Emory Report
May 2, 2005
Volume 57, Number 29


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May 2, 2005
Leadership academy stresses fellowship, growth

BY eric rangus

In 2002, the Woodruff Health Science Center’s (WHSC) leadership team determined five strategic focus areas. As headings on a strategic plan or PowerPoint slide, they looked pretty good: financial strength, innovation, people and the workplace, and knowledge management, among them.

The fifth was a quality often assumed in managers—the good ones, anyway—but not always present. Leadership. The term itself is fuzzy. What ingredients make up a leader? How can they be trained and supported? How can WHSC identify leaders for the future?

“I wanted to create leaders for the WHSC and the University,” said Johns, who emerged from that planning session with a framework of what was to become the Woodruff Leadership Academy (WLA), the WHSC’s concentrated leadership development program.

“I firmly believe that if we give our people an opportunity to see the larger picture of our institution, they will be better leaders and also leaders who can be trained,” Johns continued. “One of the most important things anybody could leave behind would be leaders of the future.”

To make this vision a reality, Johns tapped Gary Teal, WHSC senior associate vice president for administration, to serve as WLA administrative dean. Now in its third year, WLA is aimed at faculty (both clinical and research) and administrators already in middle- to upper-management positions, and it offers much more than simple managerial training. Through a vibrant mix of group presentation, guest speakers, independent work, individual mentorship and even a few history lessons, the academy seeks not only to hone and in some cases unlock the leadership skills already present in its health science professionals, but also to strengthen those budding leaders’ relationship with Emory.

“We thought we were going to get participants who were 33 years old with five or six years’ experience,” Teal said. “What we got was a 2003 class whose participants were 45 years old on average and had more than 12 years’ managerial experience. They had managerial experience, often quite a lot, but few had leadership experience.

“Maybe they had read books or taken some brief classes,” he said. “That was interesting as we put together the program.”

Teal said Johns had asked that anyone considered for a fellowship position must be an ambassador.

“The success of the WLA and future successes of the WHSC hinge upon positive and upbeat approaches to problem solving,” Teal said.

For help in designing the new academy, Teal took some fact-finding trips, both to other universities where leadership seminars and series were offered, and to corporate training headquarters to see how the for-profit world developed its leaders. What he found (and didn’t find) gave him a good starting point.

“We really didn’t find any organization that offered leadership development that was institutional based, self-contained and intended to develop leaders for that institution,” said Teal, who in addition to administering the program also gives several presentations, many of them related to WHSC history. It’s a unique way of bringing the center’s work, as well as the lives of the Woodruffs, who play prominent roles in the stories, to life.

“That is a significant difference between the WLA and probably any other leadership program,” Teal continued. “Ours really is designed to help the participants become better leaders at Emory and in the WHSC.”

Teal then formed an administrative and curricular team (project coordinator Kathy Getz, executive administrative assistant Judi Pavey and senior lecturer Dennis Redding) that’s been intact since its creation.

Therefore, instead of receiving general leadership training, within the WLA structure the fellows learn what it’s like to be a leader in an Emory context—and in modules often delivered by Emory people. Not only are specific sessions offered that address areas such as Health Science Communications (led by associate vice president Ron Sauder, a 2003 fellow) or the differences in leadership styles between men and women (presented by psychiatry Professor Nadine Kaslow, a 2004 fellow). The return of previous fellows is not an accident; many keep their ties to the academy after they have left and contribute in a variety of ways.

Johns’ initial goal was to train 100 leaders over the next five years, although that bar would quickly be raised. The first class had 20 fellows, the second 24 fellows (and more than 120 applicants; with no self-nominations, which are not allowed). This year, there are 26 fellows, culled again from more than 120 prospectives. Johns remains engaged throughout, attending most every session and frequently contributing to discussions.

“I enjoy it,” Johns said. “It’s a lot of fun to be with these people as they exchange ideas with leaders of the institution. It’s inspiring to be there and watch them grow right in front of your eyes.”

Following a fall kickoff dinner, WLA, which vets its candidates over the summer, meets one weekend a month from January through May. In previous years, some of those meetings have taken place away from campus, but for 2005 the decision was made to stay home. The Emory Conference Center turned out to be the perfect venue, and because of its proximity, several fellows from previous years attended some of the sessions.

The conference center is where WLA met from January to April. For the final session, May 20–21, the academy will adjourn to the Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris, where the project teams will deliver their final presentations. It’s the capping of a semester of serious work, but the fellows are at a resort, after all. Family members, as well as WHSC board members, mentors and previous fellows, often attend, making the workload feel just a bit lighter.

Regarding the presentations, the academy’s administration provides several topics at the start of the year. The topics for the 2005 fellows revolve around the future of the WHSC—plans for a new campus, revitalizing the hospital. The idea for the theme came straight from the top: Douglas Ivester, president of Deer Run Investments and current chair of the WHSC Board of Trustees.

Project groups are engineered by the WLA administration to ensure diversity; there won’t be one group made up of all surgeons, for example. The variety of participants leads to a variety of perspectives—a public health person here, a nursing administrator there, a neurologist over there, all working together. It’s President Jim Wagner’s goal of moving from a multiversity to a university, played out in miniature.

“You could take any class of fellows, set them down anywhere in the world, and have the ingredients to start an academic heath center,” Teal said. “The fellows represent the best and brightest of WHSC faculty and administration.”

Very little project work is completed during weekend sessions. It is not uncommon for fellows—none of whom has a particularly easy day job—to spend more than 100 hours outside class meeting with their project teammates.

Fellows also spend time outside with their mentors—each is paired with a more senior person who serves as an adviser. Some, like Vice President for Health Affairs Ronnie Jowers, have taken on mentees each year. Others are newer to the academy, and mentors don’t necessarily have to come from health sciences. Mike Mandl, executive vice president for finance and administration, and John Ford, senior vice president and dean for campus life, for instance, are 2005 mentors.

“I always encourage people to become WLA fellows,” said Jowers, who meets monthly with his current mentee and still advises his previous WLA partners. “There is no better way to learn about the depth and breadth of the Health Sciences Center.”

Everything comes together on the final weekend, when each team has two hours to deliver its presentation. Once all the official activities are over, the academy wraps up with an awards banquet.

“The academy has given me a chance to look at myself and identify my own strengths and weaknesses as a leader; it’s been an incredible experience,” said 2005 fellow Neil Lamb, director of the Center for Medical Genomics and assistant professor of human genetics. Lamb added that, as a member of the School of Medicine’s curriculum revision committee, he’s been able to apply concepts he learned at WLA to his committee work.

“The Health Sciences Center is so much stronger today,” Teal said. “We just pull these fellows in and they go right to work. There is so much more cross-disciplinary activity. It never would have happened before, because these people in nursing, for example, wouldn’t know others from Yerkes. Everybody is coming out of their silos. To go in, see the light bulbs go on, see people grow from day one and see all the coming together—if we didn’t accomplish anything but that, we’d still be successful.”