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Cultivating Leadership in Provider Organizations

by: 
Beth Owens, Rita Potter, Elizabeth Garcia and Josh Evans

How do we preserve culture and retain leadership in a field where turnover and attrition is a constant?

In the introduction to his book Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up, Paul Schmitz notes we tend to think of an incomplete definition of leadership – often associating it with positions of power. Paul reminds us that everyone has a sphere of influence in which to lead – “leadership is not about a position that one is entitled to have; it is about a process in which one takes responsibility to engage.

Former IARF President & CEO Janet Stover embraced Paul’s vision of leadership when she established the IARFuture Leadership Initiative in 2016. The IARFuture is a one-of-a kind program designed to develop, train, and strengthen future generations of leaders working in not-for-profit social service agencies. Through this initiative we hope to not merely retain leaders and positive culture in our member agencies, we hope to expand on both.

IARFuture consists of a series of modules developed by leading minds in the areas of organizational culture, strategic thinking, planning, decision making, and system advocacy. Class participants learn and/or expand their skills to overcome organizational challenges and innovate in a time of significant system change.

Underlying IARFuture’s multifaceted structure and intent are three key takeaways each of has utilized during and after our participation in the initiative.

Professional Networking

The opportunity to develop professional relationships with up and coming leaders is an indirect, but crucial benefit to all IARFuture participants. The connections developed in this program transfer far beyond the classroom walls. Participants will continue to utilize their peers as resources in the field.  Whether it is a quick email to former classmates asking for advice on an HR issue or a group conference call to discuss how a new major change from the state will affect their agency; the ability to network with peers is an ongoing benefit and one of the most valuable for every participant.

Dynamic Faculty and Content

To educate future leaders you need access to the top leaders in the field – which is exactly what the initiative affords students. The modules include core “must have” content, but the faculty truly make the initiative special. IARFuture students are taught by innovators with years of experience to share. Not only due the instructors impart wisdom, but they facilitate group discussion and participation to further the learning process.

Connecting Organizational Staff with IARF

Beyond the functional leadership training and networking experiences found in IARFuture, participants are encouraged to utilize resources IARF provides to its members. Cohort participants are immediately provided with access to collaborative groups in the areas of intellectual/developmental disabilities and behavioral health, human resources and finance. Alumni routinely meet to discuss and develop solutions for day-to-day challenges social service agencies face while striving to innovate the future of service delivery. The ongoing supports and inclusivity that IARF offers following the cohort immediately shapes and better equips your agency for the future.

Including the 2018 cohort, IARF expects to have advanced 63 leaders from nearly two dozen member agencies through the IARFuture Leadership Initiative.

Beth Owens is the Crisis and Emergency Manager with Developmental Disability Services of Metro East in Belleville, IL. Rita Potter is Chief Executive Officer of Open Door Rehabilitation Center in Sandwich, IL. Elizabeth Garcia is Vice President of Operations with Goldie B. Floberg Center in Rockton, IL. Josh Evans is President & CEO of IARF in Springfield, IL.