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A “Quest” for Leadership Development

Q&A with Angela Egner, CLO at MUSC

By Debra Walker

Angela EgnerAngela Egner envisioned a culture where leadership is viewed as a privilege and a responsibility. A culture where leaders personally seek development opportunities, and where leaders see “leadership” as a collective endeavor where all leaders commit to the common good of the organization.

She brought this vision with her when she accepted the role of Chief Learning Officer in 2014 at MUSC Health, an integrated health system within the Medical University of South Carolina. Her first and primary task was the development of over 500 leaders across the health system. So she and her team captured these principles in the design of LeaderQuest, a robust leadership development program for MUSC Health’s leaders.

We sat down with Angela to learn more about her journey in developing this program and rolling it out to MUSC Health leaders.

What were your priorities when you stepped into the CLO role?

doctors and nursesThe CLO role was created two years ago. The role has a lot of breadth—clinical and nonclinical, front line staff to senior leaders, instructional design and learning technologies, and, of course, leadership development for our 550 leaders. One of the early requests from the CEO, Dr. Patrick Cawley, was to take a closer look at all of our disparate and disconnected leadership education efforts and to develop a meaningful approach that was both systematically and strategically aligned. Instead of a defined leadership “program” with a set number of courses, our vision was to provide perpetual and ever-changing leadership learning opportunities aligned with our values, key strategies and current challenges. We also sought to shift development from something imposed to something through which leaders actively engage in through their own journey.

What were your first steps in creating a new leadership development program?

It was important to us to build a leadership development framework that was based on the needs of an integrated healthcare system. We first conducted an inventory of everything we were already doing. What we found is that there was no cohesion, no framework—just a number of independent, topical courses. We then took a step back and searched for a framework or model that made sense for us. We knew we wanted to capture the realms of leadership, practical responsibilities as well as behavioral competencies, but we also needed it to be simple.

We looked at the National Center for Healthcare Leadership (NCHL) and their leadership skill model. The leadership model has three domains creating a Venn diagram. The Personal domain is one of the circles and addresses most of the “people” skills and behavioral competencies, which defines most leadership development programs. The second circle is Operational Skills—the practical know-how required to effectively lead and produce results, including such skills as budgeting and cost-control. This content is typically specific to the organization and its own processes and, therefore, has to be mostly developed internally. The third circle is the Strategic domain, which includes being on the lookout for best practices and analytical thinking. These skills are important both within the leaders’ specific professions and for the organization at large.

How did you approach developing a new program?

We came up with some foundational principles. We didn't want it to be a 10-step program. We wanted our leaders’ commitment to be a major part of the learning journey. We were careful not to hone in on a number of classes—we wanted to bring the right opportunities at the right time to the right leaders. Then leaders are asked to step up to take advantage of developmental opportunities.

One of our other principles was to look for evidence-based education. We looked for partners who offered research-based leadership development. We sought partners who would understand strategically what we were trying to accomplish, and respond with recommendations for education and resources that would help on our journey. We selected DDI, for example, for their rich experience in our industry, their research and tried-and-true education, and their expertise with personal and interpersonal skills in the Personal domain. That freed us up to work on education which we knew required internal design, such as those in the Operational Skills domain.

With these overarching principles and the National Center for Healthcare Leadership’s domain framework, we created our leadership development offerings to ensure we were growing well-rounded leaders. We branded the program LeaderQuest, capturing the imagery of leaders embarking on their own personal leadership journeys.

How has the rollout of LeaderQuest gone?

Exceptionally well. Our leaders have given us positive feedback about LeaderQuest and find meaning in this approach. We’ve steadily gained momentum with numerous courses. The DDI Interaction Management courses have been well received and we’ve gotten excellent participant comments on how they’ve applied the concepts they’ve learned. DDI’s understanding of healthcare leaders’ work environments and perspectives has helped the participants connect the dots to how leadership development has operational relevance. We’ve incorporated the DDI tools in our toolkits for leaders and hardwired some of the concepts in core management practices.

What has contributed to the success of LeaderQuest’s rollout?

I think there are three main reasons. First, leadership development is tied to many other initiatives that MUSC Health has underway. This includes a focus on high reliability, teamwork, culture, inclusion, and patient-family centered care. The leadership development content and tools taught in LeaderQuest has integrated with these key initiatives.

Second, we have executive sponsors, including the CEO, who are vocal and committed advocates for leadership development. In fact, our first cohort of DDI certified facilitators included the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Revenue Officer, a Service Line Administrator, two Nursing Directors, the Director of Diversity & Inclusion, and a Physician Leader. More than facilitators, these leaders serve as a Leadership Development Advisory Panel, helping to identify leadership development needs, evaluate resources and vendors, and make curriculum recommendations.

Finally, we are creating a “leader toolkit” to provide additional support to participants. We identified the tools—single page guides, templates, how-to’s—that would most help leaders in the course of their work. For example, it includes things like process diagrams, a standup huddle template, and DDI’s feedback form.

How does your leadership development program connect to the other initiatives at MUSC?

A key part of my role as CLO is to look at organizational strategies and ask the question of various stakeholders—what education will be required to fulfill this initiative? Initiatives like patient-centered care are always emerging and shifting. My team seeks first to understand what we are trying to accomplish so that we can align and recalibrate development plans to ensure that our efforts best support MUSC Health. I chair a system-wide Learning Council comprised of leaders from across the health system, as well as the Leadership Development Advisory Panel. Together with my team, we produce the Strategic Learning Plan for the organization, capturing our most significant learning endeavors.

Is there anything else that you would say that has been impactful?

We are also pleased that we opted to design a program that is eclectic and nimble. I’m so glad we branded our leadership development program and made it our own. After all, the responsibility for leadership development rests with the organizations’ leaders, not an external entity. Essential to this has been the name LeaderQuest and the image that it evokes. We are all accountable to the patients and communities we serve to be on a journey to improve ourselves and lead our organizations into the future.

Debra Walker

Debra Walker is a senior consultant for DDI. 

Posted: 11 Nov, 2016,
Talk to an Expert: A “Quest” for Leadership Development
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