Member Spotlight: Leslie Benecki

Interview with Leslie Benecki

Leslie Benecki

Board Member, ACHE Canadian Chapter

by Todd Stepanuik

TS: Provide an overview of your background and career.

LB: After receiving my Bachelor of Science at Purdue University, I worked as a Registered Dietitian. I went to the University of Michigan for a Masters in Health Services Administration and a MBA. As a big proponent of lifelong learning, I also have certificates in Quality Improvement (University of Toronto) and Accounting (St. Lawrence College).

I’ve had an eclectic career as a result of being a “trailing spouse.” Most of my career has been focused on the intersection of primary health care and equity seeking populations. My experience includes progressive managerial roles at Alberta Health, two Community Health Centres, a university-based health policy research centre, and some consulting, too. I’ve been an active volunteer including a Board term with the South East Local Health Integration Network, and, of course, activities with ACHE.

It’s been a fun ride and I’m looking forward to my next adventure!

TS:  What has been one of the most important lessons you have learned during your career?

LB: Every organization has its own unique culture, and the closer the match the better. The very same attributes you bring to a workplace can be considered significant contributions or pesky irritants depending on your cultural fit. Find a place where your personal values match the mission and you are truly valued by the organization.

TS: How has or how does ACHE help you address the challenges you face?

LB: Through ACHE, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people, especially as I moved to different communities due to family commitments. Reading the ACHE magazines and books, and attending educational events has helped me keep up with changes in healthcare. The ACHE Career Resource Center offers excellent tools and I’d recommend them to anyone, regardless of their career stage.

TS: How has or how does ACHE help you address the challenges you face?

LB: Through ACHE, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing people, especially as I moved to different communities due to family commitments. Reading the ACHE magazines and books, and attending educational events has helped me keep up with changes in healthcare. The ACHE Career Resource Center offers excellent tools and I’d recommend them to anyone, regardless of their career stage.

TS: What is the greatest challenge you have confronted during your career?

LB: In every challenge there is an opportunity, right? I suppose being in a family relationship, which has required me to step back from roles on several occasions, has been a challenge. The opportunity is that I’ve done some neat things and have had variety in my work. I’ve even published peer reviewed journal articles. And, I’ve been able to be there for my family, which has been a key priority for me.

TS: What has been your most rewarding experience?

LB: Over the years there have been many rewarding moments, including a successful start-up of Kitchener Downtown CHC. Seeing people I’ve hired working well in their jobs, and supporting folks to grow into pivotal leadership positions have been career highlights.

TS: How have you seen the healthcare management field change during your career?

LB: Years ago there was a real strong focus on acute care and limited discourse on prevention or other factors, which influence health. Now the intersection of primary care and social determinants of health is much more common. We are making progress in working toward overall health and wellbeing as a goal instead of the more traditional focus on fixing a particular disease or injury.

Data analytics and overall technology advancements are changing everything, including the healthcare landscape. We are entering a vastly new era of ethical dilemmas as life and death tradeoffs becomes more fluid and complicated.

TS: Who have been your mentors?

LB: It might sound silly, but my parents have been my lifelong mentors. My mom helps me stay resilient and my dad, a retired CEO and consultant in industry, consistently offers sage advice.

In healthcare, I’ve greatly appreciated the support from so many people. Dr. Tom Noseworthy and I were on the board of the Boyle McCauley Health Centre and he helped me in my early years in Canada. Within ACHE, I am particularly grateful to Joe Mapa for encouraging me and providing me opportunities while he was the ACHE Regent for Canada. Terry Fadelle and I were on the Canadian Chapter of ACHE board together. He generously offered perspective and practical suggestions, and helped me become a better leader and collaborator.

TS: What lessons have you learned as an executive leader?

LB: It is essential to remain true to yourself and your values. Healthcare as a field has plenty of opportunities for this to occur.

The expression, “perception is more powerful than truth” is something to always keep in mind. It has been my observation that people often erroneously assume their best strengths (e.g., numbers, interpersonal skills, teamwork, cheerleading) are also easy for others. If we all used the kindest interpretation to situations, it would help mitigate unnecessary misperceptions and mutual misunderstandings.

TS: What is the best advice you ever received?

LB: My high school band instructor taught us to “Go for it!” It is so true. Working toward a common goal takes a lot of effort and commitment. Perseverance is worth it. Take risks and follow your heart.

Provide an overview of your most recent role with Kingston Community Health Centres

LB: From 2011 to early 2019, I worked in a variety of roles at Kingston Community Health Centres, a $25 million multi-site organization providing a wide array of primary and allied health care along with supports to help people have a strong foundation related to various social determinants of health. My most recent role was Director of Organizational Health which included all back office corporate roles (i.e., most responsible staff for finance, privacy, human resources, etc.). In winter 2019, I left work to get ready for another family transition. I’m not sure exactly what the future holds, but I look forward to the journey.

TS: What words of wisdom would you as a mentor and role model share with aspiring healthcare leaders?

LB: One saying in the quality improvement literature is, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” The majority of healthcare activities require collaboration with others. Take time to learn from others, to build trust, and support one another. You will have maximum success if you do this at all levels: with staff, peers, and superiors.

ACHE and other professional organizations offer lots of opportunities to build relationships and grow. The more you contribute to the profession, the better it is for everyone.

TS: Anything else you might wish to share?

LB: Always keep learning and read widely. Gail Warden, President Emeritus of Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, Michigan, says, “leaders are readers.” Perhaps you could even consider a book or journal club with others!

Leslie Benecki is Treasurer of the Canadian Chapter of ACHE. Connect with her on LinkedIN.