communicated with that we’re not acknowledging; those with offices and handy access to computers tend to favour electronic communication (emails, memos) while providers and staff have limited time and access to it and prefer face-to-face. How does a busy leader with multiple sites and huge spans of control, and hundreds of pieces of information to communicate in any given week manage it all? Especially when they say it takes, on average, seven times to communicate something for somebody to truly understand and adopt it. Huddles, innovative communication tools, and the social media platforms that staff are already accustomed to using may save us, now and forever change and elevate the face of communication, helping to reduce the “us-them” barrier.

4. Kindness

kindnessThe more we appreciate the small gestures, including not taking for granted that people have shown up to work, keep showing kindness in small ways. Like noticing that that person may be struggling. They seem tired. Are you okay? Have you taken your break? Asking after people’s kids. If people have more than one person or a family member working at the hospital, checking in with how their spouse is doing as well. Bringing something into the staff room or posting some kind gestures that happened in the hospital between departments. Let’s not let those little tiny micro-moments pass us by. Take a picture, write a little note to yourself, whatever needs to happen so that we can remember and share those kinds of gestures.

Want to have a deeper dive into ROCK STAR? Anyone working in healthcare, as my gift to you, I’d like to share a copy with you. Provide your details here. (And answering a question of someone, outside of healthcare last week, yes, these ROCK leadership practices fit other industries too and I’ll be working on a version for other industries; if you want your industry top of that list, please email me at [email protected]).

Join me next week as I dive into the STAR results you get from ROCK leadership. And, check out all kinds of resources at

Share with someone you know will benefit, or simply as an excuse to say, “thanks for all you’re doing, to help get us through this.”

Looking for more resources about how you can recognize others’ greatness? Check out these articles:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve