Mental Health Courses Online

#25 Changing military culture after PTSD – Stephane Grenier Founder & Leader Innovator, MHIC Canada (s02ep01)

Feb 4, 2022

Stephane Grenier, Founder and Lead Innovator at Mental Health Innovations (MHI) Canada is one of the world’s leading authorities on mental health peer support programs. He is also our first international guest on The Caring CEO Podcast. MHI are our North American partners for WeCARE365 - simple scalable programs to prevent mental health issues. Stephane started his career in the Canadian Defence Force where he spent 29 years which included deployments to Rwanda and Afghanistan. Returning with PTSD, he then spent 10 years changing the military mental health system from within. This work and his ongoing work with MHI (introducing peer support programs for several large government departments) earned him an Order of Canada in 2019.
"I think we have to go back to some of the first principles of what it is to be human. And sometimes you've just got to support people, right, but you're not treating them, you're not the doctor... but those conversations save lives in some cases."
- Stephane Grenier


  • Setting up a peer support program
  • The importance of caring outside of doctors appointments
  • The elements of a high performing team


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Transcript from the interview

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Graeme Cowan, Stephane Grenier

Graeme Cowan 0:01 

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Stephane Grenier to our show, and Stephane is our first overseas visitor he lives in Canada. Welcome, Steph.

Stephane Grenier 0:12 

Hi, you’re welcome. Glad to be with you. I wish I was with you physically, though, I’m in Australia these days. But thank you.

Graeme Cowan 0:19 

Yeah, I look forward to catching up in person. That’s for sure. Steph, what does care in workplace mean to you?

Stephane Grenier 0:29 

The one thing that comes to mind when I hear that question as a CEO thus a fairly small organization, is when something interferes with the people. Nothing else matters. As far as I’m concerned, right? For a short moment of time, you know, in the old days, Graeme, there was a saying, you know, my door is always open. Well, now the pandemic at all, there is no doors, that we work at home and at Zoom and all this stuff. But to me, you know, for those who have doors, then if you’re going to say that that leaves your door open. But to me is when somebody is getting in the way of a person’s ability to live a balanced life and all this, I think we really need to put people first. So, what that means for me is if I have to spend an extra 15 minutes after a meeting to talk to somebody, and that’s getting in the way of business, then it’s my role to focus on that. So, I think that’s really what it means to me is, is working weight. People need to be put first, right?

Graeme Cowan 1:39 

Excellent. And just for our listeners, Steph, could you just explain what Mental Health Innovation does the organization that you’ve founded?

Stephane Grenier 1:49 

Right. Well, I, you know, I better try to walk the talk anyways. Because what our company does here in North America, is we try to help organizations rehumanize themselves, by being able to pivot and actually do what it takes culturally, with their managers and their people to actually move into a space and create the conditions where it comes naturally to put people first. And so, we’ll implement all sorts of various programs. Our flagship service here is a Peer Support Program. So, we crowdsource human benevolence from the organization itself. We select people, we train them, and then these people are available to their co-workers, that’s our flagships. And we do other stuff in the consultancy, and we are a very happy proud reseller if we care the product that your organization, so kindly shared with us. So we’re a Mental Health Consultancy. And as I say, we try to re-humanize workplaces.

Graeme Cowan 2:55 

I really like that. It’s a lovely, lovely description. And I think for the listeners as well, it’d be great to understand how you came to be in this role. And just get a quick overview of, you know, your career, what are the key elements, which led to you seeing the need to create Mental Health Innovations?

Stephane Grenier 3:17 

Yeah, so, you know, I grew up a happy young lad in Montreal, you know, the, one of our larger cities here, just in the outskirts, my dad was construction worker, I came from a big French-Canadian family here in, in Canada. So, had a happy, happy go lucky life, joined the military at a fairly young age as a young, young adult. Spent 29 years in the military. And it’s during my military career as a leader. I’ve always been a boss, right. I was, was an officer and was a young boss, and then not so young boss and an older boss. And, but came from very humble beginnings, perhaps. Not that my ends are not humble anymore, but my father was a very grounded person. No, we weren’t rich. You know, we weren’t. And my father was a blue-collar worker. So, I always valued people and my grandfather was a carpenter. So, for some reason, you know, when I became an officer in the military, I felt that always a need to be close to the troops, right? Long story short, towards the middle of my career, I went to Rwanda and Australian forces were with us in Africa in Rwanda at the time. I spent ten and a half months there, came back from Rwanda, a very, very different person, Graeme. And it’s then I realized, through my almost six-to-seven-year journey in coming back from Rwanda a broken human being. How difficult it was to regain some semblance of recovery in my mental health and decompensation if I wish, but I realized there was something missing. And it’s the fact that in our ecosystems and our organizations here in North America, we seem to put all of our eggs in the clinical basket when it comes to mental health. And so, if, if a soldier like me is not doing well, we’ll send them to a psychiatrist, and we’ll give him pills. But after that, there’s nothing else. And as I often say, today, and I used to say that in the past, my suicide attempts were not in my doctor’s office, right? They were, they were out there where people were interacting with me. So, as you can see, there’s a very close correlation between my experience and the experience of thousands of my colleagues in the military, and now millions of Canadians, Americans, Australians, that are on that path to recovery, alone. And so, you can’t see a big degree of separation between what I went through, and what I decided to do to serve my country and perhaps others in the making, in to try to create a better future for those who follow us, right? Because like you, I’ve gone through some troubling times. But wouldn’t it be nice if we can leave that legacy for those who follow in our footsteps, and don’t have to recover alone, but they have a social construct, you know, and your model does a great deal of work there. So that’s where I’ve come from. And that’s how I got into what I do today.

 Graeme Cowan 6:30 

Yeah. And do you find it difficult to explain what post-traumatic stress is and what it’s like to have it?

 Stephane Grenier 6:40 

Well, it’s funny because I authored a book several years ago, and at the end of my book, although I don’t argue with the diagnosis with doctors. But I’ve said to a couple of clinician friends of mine, and I actually end my book that way by saying I don’t think I have PTSD. I don’t think I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it’s not because I’m ashamed or whatnot. It’s because I fundamentally believe that I suffered in Africa, in Rwanda, a moral injury, my sense of right and wrong, was conflicting so much with what we had to do or not do, that something happened. It’s like I came back to North America and my moral compass was off. Nothing made sense anymore. And of course, it’s not as clear as that. But I do believe that science is evolving. I know the American and Canadian Psychiatric Associations are looking at, you know, the older terms. And as you know, PTSD was coined and created. And, you know, at the end of the Vietnam War, where you had forces deployed to Vietnam and Americans, we did not go to Vietnam. But we now know that there’s a lot of research that is occurring around the moral injury construct, where it’s a slightly different trajectory. And sometimes I feel Graeme, that maybe I was never really cured, or I was never really treated properly, for my ailment, because that’s not what was wrong with me. I had such a troubling moral injury, that trying to and I remember, at the time, one of my first psychiatrist kept saying, so what are the most traumatic things that happened to you over there? And I thought, well, you know, okay, the young boy got shot beside me, but that’s not a good day, right? I, you know, I picked up this and you almost stepped on a landmine and that person almost shot me and all this, but it’s funny, because the way the psychiatrist Graeme was describing trauma, I’m thinking, well, I can’t remember I remember going. I remember, you know, in that incident, where this soldier almost shot me, I thought I did feel, you know, like a shiver in my spine and all this stuff, and what am I got it? But at the end of the day, I don’t really remember it. Was I traumatized? I don’t know, right? But what I do remember is coming back with so much guilt, and so much– And so I think, I think science, psychiatry, psychology is still unpacking all of this, right, I think we still have a lot more to learn than what we know. But that’s my opinions, right? Because I’m not a clinician, of course.

Graeme Cowan 9:26 

Yeah. And it’s interesting, as you know, I had a really bad episode of depression as well. And I have no doubt that there were some genetic things that, you know, contributed to my depression. But looking back in perspective, I really think it was a crisis of meaning, you know, just not living the life that I showed, I thought I should be living in sort of thing. And yes, so I fully agree that, you know, other things like having a sense of purpose, other things like being able to use your strengths really contribute to, you know, feeling good about our work. And, you know, I can’t begin to imagine the trauma or seeing that there’s things that you saw. But you came back and you decided that you’re going to try and change the culture of the Canadian Defense Force. What did? What led to that decision? And can you just explain a little bit about what you did? What the journey was to try and change a culture of an organization? That largest? It’s like, 100,000 people or something, isn’t it? It’s a big, big organization.

Stephane Grenier 10:40 

Yeah, the culture, the culture was really a medical culture, which is, I believe, I don’t know how it is in Australia. But here in North America, we still believe they’re still sort of the, the hard coding in that, like, the hard code inside our psyche is, well, you have if you have a mental health problem, you must see a psychologist, you must see a social worker or a psychiatrist. And what I’m, what I’m saying today is, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a doctor. But I think there’s other very, very helpful conversations that can be had that can help human beings struggle through and actually get on and stay on the path of recovery. And so, at the time, I was very much consumed. This was when, when I came back from Rwanda was 1995. So, I left in 1994, during the genocide, and I came back at the end of my 10-and-a-half-month tour. And then I spent six years trying to figure out what was wrong with me and try to get some help. And when I started working on what I do today, I really thought there was a huge gap, I call it Graeme, sort of a two-legged stool approach, I’m sure like, you have a stool in your kitchen or right and it might have four legs, but minimum is three. Nobody buys a two-legged stool, right? And the analogy I would make is that we in North America here perceive what we need to do to support people who are impacted by mental health challenges, is essentially make sure they have a doctor or psychiatrist to talk to. And if they need sleeping pills or any depressant they get, and we reduce the barriers to medication, through group insurance benefits and things like that. And I’m thinking, well, that’s all good. And I’m for all of that I’m not against all that. But that’s a two-legged stool, the third leg and the third leg of the stool is essentially, what are the social constructs the ability for somebody to be able to say, oh, my God, Graeme, I’ve been through a similar thing, not to create a pity party around the person you’re supporting, but to create a bridge that can actually bring compassion and empathy to life. Because once you’ve been through something, and by the way, not everybody can do this sense, but we here have lost touch with the fact that it’s, you know, and I can only imagine 100 years ago, this support was probably more natural, more organic, more innate in our ability, because, you know, the urbanization effect hadn’t happened, you know, and, but I think we have to go back to some of the first principles of what it is to be human. And sometimes you just got to support people, right, and you’re not trading them, you’re not the doctor. But those conversations save lives in some sense. You know, a very supportive and productive, right?

 Graeme Cowan 13:59 

I read a study published in Nature Magazine last week, and it was talking about, it analyzed help calls to helplines during the pandemic, and they found out that the major cause of the calls was through loneliness. It wasn’t, you know, severe suicide threat, it was more about loneliness. And what you’re talking about is, you know, that that concept of being able to support each other is a really important component of our mental health, isn’t it? I think people that we can confide in, we can be vulnerable with and likewise, they can be vulnerable with us sort of thing.

Stephane Grenier 14:40 

Yeah, I think that’s the silver lining of the pandemic. Is that I think through the human experience, that the pandemic has taken us through. I think organizations people politicians are realizing, but you know, I want to be wrong here, Graeme. But and I hope I am wrong. But I believe that my worst nightmare is that we will not learn sufficiently during the pandemic, as systems, as organizations, as politicians as health care systems, that we must not forget that before this pandemic started, certainly here in North America, we were in a mental health epidemic of gigantic proportions, where 70% in some, in some areas of disability costs are directly relating to mental health. And I think that I hope I’m wrong. But I believe that organizations and leaders and politicians will think over the pandemics over now so loneliness is no longer an issue because people can socialize, they can visit each other, therefore, we do not have a problem to resolve. You’re perfectly right. I think the isolation prompts a lot of calls. But what is loneliness, it’s not a knee problem. It’s not an ankle problem. It’s not a torn ligament. It’s a mental health problem, right? So essentially, all these things, all these roads lead to this mental health challenge that we as human beings are exposed to constantly. And I just sincerely hope that once a pandemic is over, we do not believe that we don’t have to really aggressively address these issues.

 Graeme Cowan 16:25 

Yeah. And we had a parliamentary inquiry about mental health, just about kind of about a month ago. And the finding of that was that the mental health implications of the pandemic, we will go on for five years, you know, from now, basically. So, it’s not going to be a sudden fix, there’s been so much change, so much trauma, so much uncertainty along the way that it’s going to take a long way, a long time to play out. And they estimated five years. So, it’s no quick fix is a–

Stephane Grenier 17:02 

It’s a quick fix. And I’ve often compared the pandemic to the other trajectory, a soldier goes on, or the journey a soldier goes on when they go to war, right? Yeah, in the aftermath of a pandemic, I believe, will be very similar to the aftermath of coming back home. Now, I know that nobody’s coming back home physically, but figuratively, when this thing is over in the new variant now is dealt with, and we’ve all been vaccinated with boosters on top of boosters, when this thing is declared over, the marathon will be over. And often what I say is that in a sustained sort of effort, as human beings to go through adversity, most people are resilient. I mean, yeah, people call for loneliness, and things like that. But guess what the same person who called probably got up the next morning, had their coffee and went to work or did what they needed to do. That doesn’t mean they’re not lonely, right? But people are inherently resilient. But at one point, the cumulative wear and tear of a long campaign of a two, two and a half three-year pandemics. The ache starts, when it’s over a little bit like a long run, I think you’re a runner, right? So, if you, if you push yourself on a given day, and you run an extra four or five clicks, you know, you might be able, you’re feeling good, you’re feeling that either beat, you’re in a good, you know, and you just rent but the next day, you might have a little bit of soreness, right? And I think that’s what happens to the human psyche sometimes is in the face of adversity, we plow through it. And that’s a good thing. We got to get through this a bit like, like a war zone, you got to get through the war. And if you’re, if you’re lucky enough to fly back home, and you fly back home, and it’s over. But then that’s when we struggle. It’s the aftermath. And I would say five years is probably very conservative. Right?

Graeme Cowan 18:55 

Yeah. Yeah.

Stephane Grenier 18:56 

You’re perfectly right. I think that’s the phenomenon that we’re going to go through.

Graeme Cowan 19:00 

Yeah. Just jumping back to your time in the, in the Defense Force, when you decided that you would like to help reshape the way that you know, some of these mental health issues were addressed? What are the steps that you went through to try and move the needle?

Stephane Grenier 19:22 

Well, I remember, the first thing was to find a champion, find the one person in the organization that will actually think and I did find this person, right, he was a three-star general. And he actually said you’re onto something right. And actually, gave me this mandate. Now, at the time, I can tell you that the surgeon general in the Canadian military was not very pleased that a non-medical person had been appointed to this file, right. But I understood the boundaries from the get go. But the surgery, the medical people did not know that I understood the boundaries. And so, they automatically believe that oh my god, here’s this major at the time, then colonel who, who, you know, has PTSD, who’s still in the military? What kind of trouble is he going to make for us, right? And of course, I was a little bit of a maverick in my organization. And I didn’t take no for answers. And I remember the second thing I did is actually create a term; the term is operational stress injury. And it is not me, but somebody put the term OSI on Wikipedia, and my name is on there. It’s not me, I swear to God, it’s not me. But I coined this term. And the reason I say I coined the term is because I wanted to create a term for the leadership of the organization. This was not a diagnostic term; it was a term for the culture of our organization to understand that the brain is not immune to injury or illness. I want it to sever the conversation for our leadership in our military people away from the diagnostic language and the symptoms-based language saying that’s for doctors, we, as laypeople need to understand that Bob or Graeme is injured, he needs our support. The same way we would support him or her if they had a sprained ankle, right. So coining the term. And I remember, at the time, the medical folks said you can’t create a term who the hell do you think we are? So, I just did, right? And so, lo and behold, you know, today, guess what, there are OSI clinics in Canada.

 Graeme Cowan 21:26 


Stephane Grenier 21:27 

Right, right. Now, and so, you know, creating the foundation for this was instrumental. And my focus was always to change the way the military institution saw this, not the doctors. I was not on a quest to change the way doctors treated patients and but I wanted the organization to understand these issues from a different point of view. And now that I’m a civilian, and I serve corporate Canada, I don’t talk about operational stress injury, I just talk about the stress injury phenomenon, I just took the you know, out there, but it’s the same sort of what causes a human being to become injured? And the reason I thought that was so important, Graeme is that if we can see people who are struggling through the injury lens versus the medical lens, we as human beings will probably have a propensity to know inherently that we can help somebody who’s injured.

Graeme Cowan 22:24 


Stephane Grenier 22:25 

But we may not be able to help somebody who has a disorder, right? It’s the same person. But if we only have the medical disorder lens, to understand what’s going on through this person, you say I’m not qualified, but you’re absolutely qualified to support somebody who’s injured, right? And so of course, you understand that very well, with all the work you’ve done. But it’s hard to change that hard coding in, into the psyche of people, right? So that was the beginnings there. So, a lot of confrontation with a, with a system that was deeply entrenched in medical thinking. And today, I think it’s okay, people see the difference, right?

Graeme Cowan 23:07 

Yeah. It’s interesting, as I think, you know, I was involved in helping given like, in the start, are you okay, in Europe, Australia. And at the time, two of the biggest mental health charities didn’t want to be involved, because they didn’t think we had any clinical people as part of our initiative and thought that it wasn’t going to be wasn’t getting the, you know, run rights sort of thing. But it was all about creating supportive relationships around those people that were struggling have someone to genuinely ask, are you okay? And listen to the response, and really this and encourage people to take action. And so, hopefully, with, you know, some of the things that you’ve just talked about, and looking at the incredible success of are you okay? People now realize that the medical side or the medical intervention isn’t the only way to do it. It’s, it’s one component, and it’s an important component, like I’ve, you know, been on medication in my life sort of thing and been really grateful for it. But in the cold light of day, I really think it was the lifestyle strategies, you know, having, you know, reigniting relationships with good friends having a sense of purpose, exercising regularly, you know, it was those things that had the biggest impact. And as part of my recovery, I was also part of a community support group, and it was all people who’d had depression and had that, or anxiety or whatever. And the wonderful thing about this, which I’m sure you would really relate to, is that you didn’t have to explain what really bad depression or anxiety felt like because there were people there that had been through it as well. And the people there that were now in a good place, and so they’re able off A sense of hope that you could move beyond this. And that hope from someone you trust is a very, very powerful motivator and also something that really reassures us. And, you know, does sprinkle some light on a very, very challenging situation.

Stephane Grenier 25:18 

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Graeme Cowan 25:21 

So, after my being while you’re still in a military, Steph, I understand that you went to the Mental Health Commission of Canada or did some work there. What was that? What was that? What did that work involve?

