Generating ideas, connections, and action

Collaborating to Develop Community Focused Health Leadership


In March 2007, the Leadership Learning community (LLC) held a Health Leadership Learning Circle retreat near Napa, California. The retreat gathered 30 health leadership development funders, practitioners, and evaluators to share resources, tools, information and successful approaches to supporting, developing and connecting health leadership. Ginny Oehler and Tracy Patterson were both at the retreat.


Ginny runs a Health Leadership Fellows Program for the Community Health Foundation in Central and Western New York. Since 2005, the program has brought together leaders who are committed to collaboratively influencing systems of care in their communities in order to improve the quality of life for frail elders and children in communities of poverty. Nearly 100 leaders have participated in an eighteen month program to improve critical leadership skills such as the capacity for reflection and self-awareness; how to engage in collective advocacy; and how to create effective interdisciplinary teams that increase integration in the practice of health care. Ginny had researched extensively effective health leadership development approaches before designing the program; now she was hearing from others how much they appreciated what she and her colleagues had created.


I was getting a lot of feedback that our program was rich and multi-layered with more depth and breadth than some other leadership programs.


At the time of the retreat, Tracy was part of the team at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina that had recently found out they had received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to establish a national leadership program for health leaders in 9 underserved communities around the country. The purpose of this leadership initiative was to develop a cadre of health leaders that had the skills to influence systems, bring about organizational change, adapt innovations from other fields, create more client-focused services, and work across traditional organizational barriers. They also hoped to increase the leadership capacity and sustainability of community-based health nonprofits so that they could provide better community health and health care to underserved and under-resourced communities.


In preparation for the grant, CCL was researching what other health leadership programs, with similar goals, were doing to effectively develop and support community-focused health leadership. Tracy thought attending the Health Circle retreat would give her an opportunity to meet people doing similar programs. I went out there when we had just found out we would be working on this program.


I went with the intent to network with people to get ideas for the program. Ginny had a program like ours and she was willing to share it. She shared their evaluation plan and their community needs assessment. We also wanted to do a mentoring program and were interested in what did and didn’t work.


When Tracy returned to CCL the team began the process of narrowing down where they might offer the program. Central New York emerged on the list, and Tracy remembered fondly her connection with Ginny and how helpful she had been. CCL was looking for contacts in community foundations to explore potential partnerships for implementing the leadership program. In the end CCL partnered with the Community Health Foundation to launch the inaugural site of the new Ladders To Leadership (LTL) Program.


My team was looking for a contact in Central New York so I gave them Ginny’s name. I knew it was a long shot and perhaps it would have happened anyway even if Ginny and I hadn’t met, but we had such a good relationship that I think that primed it.


Ginny describes meeting Tracy at the Health Circle retreat and how CHF came to collaborate with CCL on the launch of the LTL program.


At the retreat Tracy mentioned to me that CCL had applied for an RWJ grant to support rising leaders. After we chatted I drove her back to San Francisco, and we continued to talk. I shared our materials with Tracy. That was the beginning of a process that eventually led us to be selected as the inaugural site for the Ladder to Leadership program. The program launched September 15th, 2008 in Syracuse, NY. We hosted a breakfast for all the leaders in the Central NY area to talk about the program; we are also selecting team sponsors to work with participant project teams; and we offered to have LTL alumni join the Fellows Action Network that has already been established. Having a network that engages participants of both CHF and LTL will create a lot of the synergy in our region.


LLC created an opportunity and an environment for Ginny and Tracy to connect, build a relationship, and share resources. The LLC network is rich with stories about how those connections turned into collaborations. Ginny and Tracy’s story is one of those powerful examples in which collaboration strengthened the program design and increased regional leadership capacity.


Both CCL and CHF have actively engaged LLC to support their work in other ways as well. Claire Reinelt, LLC’s Research and Evaluation Director, is a member of the LTL’s National Advisory Committee to advise on the evaluation plan, recommend community sites, and review and select participants for the program. Tracy describes the value of Claire’s participation.


Getting you on the NAC would not have happened if it had not been for LLC. I was comfortable with you and could confidently recommend you for the NAC. It is a great thing for us to have your expertise on evaluation, and to have someone really solid who is able to contribute to our initiative.


LLC hosted a WebEX conference call in which Tracy presented LTL’s evaluation design and received valuable input from over 30 leadership development peers who run and evaluate health leadership programs.


The WebEx conference call was one of the main influences on the evaluation. We are still going back and looking at the notes from that call. I remember Teri Behrens saying to us that it looks like we are collecting too much data. That was really helpful input.


And finally, the Community Health Foundation invited Claire Reinelt and Bruce Hoppe with Connective Associates to conduct a network survey and facilitate a workshop on using networks to increase connection and collaboration around health issues of shared interest.


Health Leadership

This is really quite an inspiring event. It is really amazing and I'm proud of you people who share and give each other's helping hands in order to promote healthy living and also help the less fortunate people. Keep up the good work and more power to you guys!

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