CE Professionals as Leaders

ACEhp National Learning Competency 6: Lead the Program

By: Bob Addleton, EdD, FACEhp, CHCP

Past President, ACEhp; Executive Vice President, Physicians’ Institute for Excellence in Medicine


“You gotta serve somebody.” --Bob Dylan

“You also gotta lead somebody.”--Bob Addleton

Our educational activities frequently begin with a disclosure. Here is mine: My CEhp work these days is dedicated to helping healthcare professionals maximize their leadership potential. My point of view on the theoretical underpinnings of what it takes to become a leader is rooted in the work of Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner and expressed in the most recent edition of their seminar book The Leadership Challenge (2017, Wiley).

The Leadership Challenge suggests that leaders described by others as being “exemplary” display behaviors in five distinct areas:

  1. They Model the Way
  2. They Inspire a Shared Vision
  3. They Challenge the Process
  4. They Enable Others to Act
  5. They Encourage the Heart

I would like to explore how one practice from this framework—Model the Way—relates to Competency Area 6 of the National Learning Competencies: Lead the CEhp program.

Briefly, Competency 6 requires CEhp professionals to:

  • Adhere to high standards of professionalism and ethics;
  • Model and inspire a vision of present value and future direction for CEhp—externally and internally;
  • Develop and model a learning organization; and
  • Advocate for the CEhp program, its mission, activities, staff and volunteers

So, how do these standards and National Learning Competency 6 relate to the work of Kouzes and Posner?

Modeling the Way

CEhp professionals Model the Way when they accept the challenges involved with being a professional. This means conducting oneself according to high ethical and moral standards, belonging to and contributing to professional associations, and understanding the theoretical basis of your educational practice. Perhaps the most important part of this equation is accepting the challenge of thinking of oneself as a professional, regardless of title, educational background or what others might think. As Kouzes and Posner put it, “Leadership is both an aspiration and a choice.”

Accepting the challenge of leadership is what professionals do. Many leadership experts advise leading from where you are, and how wise that advice is. Instead of worrying about how others may perceive your “place” in an organization, CEhp professionals have so much to offer, but first they must bestow upon themselves the title and realization of being a professional. Once we change the way we see ourselves and start acting accordingly, others will change in relation to our new behaviors. It will be difficult and seem strange at first, but that is the way of all meaningful change.

Leadership is both possible and desirable at every level of any organization. It is both behavioral and attitudinal. Once we start thinking of ourselves as leaders, as having leadership potential, new ways of behavior present themselves. As Kouzes and Posner phrase it, “Leadership is everybody’s business.”

Conversely, even while feeing inadequate, if we adopt the behaviors of leadership, we may find our typical ways of thinking about ourselves and our surroundings begin to change. Either way, change can begin subtly at first and become profound over time.

Becoming a Role Model

The aspiring leader (or even the experienced one) may ask, “What are the essential leadership behaviors that are part of ‘Modeling the Way’”? According to 30 years of research, there are six behaviors that others identify in a leader who model the way:

We can all reflect upon our pasts and recall occurrences that “woke us up”—events that clarified our beliefs and the effects that triggered changes in the ways we think and behave in order to become more effective. I think back to the late ’80s, when I received the task of implementing a guest relations program in a major academic medical center. One of the tenets of the training was to make eye contact with staff and patients as you walk the halls. The principle was about more than being perceived as friendly. Without eye contact, how could you see if someone was lost or needed assistance?

As I taught the classes, inevitably someone would say, “Well the CEO doesn’t do it, so why should I?” So off I went to the CEO to tell him the dilemma. “They won’t do it if you don’t,” I finished. He said he wasn’t comfortable doing that, to which I replied, “I get that, but you can’t ask staff to do things you are unwilling to do.” I had several more meetings with him on that same subject. He refused to alter his behavior, and the program was a miserable failure.

Here’s the deal: If we want others to recognize us as professionals, and to take our advice about educational design and all the rest, we must model the standards we champion.

  • Do we support interprofessional education? Then our committees, our planning process, our accreditation systems and our programming must reflect that.
  • Do we consider ourselves educational professionals? Then we continue and pay great attention to our own learning and share with others what we are doing and what we have learned.

Leadership begins with leading ourselves. When we have a vision of what we want to accomplish—backed up by hard-won skills and abilities—and we display the behaviors that lead others to have confidence in us, then we can start to move forward as professionals.

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