Stephane Grenier 25:34 

Right. So, at the time, so, so do all this work, I create a national peer support program for the entire forces, we then expand to the families of military and veteran, and then we did a third expansion for bereaved families of those who died in combat or in accidents serving their country. And so, at the time, I had an opportunity to send and be seconded to the Mental Health Commission of Canada who probably at the time, recognize it, well, this guy’s no better than another person. But he’s certainly figured out how to do this in a very large system, as opposed to, and by the way, I never would take credit, I did not invent peer support, not at all. I just happen to have implemented it in a very large accountable organization. And so, I was entrusted at the Commission for, for the creation of national standards of practice, for the function of peer support. And that was a two-year journey. After that I, I sort of left and I decided to serve my country in a different way, because I realized, it’s bad for military people, but at least military people, we sort of have that not a reason but a story to tell that will garner some kind of understanding if somebody is asking. So, I understand you had a mental health problem. How did that happen? If you tell them you served in Rwanda in the middle of a genocide for 10 and a half months? Person’s probably going to say, oh, boy, I get it. But what if you don’t have that story? So, I found that, that there was so many human beings that just develop mental health problems, just like some of us develop illnesses. It’s funny that we never have to explain why that our diabetes is legitimate. Or our heart condition is legitimate, but with mental health, it’s like, oh, well, wait a minute. Maybe he’s faking, right? So, the end of the day, I decided to leave the military and after the secondment, and the national standard is still very much in existence here in Canada. And, you know, of course, I, I follow the national standard that, that my project teammates and I have created because we believe that it brings all the rigor that needs to be present, and omnipresent in any well created peer support program, right? And so that was my time there. And then I created my company. And it’s been, it’s been busy ever since. Yeah.

Graeme Cowan 28:14 

And when you think about interventions that do set up this, these peer support programs and reduce the stigma on mental health, you mentioned that, you know, in the case of the defense force, you had a three star General, who was your real champion, that was a critical foundation. What are the other foundations that you’ve observed are really important to have a better and more mentally healthy culture?

Stephane Grenier 28:42 

Well, I think, you know, don’t think that I’m for stigma, right? I don’t, I don’t like stigma any more than anybody else. But I often think and I often say, to this date, I think stigma is certainly with our clients, right? We have clients who say, we got to beat down stigma, and I’m thinking, well, there’s other things, we also need to do that if we do those things, stigma won’t be a problem anymore, and you will have done something meaningful for your people. So, we, I certainly believe that when you create the conditions for where people pivot, and by the way, when we launched a massive education campaign in the Canadian military, to ensure that the people understood inside the culture, that the brain was not immune to injury or illness. And then there was a spectrum. There was, you know, a green, a yellow, an orange and a red spectrum along which people can, can unfortunately go towards the red but it’s possible to go back to the green, the green zone that pivoted the culture in a sense, where several years later I bumped into the head of social work whose was a friend of mine at the time, she had been promoted, and we bumped in, she said, Stephane you’d be so proud. Because, you know, I visit bases now across Canada. And, and people talk with the spectrum language. They don’t talk about Bob’s crazy, or Bob’s got PTSD, they say Bob’s orange, you know, we need to support him or Bob’s yellow. Right? So, I think educating people about all this is extremely important. Implementing sustainable support systems is equally important. And the word sustainable can’t be emphasized enough, I don’t know what’s happening in your corner of the world, Graeme. But so many people, organizations here, look for the easy button, you know? Right. A quick fix they have more budget, you know, they have no budget, so I want to change the world will have no budget. So, what company wants to reinvent the ball bearing, and who doesn’t invest any money in R&D. So, you know, so there’s a bit of this dichotomy between what they, what they say they believe in and what they fund, right? So, so sustainable change for us is huge. And, and I think now we’re seeing the pandemic, again, the silver lining of the pandemic, is, there’s a bigger gap now between those organizations who are willing to invest in mental health, and those who are staying behind now who still talk about mental health and focus on the stigma, you know, and focusing on the stigma as well, we have a Friday, every month where we have a little lunch and learn and things like that, right, these little token things or there’s a new poster and mental health is important. And so, yeah, so I think organizations are, are splitting each other, from each other. Those who are, are actually doing and those who are talking, right, and that’s quite obvious now.

Graeme Cowan 32:00 

Yeah. And I think it’s also have been a huge change in priorities of organizations. The Australian technology company, Atlassian, and PwC, did put out a report called Return on Action. And what they were looking at is what were the societal issues that most concerned people and they did it for North America, as well as Australia. And they found that the number one societal issue that employees are concerned about is mental health. It’s even got a hit, I have access to health care, and cost of living, it’s become that important. But the other one, which I found really interesting in this study was they found that 54% of the employees surveyed were engaged in their work. But if their employer was actively doing something to address, the societal issue they cared about that went up to almost I think it was 89% engagement. So employees are wanting to see action in this area. And they’re really excited when it is, you know, their organization does something about it. It’s, and that really has come I’m sure because of the impact of COVID sort of thing.

