Effort aims to develop community health leaders

Karen Dyer
Karen Dyer

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — With research projecting a massive turnover in nonprofit leadership because of retirement and burnout, the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro has teamed up with the biggest national health-care foundation to develop a new generation of community health leaders.

The four-year, $3.6 million “Ladder to Leadership” program, funded by the New Jersey-based Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is working with community health leaders in eight communities throughout the U.S., including eastern North Carolina.

Karen Dyer, director of education and nonprofit sector for the Center for Creative Leadership, says support for leadership development is particularly needed at community health groups because the ailing economy reinforces the tendency of those groups’ leaders to want invest scarce dollars in serving clients, not in developing their own leadership skills.

Research shows “we really need strong leaders in community health care,” says Dyer, a former school teacher and principal who for 20 years has providing training and professional development for nonprofit leaders and school principals and superintendents.

Like their counterparts at the seven other communities participating in the initiative, the 19 fellows selected from eastern North Carolina are going through a 16-month curriculum, receiving face-to-face training and individualized executive coaching, and taking part in a team project.

The fellows were selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and a national advisory committee after being identified as candidates with the help of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem.

The training is rooted in the center’s philosophy of “assessment, challenge and support,” Dyer says.

Participants, for example, will have three face-to-face training sessions that will include formal assessments from their boss, peers, direct-reports and themselves, assessments of their behavior and their work as team members, and informal feedback from peers, staff and executive coaches.

The executive coaches assigned to the participants will use those assessments to guide their coaching and help the participants think through their approach to their work and personal lives.

The participants, for example, will develop individual goals, and then get follow-up feedback and coaching by phone.

And all participants are working in self-selected teams of four to five members that focus on issues in which they share an interest, such as family fitness or promoting access to health care.

Working with a coach, the teams learn about processes and strategies, such as consensus-building, to help develop their project.

To help ensure they become leaders in their organizations and stay with their organizations and in the area of community health care, the initiative aims to help participants “be more self-aware, having more ability to problem-solve,” Dyer says.

“This also really is about relationship-building, being able to build relationships with their own constituents and across constituencies,” she says. “We don’t live in isolation. There are a lot of inter- and intra-dependencies that really determine people’s abilities to serve their communities.”

Leadership is all about “visioning, setting direction, getting alignment between philosophies and perspectives, and getting commitment,” Dyer says. “You don’t just want compliance; you want commitment.”

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