REALIZE: A Transformational Leadership Program

May 15, 2015

When Paso del Norte Health Foundation CEO Myrna Deckert saw the need to strengthen the bench of emerging leaders in the region, she tapped Dr. Michael Kelly for the job.

This was six years ago, and what Dr. Kelly developed was a transformational leadership program called REALIZE. The next cohort will be selected in June; the class will stay together for 15 months and go through a series of executive coaching sessions, off-site visits to places like the Sacramento Mountains, and complete a course of reading from experts in the leadership field.

Dr. Kelly proudly proclaims that REALIZE has no curriculum, per se. Rather, it offers a common core of competencies that emphasize qualities like communication, collaboration, and a basis of integrity that employees will rally around.

“Transformational leadership questions paradigms to achieve mission,” Dr. Kelly explains. “We provide an array of skills and tools to fundamentally shift how we think about leadership.”

Annette Gutierrez, executive director of the Rio Grande Council of Governments Area Agency on Aging, was a June 2014 graduate of REALIZE. She had never participated in “leadership training” prior to REALIZE. Having completed the program, she says it would be difficult to go through any other leadership training because REALIZE “set the bar so high.”

“Prior to participating in the REALIZE leadership program, I thought of ‘transformational leadership’ as an approach that needed to ensure you were creating a vision with some sort of change that inspired others to follow.

“Now, having gone through the REALIZE program, I think of ‘transformational leadership’ as a three-part process where the leader is thinking, doing and being. The approach is so much more holistic now, thanks to REALIZE.”

Gutierrez had three definite takeaways from her experience. “I still lead with my heart, but do so in a strategic way that is focused on the organization. I have become a better communicator with my staff and my board of directors. I work more closely with the management team to ensure that my vision becomes their vision and vice versa.”

Dr. Kelly shows how leadership can come from all staff in an organization, not simply the CEO or top management team. Take the front-desk receptionist, for example. This person has the ability to create change within an organization simply by how he or she engages with customers, sets the tone for the company by how he or she meets and greets people, or can institute change by how he or she arranges the front of the house to fill the needs of all employees.

“Leadership is not a position,” Dr. Kelly explains. “It is a way of influence to get other people to move in a direction you want them to go in.”

Are there “natural leaders?”

“I think leadership can be learned,” said Dr. Kelly. “I think there are people with greater capacity to lead, but I don’t think there are natural born leaders.”

Among other components, participants in the REALIZE program undergo a 360-degree assessment that creates benchmarks on strengths and weaknesses, assessments to measure leadership growth, and networking that strengthens the impact of the cohort and connects them to other community leaders.

“The amount of time and care taken by the staff at the Foundation, the professional coaching that was offered, and the topics covered by our presenters was very inspirational,” Gutierrez said. “The greatest value I found in the program was being able to have this experience with other members of the cohort and being able to gain more knowledge from them as well.”

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