Stephane Grenier 33:18 

Yeah, and I think– I think what’s happening as well, more and more is employees are voting and talking with their feet. They’re just leaving. And I think that’s even more true of the younger generation. Gen Zed, the Millennials aren’t hanging out to do long. A lot of people blame the Millennials for this. And that I don’t know if it’s the same in Australia, no blaming here. It is what it is, and you know what? We dinosaurs need to evolve, right? I’m not gonna be around for next 20 years as a CEO of my little company, but these organizations, I think, are feeling the pain, where you you’ve hired a good employee who happens to be 29 years old, or 30 years old. And I think that is now the game changer. You know, I don’t know if you heard all those stories about these modern companies like ball, of course, like Google, and they have slot machines and free coffee and all this. Well, after you’ve all done that there, do something meaningful for mental health, and your employees will stick around. That’s like the new free coffee. Right? And the ping pong table. Yeah, yeah.

Graeme Cowan 34:24 

It is. So just to build on that point is you mentioned in the same study that said that 69% of people would forego a promotion if it compromised the mental health. They would say no to a promotion for compromised mental health. So those sorts of things really are showing that there’s greater priority seen by the certainly by employees and certainly buy them on deals. And you know, Gen Y, Gen Zed and it’s a very, very good thing. It’s a great step in the right direction.

Stephane Grenier 34:58 

Right. Absolutely. Yeah, we have a person on our team. We’re just around, just over 30 people in our small organization. And one of our younger, not the youngest, but one of our younger employees said, no, I don’t want, I don’t want commission’s. I don’t want to be involved in that because I want, I want structure. I don’t want– So, you know, it’s essentially, I just want my salary, I want to do my job, damn good job. But I don’t want all this other stuff, right? These people are a lot smarter than I was. Right? Let’s go for it. Right? Yeah.

Graeme Cowan 35:35 

What do you think are the key elements of a high performing team?

Stephane Grenier 35:42 

Oh, my God. You know, I think from a team perspective, the, you know, I got to tell you, though, that there’s, you’re asking the right guy, but you’re also asking the wrong guy, because I know, I don’t do everything correctly. And I, and I, and I can figure out what I do wrong, to not completely set the conditions for transparency, for my people to feel that they can actually disagree with me. And I’m not going to lose it or I’m not going to punish them. Right? And in fact, we have. So, I’m, I’m sort of answering your question, by telling you that I’m still struggling on figuring this out. But I do believe that some of the elements is that the power differentials are flattened as much as you can. Bosses need to understand that they can veto anything. They don’t need to remind anybody. Right? And so, I think, I think leveling off those, those power differentials is extremely important. I also think that engaging team members, and I’m speaking now as a leader, right, engaging team members in negotiating how to actually perform. In other words, if there’s a deadline is a rush for something, you may know what the rush is. But before you tell the employee, engage them in trying to figure out what they think is feasible, you might be surprised with the answer. And this is, you’ll see that I’m leaning on lowering that power differential, not exercising your authority, right? Engaging, talking to people, figuring things out, putting people first when there’s a person problem, stop working, if you focus on people, and I think nurturing those instincts, my think inherently will build a stronger team. This is on top of picking the people with the right education and the 10 the skills and the country and the training and all this stuff. And but I think from a human emotional intelligence perspective, it’s achieving that sweet spot where people feel they matter, without creating a pity party either tipping the other way, where now everybody who has a little bit of a twinge there needs to take a week off, right? And I have to say, the less pressure you put on people, sometimes the more they perform, and they only outperformed themselves. So, it’s almost like reverse psychology in a sense. And then to me creates a team but I don’t want you to think that I figured it all out. Because there’s issues you put people together, there will be issues, right? But how do you minimize those? Yeah, that’s what that’s what I would throw at you, Graeme.

Graeme Cowan 38:47 

And just to build on that point, you know, I’ve seen you in meetings, ask someone’s thoughts, who hasn’t spoken medium acquired a person more of an introvert. And I really love that because, you know, it is asking their input. And usually, you know, introverts often have great insight if they’re invited to talk about it, or suggest things so. And really, what we’re also talking about is, is team psychological safety. And you know, the qualities of team psychological safety is that people talk approximately equally, they’re open to new ideas, you know, they want to build on your ideas. And, you know, just the work that have a business school and Google have done around psychological safety show that it is the number one predictor of great teams’ people do feel cared for. A are invited to input ideas. It’s not a democracy, but they’re invited to contribute ideas. And they’re also invited to try new things, you know, to try to better serve their customers or their colleagues sort of thing. And, increasingly, I’m seeing this style, getting a much, much greater priority. Like, you know, people are contacting me specifically about wanting to have a program on psychological safety. You know, how we do create fundamental change so that things are, things can move faster. Ironically, you know, when you do have people on board, things do move faster.

