Background and Program Information

Background Information

In an increasingly complex and fragmented U.S. health system, community-based nonprofit organizations provide critical support for millions of underserved Americans. These organizations encounter growing demand for services at the same time that their financial resources are decreasing. The impending exodus of senior nonprofit leaders due to the retirement of the baby boom generation exacerbates the challenges of building leaders for nonprofit organizations.  According to a study conducted by the Bridgespan Group, by 2016 the nonprofit sector will need approximately 80,000 new senior managers each year.  To address these obstacles, nonprofits need to develop new leaders who can create innovative, client-focused practices, manage day-to-day operations and serve as visionary catalysts for systemic change.

Another key study, Ready to Lead? Next Generation Leaders Speak Out, asked thousands of nonprofit professionals what they needed to adequately prepare for executive leadership positions. Respondents most frequently cited the need to further develop their external connections and networks; their leadership capabilities, including increased self-confidence; their ability to lead and manage staff; and their collaboration skills. Respondents also indicated that leadership development programs preparing nonprofit professionals for senior level positions were seldom available to them.

To examine these leadership development challenges, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) conducted a survey of more than 1,000 nonprofit leaders that focused on the specific competencies that leaders in health-related nonprofit organizations need to be effective today and in the future. Among leadership competencies deemed most necessary were: collaborative leadership skills, political savvy, influencing skills, networking skills, translational leadership skills to work across boundaries, systems thinking, visionary thinking, and time management skills.

Program Information

Ladder to Leadership: Developing the Next Generation of Community Health Leaders is focused on developing critical leadership competencies for 270 early- to mid-career professionals through an innovative, 16-month leadership development curriculum.

The program will be delivered in nine priority communities on a staggered schedule over the next four years. These communities were chosen after an extensive evaluation, which took into consideration census and other demographic data, community-based needs for public health leadership development and commitment of community partners to successfully implement the program.

Each phase of the three-part curriculum includes a mixture of face-to-face training sessions, individualized executive coaching and mentoring and team project work – all anchored within the context of the communities in which these leaders work to maximize the application and impact of the program concepts.

In Phase I, the Ladder to Leadership fellows will:

  • receive an orientation to the program and curriculum;
  • identify specific leadership challenges and form action learning teams among cohort members; and
  • learn the fundamentals of the action learning process, which will give them experience working across community agencies on specific health issues.

In Phase II, the Ladder to Leadership fellows will focus on relationship building, self-awareness, systems thinking, problem solving, and innovation and development of communication skills. By the end of this phase, fellows will be better able to:

  • select appropriate decision-making strategies,
  • use strategic thinking and influencing skills,
  • promote effective workplace conflict resolution, and
  • deploy effective innovation strategies.

In Phase III, fellows will focus on sustaining the impact of Phases I & II at the organizational and community levels.  Two key components of the Ladder to Leadership program are an Action Learning Leadership Process (ALLP) and the mentoring component. The ALLP projects will give leaders experience working across community agencies on specific health issues. Mentoring by an experienced community leader during Phase III will help fellows enhance their understanding of the complexities facing leaders in their community and apply their new skills. When they have completed the program, fellows should have increased their leadership and influencing skills and created stronger networks within their community.

The participating fellows’ nonprofit organizations and their communities will also benefit from this program. Executive directors of participating organizations will benefit from the increased leadership capacity of the participating leaders and from the community connections and networks these leaders create. In particular, the program will encourage increased cooperation among community health agencies, more frequent dialogue about addressing problems, more strategic partnerships and greater inter- and intra-community collaboration. Ultimately, the participating communities should be better served by a higher functioning, more collaborative group of leaders.