By Mike R. Fraser, PhD
With just a few weeks left before the presidential election, it is fitting that our October issue of Pulse focuses on the topic of leadership. This campaign season has brought the leadership issue to the forefront of many people’s minds. What makes a good leader? Who would be the best leader for our country? Why would this person be a better leader than the other person?
Answering these questions is beyond the scope of this column, and beyond the allowable limits of AMCHP’s tax-exempt status which requires me to be passionately non-partisan. So, let me leave it at this: leadership is about creating a vision of the future and motivating people to take responsibility for that future as if it was their own. An effective leader has a vision of the future and encourages people to work toward that vision together. We’ve all experienced that kind of leadership and known good leaders who do just that. In just a few short weeks, the United States will decide which candidate will be our next leader and which vision of the future we’ll share in developing. These are exciting times indeed.
Although the presidential campaigns have spurred lots of talk about leadership in Washington, there has always been talk about leadership in maternal and child health (MCH). Competencies are developed around it. Strategic plans include it. Institutes are founded, and funded, for it. Careers are dedicated to developing it. Leadership is everywhere in MCH, and thankfully so. For us to effectively improve the health of women, children, fathers and families in the United States we need good leaders – individuals who can create a shared vision of the future and get us all to take responsibility for that vision as if it were our own. That MCH is cognizant of this fact is due to our enlightened leaders – individuals who know that our success rests on creating a vision and getting the support to make that vision a reality.
Recently I had one of those strange weeks when everything seemed to come together with some kind of cosmic serendipity – and in this case it was a week full of leadership. Within five days I had been part of a gathering of MCH leaders at the annual CityMatCH conference in Albuquerque, met with a group of MCH leaders in Santa Fe working hard to improve the health of women in children in New Mexico, met with a group of family leaders developing a leadership program to encourage family leadership in Delaware, visited in Washington with Dr. Julie Gerberding who leads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and capped the week off at a meeting in New York City with Mrs. Sarah Brown, the First Lady of the United Kingdom, who was at the United Nations leading an effort to reduce maternal mortality and improve maternal health worldwide. What a week! It was a whirlwind of MCH leadership in all its glory and with all its diversity.
All of these gatherings were focused on getting individuals to take responsibility for a shared vision of the future. At CityMatCH that vision was about being effective MCH leaders within our organizations and agencies and being part of a network of committed MCH professionals working day in and day out to improve the health of women and children in states and communities nationwide. In Santa Fe that vision was about supporting efforts to improve the health of women and children in new and creative ways given budget shortfalls, political challenges, and the reality of working within state governmental systems. In Delaware the vision was about getting families more involved in the work of Title V and engaged throughout the state to assure families were viewed as partners in improving the health of all children, including children with special health care needs. In Washington the vision was about leading an agency through change and transition and creating a shared vision of what CDC can and should be as a leading public health institution. In New York the vision was about a world in which maternal mortality was a rare event, not something that occurs once a minute worldwide, and developing joint projects to bring awareness to the issue and energy to a solution. At all these events diverse local, state, federal and international leaders shared their visions of what we could be, asked us to dedicate ourselves to that vision, and invited us to work together to obtain those visions.
It was a week full of MCH leadership, and a week full of MCH leaders. In a few short days I had been from New Mexico to New York with a few stops in between and taken part in developing visions of the future with some of our best and brightest MCH leaders. All had clear visions of where we should be going together. All invited me to be part of that vision, and asked for AMCHP’s help in moving their visions forward with the resources, time, talent and treasure of our organization and its members.
My experience during those five days showed that leadership is not about one’s title, education, position or perceived authority. Leadership is knowing where you want to go and motivating people to go there with you because they believe in the vision you have created. Genuine, authentic leadership is not about ego or power, it is about creating a common purpose and a shared path to carry out that purpose. As MCH leaders we have so many opportunities to lead because our vision for the future is so clear: healthy children, healthy families, living in healthy communities. What will you do to get others to share that vision, and how will you do it? My hope is that this issue of Pulse helps you think through how you may continue your journey as an MCH leader and bring others along with you.