Stephane Grenier 40:34 

Right. Now you’re writing in meetings, because I tend to be very present in meetings. And I try to, but it’s probably more natural than I realize now to say if I’m in a meeting with two of my people, and we’re with a client, and the client is talking to me, when I’ll say, well, yeah, a few things come to mind. I’d like to hear what Lesley and John would say. But here’s what I would say. And I don’t let, I don’t give a chance, sometimes deliberately, to the person who’s asking the question, to say something, and but it’s done, hopefully, politely. And so, I’ll say what I have to say. And I say, Graeme, what would you add to what I just said? Essentially, I actually bridge to the person who has not said anything deliberately. Why? Because I think as a leader, it’s my role to ensure that all my people are heard as much as possible, right? And you’re right. I want to hear from people. Another thing I caught myself saying often is, I’m happy to be wrong. Right? Often as leaders, as you know, full well, we’re confronted with situations, we have to make decisions, and we’re trying to figure things out. And we’re talking about it. And then as I come up with an option that I believe, is the solution to the problem. I will often with my team, say something like, here’s what I think we should do. What do you guys think? And by the way, I am happy to be wrong. Because if I’m wrong, I’d rather find out now than in six months from now. And hopefully, not always, but hopefully maybe that creates the, you know, I think sometimes we need to say things, we need to tell people, I might be wrong. And if I am, tell me, I’m not making you responsible, but please tell me try to open that door. Because even if we say, please tell me, it may not be enough, right. So yeah, but I tell you, it’s a constant gymnastic, right? And also, you know, everybody is different. And everybody will interpret what you’re saying in a different way. So, it’s I don’t think there’s one pathway here, right? It’s very, very convoluted. Yeah.

Graeme Cowan 42:53 

There’s a TED talk that I really love by Ray Dalio. He’s been a hedge fund owner, you know, very, very successful guy. But the TED talk is how to have a culture where the best ideas win. And he talks about practices of really everyone in the organization, everything for 23-year-old intern has the same input to ideas is Ray Dalio, this be an error, but it’s something that he really strives for. I think it is very, very admirable to, you know, to consciously try to work out what is the best you know, when we think about all of our knowledge, what’s going to be the best option?

Stephane Grenier 43:36 

Well, don’t kid yourself. I am not a billionaire. I don’t have that problem. Maybe I’m not good at it.

Graeme Cowan 43:48 

What do you do for your self-care, Steph? How do you keep yourself physically and mentally well?

Stephane Grenier 43:55 

Winters are hard for me. Winters are hard. And every time winter comes around, I actually worry a little bit. Summers, falls, springs are much easier. I’m a water guy, I do a lot of water activities. I have not mastered the non-warm weather activities. I used to ski and all I lost interest in all of that. What I– I think, where I am, so I’m almost thinking for Graeme, you know, I’m not coming up with great tips for you. But you know, I think we have to acknowledge sometimes we’re having difficult, that’s the first step right. And so, I try to focus on a little bit of spirituality. I really try to keep myself grounded. I have acquired like it or not over the last couple of decades struggling with a mental health problem. Some pretty good ways to actually cognitively bring me back. So, from a psychology perspective, when I’m, you know, not doing too well, I can talk myself off the ledge if I can say so, right? I can actually bring myself down. And but that’s not self-care, right? However, remembering that I have that skill is huge, because when we don’t know, we can talk ourselves off the ledge, when we start to feel right, we, it becomes that fear is an accelerant in that, for me anyways in that decompensating strategy, right, moving from the green, to the yellow, to the orange, and, and so on, so forth. So, you know, I am probably not a great person that has a huge inventory of things that I got the perfect self-care formula figured out for myself, I will pivot from, from swimming to, you know, foiling, to water skiing, to boating to spear fishing, you can get a lot of water stuff, right? To yoga, to running at times, to working hard. I love harder work like physical work, it’s probably because computer, right? You don’t feel you’re accomplishing anything. Last week, actually, I went up there and I chopped some wood with an axe, right? Just to move and get the right. And so, and so I wish I was better at it. But you know what? The question is very relevant, because each individual has to develop their own self-care modality, what works for them, right? And so, you don’t have to say, oh, well, Graeme runs and Stephane runs. So, I think I’ll start running. Maybe that doesn’t help you, right? So, it’s so important that these things be individualized. And, and I think it’s a constant effort, constant, constant effort. I know that if I don’t read, I don’t do yoga, and I’m not having an ability to hit the water that I’m not doing as well as I could be. Those are, those are three indications. If I go, if I start, you know, wimping out on yoga, I’m not reading regularly and not in the water. I know I’m struggling, right? Therefore, I got my formula, right?

Graeme Cowan 47:15 

Very good. And when you think about your leadership style, say from what’s really influenced you along the way? Can you think of, you know, one person or one book, or one podcast that has had a really big influence on how you lead now?

