In 2020, Hailey Hechtman moved to Ottawa from the Yukon to take on the role of Executive Director for Causeway Work Centre, a not-for-profit agency helping those with mental illness and other challenges find meaningful work. She has spent the last decade working in the social services sector, promoting thoughtful leadership and aligned decision-making for mental wellness, disability, and youth organizations. Prior to her current role, Hailey founded the Yukon Distress & Support Line, established the Yukon Inter-Agency Network on Disability, created standardized narrative reporting processes for the Yukon Government, and spearheaded the Learning Essential Support Skills Online (LESSON) program.
My first job ever was… My first official job was working as an assistant at my mother’s tanning salon — I wiped down tanning beds, rolled towels, cleaned and interacted with customers. My first job outside of my family was working as a pharmacy cashier at Shoppers Drug Mart. This job was one where I learned on the spot problem solving, prioritization (it was a very busy store) and the value of great teamwork.
I decided to go into the social services sector because… I am really passionate about creating environments that empower people to see their potential. This is something that I want to foster for not only the people accessing supports in the mental health and disability space but for the team that is working with them. I really like to see patterns of intersection between the work happening across communities, am interested in creating new ways of enhancing experiences and most of all in advocating for everyone’s value
My proudest accomplishment is… Although I have several significant moments that I am proud of in my career, I would say my proudest has to be supporting an organization to go from 40% annual turnover, with a difficult reputation in the community and a history of mistrust amongst the team to one that had 1-2 people leave per year for education or other experiences, where people valued one another, where professional development and growth were prioritized and where we became an example to our community.
My biggest setback was… My confidence in coming into new environments with long histories, complex programs, entrenched team dynamics and multiple competing priorities. In situations like these I have felt overwhelmed to figure out the answers and have on occasion experienced my own imposter syndrome in not feeling like I was the right person to help.
I overcame it by… Working with the team to acknowledge their past challenges and successes, listening and learning from their context expertise, getting to know the ins and outs and the perceptions and collaboratively problem-solving using the tremendous knowledge in the room from all levels including the people supported by the work that we are doing.
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… An unshakeable belief in the potential of my team and the organizations that I have worked with. In seeing what other people are capable of and fostering that, cultivating their confidence and hearing their insights, I have been able to learn far more about how to address any issue than going at it alone.
When engaging with the community, it’s important to remember… The answers are already there within the community itself. It is paramount that we listen to people, ask them deep questions about their experiences, their insights and their ideas. We need to see that in everyone there is context expertise that can be harnessed to help us co-create solutions that work for that specific community. There is no one size fits all solution and we can only build trust through listening and following through.
When leading a team in the non-profit sector, it’s important to remember… That as leaders we are models for our own expectations. If we want to create a learning environment -then we must be the first ones in line to learn. If we want to create a space where people feel safe exploring, failing and trying again, then we need to be open about our mistakes, about what we don’t know and work on those things. If we want to create an environment where everyone practices self-care and feels comfortable coming forward when they are feeling overwhelmed, we need to be vulnerable, honest and human about sharing our own experiences and expressing healthy boundaries.
My advice for anyone interested in a non-profit leadership role is… Really dive into your why. When it comes to leadership, especially in non-profits where you are undoubtedly going to be wearing many hats and working around complex social issues, it is important to know what is driving you into the space, what your personal values are and how your strengths can support an organization in working towards its mission. I would recommend reaching out to people in the field, volunteering in the non-profit space to get a sense of the environment and encourage you to find a space within the sector that you truly care about.
The one piece of advice I give that I have trouble following myself is… Thinking, researching, analyzing and creating space for the discovery of solutions through rest is where the real magic happens. Be sure to schedule yourself time when you are focused on reflection and not overcrowding your schedule with constant doing.
The thing I love most about what I do is… Seeing people flourish and teams evolve organically based on their learning, their relationships and the feedback that they get from the people that they support. I love hearing stories about how our work has made a human impact in someone’s life and seeing the shine in the eyes of the staff who supported them.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love making decorative smoothie bowls first thing on a Saturday morning.
I stay inspired by… Checking in with my team, taking time to learn about what is happening in the community around me and by building networks and relationships with other incredible leaders working in the social impact space doing amazing things.
The future excites me because… I see so many social impact leaders focused on cultivating partnerships; we are actively exploring intersections in new ways and many are taking the steps to move towards a more community-led approach to their decision making. We are also in a time where mental health and inclusion are being talked about so much more in the workplace and I am excited to see how we can support people and businesses alike to find matches that lead to new ways of working together.
My next step is… At Causeway we are in a time of reflection and planning. We are engaging in the deep work, we are thinking intentionally about who we want to be and where we want to go and are about to embark on an exercise with those in our communities to incorporate their voices into how we design our organization’s future.