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7 Questions on Leadership with Farah Ismail

Name: Farah Ismail

Title: SVP, Chief Legal, Privacy and Compliance Officer

Organisation: SE Health

Farah is a nurse – lawyer and Senior Vice-President and Chief Legal, Privacy and Compliance Officer at SE Health. She holds a BSc.N and MSc.N from the University of Western Ontario and an LL.B from the University of Windsor. She is a skilled Privacy Officer and holds a Fellowship in Regulatory Excellence from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Farah has led large-scale initiatives and influenced lasting change by using innovative and resourceful strategies. She has a deep knowledge of the issues that impact the Canadian healthcare system and understands the need to provide safe, accessible and adequate healthcare from a clinical and legal perspective. She recently completed the National Health Fellowship Program through McMaster University - Health Leadership Academy where she joined forces with leaders across Canada to revitalize, retool and reimagine the way healthcare is delivered in this country. She is a published author and speaker.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Farah's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a seasoned healthcare leader, the pandemic certainly emphasized my need to adapt to unpredictable change in real time. This experience has been the most challenging for me as a leader but has also prompted me to foster a culture of flexibility, encourage open dialogue, be as nimble as possible and use these experiences to promote my continuous learning. I often find that when leading change through dynamic situations, I need to focus on motivating and inspiring other but in order to do this effectively, I must also engage in self-care to ensure that I show up as my best self.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I am a nurse-lawyer and my path to leadership has been non-traditional. I have worked to create opportunities where I can effectively utilize my dual skill set. Very early on in my career, I recognized that enthusiasm, passion, authenticity, and energy were critical pieces to this puzzle. In addition, as I grew my knowledge and expertise in fundamental areas, I also spent time nurturing relationships and empowering others that I worked with to succeed. I recognized that I could do much more with others than could ever be done alone. With these principles in mind, I have continued to build my leadership capacity and held several diverse leadership positions.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

The critical pieces to my success are balance and a well-organized schedule. There are four key areas that I focus on to ensure that this happens:

a) Planning - I am very clear about my goals and outcomes. I set priorities that are achievable and am specific about my timelines.

b) Time Management – As a working mother and spouse, this piece is essential to my success. I set out blocks of time that help me break up my day and prioritize urgent matters.

c) Connection – As previously mentioned, relationships with others has been critical to my growth and development and I allocate time to work on this each month to cultivate networks both within and outside my organization.

d) Self-care – As I have matured in my leadership journey, I have a true appreciation for prioritizing my well-being including proper sleep, nutrition, exercise and dedicated time for enjoyment with family and friends.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A leadership lesson that I was recently reminded of was that vulnerability can be deemed as a strength. It helps to foster trust and connections and openness with you team. Being open about helps you be more relatable and authentic.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

A few years ago, I was a juncture in my career. I was a new mom and my son was just starting kindergarten, my husband was travelling quite a bit on business and my passion for the work I was previously doing had dissipated. I was gifted a book called How Women Rise by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith and it truly made me reflect on my behaviours and habits that were preventing me from growing. This book was the catalyst for me to overcome my fear of starting something brand new.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Enjoy the journey – the destination is a finite point in time and getting there is where the real learning and enjoyment happen. Treasure your relationships and make time for things that are important to you Be grateful for the good and the bad and use these moments to strengthen your armor.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

As I continue my leadership journey, the opportunities become greater and the challenges sometimes more difficult but one of the things that I have continued to prioritize is that my work must bring me personal fulfillment. When I embarked on a big change in my career just before the pandemic, I explored several opportunities that I had before me and values alignment with the organization was at the top of my list because I was certain that if these pieces were in synergy, I would have the personal fulfillment I was looking for. I am so glad that this was something that I prioritized as I was able to find an incredible landing pad which enables me to work with an extremely talented group of senior leaders and utilize my dual skill set as a nurse-lawyer all while having impact on the populations we serve.

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