Stephane Grenier 47:38 

It’s funny, Graeme, because I come from a military culture where the military, the military, doesn’t deliberately but a lot of heroes are created out of wars and right, and here I am, I emanate, I come from that culture. And it’s funny, I don’t, I don’t have heroes in the sense that I look up to people because of the fact that they, you know, they have an autobiography, or they have so many followers, or they make so much money and all this. My mind, always, you know, to me, the true heroes of society are not the people we hear about in the news that wrote books that were bestsellers. They are truly the people who despite adversity, and my grandfather, to me was a hero. He couldn’t read or write, didn’t know how to do math. And he resolved a, a stairwell issue at a doctor’s residence in his village, where engineered had failed– Engineers had come from Montreal, they drove an hour and a half to install some, a staircase. My grandfather, who was a self-taught beaten up as a boy, Carpenter, who could not do math, fix the stairwell for that doctor’s house, right? That to me is a hero. And so, I think, I, I have no problem being vulnerable, as a leader to my people. I have no problem being wrong. I have no problem being humble, and saying I’m sorry. And I think my hero are the people who despite the odds, have succeeded, right? Yeah. And I think and by the way, I’m not against university degrees and all that. But I think we put so much attention to what academia produces as, and I find it so sad that so many people are getting left behind in all sorts of occupations that society doesn’t really value now. And if you’re at a cocktail party, and this person is a carpenter or a plumber, nobody’s going to talk to that person. And I’m thinking, well, it’s interesting, because who’s fixing your Porsche? It’s a mechanic. Be careful, right? So, my, I think my leadership style has been influenced by that, that the humility of it all, and I firmly believe leaders eat last. Feed your people. Take care of your people. Take care of yourself last, right? Yeah. So no, I don’t have heroes really. But I do.

Graeme Cowan 50:28 

That’s a really great message about, you know, leaders eating last. And I know that Simon Sonic has written a book on that subject, but it is, it is really true. And you know, other people like Jim Collins, the business author has referred to it as level five leadership where you’re more passionate about your peoples’ success and the company’s success than your own. And, you know, takes the, takes the ego out of it.

Stephane Grenier 50:58 

Yeah, and this eating last, by the way is not a, you know, it’s not something I caught off YouTube from Simon, I saw his thing there. But you know, and no disrespect to Simon Sinek and all this. But I also find that there’s all these buzzwords that we grab, we grapple onto, but do these people know what it means to eat last? I know, when I was in a regiment, and the rations were being distributed, sometimes I did not get any. I never starved in a no, no, no pity for so– I never starved. But the point is you are taught, you eat last, you need to feed the troops, right? And so, so society grabs these things, but I think it’s important for people to actually do it. Do eat last, when there’s nothing left. Experienced that and humble yourself right. Now, it’s a metaphor for other things. Right. And so, yeah, I think we forget that. In the military, you know, we always want to portray the generals. I always want, there’s an artist in Canada here who did a series of paintings, generals, right. And I know this artist, and I asked this artist, why don’t you paint a soldier? You know, not because I’m still connected to the military. What’s wrong with painting an ordinary person who did extraordinary things, right? But society always gravitates to the star factor, right. So anyways, blah, blah, blah. But I think that’s what makes me, that’s what makes me content and happy, and comfortable is focusing on those unsung heroes, right? But yeah.

Graeme Cowan 52:50 

It’s been a real pleasure catching up today’s, Steph, I’ve very much enjoyed our discussion. We’ve known each other must be 18 months now. And it’s been just wonderful.

Stephane Grenier 53:00 

Couple of years, just before the pandemic. Yeah, that’s right.

Graeme Cowan 53:06 

And also, you know, just hearing about your journeys in Canada, working with companies and now it;s in Australia, and there’s, there’s lots of similarities, I think, you know, in terms of progress on mentally healthy workplaces, I really think that after countries have been very fortunate, even though we see there’s lots of room for improvement. It’s a lot, a lot better than many, many other countries. That’s something we should be grateful for. And I guess just as a final question, Steph, if you could go back to your 18-year-old self, and I guess you were better start your time in the Defense Force, knowing what you know, know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self if you had that opportunity?

Stephane Grenier 53:56 

Oh, my God. Don’t take so many risks. I think, knowing what I know now. I’ve always been a risk taker. I still take risks today. But I wish, yeah, I wish I would have had a way to temper my risk-taking instincts. Because I do think and this is where I think we all have to take responsibility to some degree regarding our own mental health journeys. I think that I have actually contributed to my own mental health challenges in some ways, by being born a certain way, living a certain way. And if I knew that my 18-year-old self would respect my advice, I would probably give that advice. But then again, when you’re 18-year-old, you’re invincible I’m gonna follow that advice and she’s gonna keep leaning forward. Right, Graeme? But yeah, I think so because and this is, this is important because for people who develop mental health problems, you know, and who struggled through, through the recovery path and all this, it is so important to remain responsible for our own recovery. And I think so many people fall in the trap of blaming the company, or blaming the doctor, or blaming society and all this and we fall into this victim mode, right? And I now look back and I’m thinking, My God, I, I was part of the problem. We only slow down. And we need to take responsibility, not only for what brought us here, but also how to recover, right? Yeah

Graeme Cowan 55:46 

Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure. catching up today, Steph, thank you so much for your honesty, your authenticity, and for the great work you’re doing.

Stephane Grenier 55:58 

You’re welcome, Graeme. Thank you so much.


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