I recently had the pleasure of welcoming the newest cohort of fellows to the Terrance Keenan Institute for Emerging Leaders in Health Philanthropy. The 18 individuals that comprise the sixth class of fellows represent future leaders from a diverse set of experiences, foundations, geographies, and interests. We spent three afternoons together learning about each other’s leadership style, talking about how to foster more diverse and inclusive work environments, discussing how to advance health equity through the work of their foundations, and engaging community leaders in a discussion on power sharing and how to more effectively partner with community organizations to effect change. Normally, these discussions would have taken place in person—but it’s 2020.
This year has placed a spotlight on many things, including the importance of leadership during times of crisis and uncertainty. Across every sector, and at every level of our society, leaders have had to respond and adapt to a rapidly changing world. Many have risen to the challenge by adapting their businesses; reconfiguring health care settings, classrooms, and offices; shifting priorities to address pressing community needs; and supporting their employees. Leaders have also struggled for many reasons, including limited resources and support, as well as being unprepared for an unprecedented situation. The consequences of their struggles have ranged from barely noticeable to catastrophic.
The people who end up in management or leadership positions are often those who demonstrate strong technical skills—but that does not automatically mean they will be a good manager or leader. Moreover, we do not teach management or leadership skills in most graduate programs; yet we know that most graduates of these programs will have to manage someone or lead a group at some point in their career. This lack of training leaves many people unprepared for the challenges they face, leaving many of them to figure it out along the way. It is one of the reasons why programs such as the Terrance Keenan Institute are so important. Programs like the Terrance Keenan Institute help emerging leaders develop emotional intelligence by learning about themselves, their work styles, and how they can improve interactions with others; connect the participants with a network of peers, as well as leadership from other foundations; and challenge them to put into practice some of the things they discuss.
A little while ago, I had a conversation with the organizers of another leadership program whose funding was cut. It was another reminder that in recent years pipeline programs like the Terrance Keenan Institute have dwindled, especially programs that focus on supporting individuals from diverse populations. These programs provide important opportunities to support, connect, and grow future leaders. Without them or other opportunities to develop management and leadership skills, fewer people will be prepared to overcome their leadership challenges. Even though it is hard to think about what the next six months or the next year may bring, it is important to continue as well as strengthen our investments in the people who will be leading and managing in the future.
The Terrance Keenan Institute focuses on leadership development, exploration of critical issues facing philanthropy, and fostering connections that can endure throughout the fellows’ careers. The Institute was inspired by the work of Terrance Keenan, who was Vice President for Special Programs at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation from 1972 to 1990, and who dedicated more than 40 years of his life to the field of health philanthropy. He was also part of a small group of health funders involved in creating Grantmakers In Health. Support for the 2020 Institute is provided by the Effective Philanthropy Fund, The California Wellness Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
As I think about the type of leaders that philanthropy and the world need to help meet this moment, I am reminded of Rosalynn Carter when she said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” Solving the myriad challenges raised to our collective conscientiousness this year such as dealing with a pandemic, rebuilding our public health infrastructure, strengthening our health care workforce, eliminating health disparities and achieving health equity, and addressing social justice issues requires us to move outside of our comfort zones and to go where we may not want to. It also requires us to address not just the issues we want to, but those we need to. Ensuring the next generation of leaders are prepared to take us where we need to be will increase our chances of success.