Sharing Your Unique Voice: Leadership Presence in Public Health

April 19, 2022 | ASTHO Staff

Three Black women engaged in a serious discussion during a meetingASTHO has seen growth in our Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health (DELPH) scholars and appreciates all they give to each meeting. April’s curriculum centered around Leadership Presence: What is it, and how can we improve it? The goal is to build on each DELPH scholar’s self-awareness and help them amplify their unique voice.

After a presentation from the Center for Creative Leadership, DELPH scholars gained insight into how to develop their presence. The Center defines presence as “the perceptions others form about you as a result of what you say or how you say it; the ability to command the attention of others; and the ability to connect authentically with the thoughts and feelings of an audience.” Working on presence, message development, and impact, DELPH scholars learned key qualities that make leaders effective.

To learn more about how the DELPH program has influenced our scholars’ leadership journey so far, we spoke with three leaders in our cohort: Andrea Lowe, director of legislative services at the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, Tiffany Wilson, data analytics branch manager at the Alabama Department of Public Health, and Harold Gil, data science support unit supervisor at the Washington State Department of Health.

How has DELPH impacted the way you approach leadership?

LOWE: It has given me the time and space to reflect on my leadership. I think everyone comes with the intention of being a good leader. And I hope I am…I'm told I am, but I always want to be better. And I feel like this program allows me to intentionally stop and reflect on my actual leadership itself, and then look at those growth opportunities and implement them in my work. Without DELPH pushing me to do that, I think it would have taken a lot longer for me to get there.

Are there any lessons from DELPH you’ve incorporated into your day-to-day work as a leader?

WILSON: Using a softer approach. I don't always have to come out of the gate with all the hard facts. I also realize it’s important to get people's buy-in and know who your allies are when you are having hard conversations. There is strength in numbers. So, when you have more people fighting for the same cause, it's a little bit easier to get things to go through.

GIL: We heard from someone speaking about branding. She brought it down to one question: how do you want to be remembered? And I thought that was really deep. It's something that I'm still processing. And I’m trying to link that up with my whole vision… my plan to go forward because that's really going to determine how I'm viewed as a leader. If I put the time into thinking about how I want to be remembered, it's going to help me achieve that goal.

How does diversity in leadership strengthen public health?

LOWE: As I'm thinking about this question, I feel like diversity and leadership strengthen all fields—period. But it strengthens public health specifically because health affects everyone—every single human being and every living creature. It affects us all so closely and, personally, we all feel it. Having this diverse set of health leaders that are developing and implementing programs, writing laws, rules and regulations, setting the visions for communities is critical. It increases the likelihood that many perspectives that impact the health of an individual, that impact the health of our communities are more likely to be unveiled and more likely to be addressed as a result.

How would you describe your leadership style?

WILSON: I love to support my staff. I like to hype my staff up. Get them excited. I'm all for presenting opportunities for people to grow and develop. You should never stop somebody's growth. You should help them grow. You should always hear everybody's opinion and feedback. It should be a comfortable environment, a comfortable space for people to even have an open conversation with you.

How have mentors shaped your leadership journey?

GIL: Mentorship has been a really big theme for me. I had incredible mentors in San Diego, and they were able to find assets of mine that I didn't even know existed, to be honest. I've tried to replicate some of the things they taught me, and when I'm supervising people, I try to find out what their strengths are and help them work to those strengths.

What is the greatest leadership lesson you have learned thus far?

LOWE: The greatest leadership lesson I've learned so far is to have grace and patience, and that there's no end to that—you can always have more. I feel like, naturally, I try to be a pretty patient person, but what I'm learning is that no matter how much patience and grace you have, it will always get tested, especially in leadership.

What advice would you give to the next generation of public health leaders?

WILSON: Keep pushing for those leadership positions. We need younger people, we need people of color, we need everybody around the table—that's the only way change is going to happen. We’re public health. There is no specification of one person or one characteristic in public health—it's all inclusive. What affects one affects all of us. So, we need to start making sure young people are going for these advancement roles and knowing that they have mentors in the community available to them. By opening up those channels of communication, we can continue to mold them so we can get good people into leadership positions.

What would you say to someone considering applying to the DELPH program?

LOWE: The value that I'm getting from just connecting with the other fellows, connecting with the leadership in both organizations as well as the leadership that they're bringing in to speak with us, has just been invaluable. It’s an experience I don't think I would ever get in a million years. And to be able to do this at really no cost to me and make it easy for me to participate is such a wonderful gift. I strongly suggest anyone who is thinking about it to apply.

Any closing thoughts?

WILSON: It takes people like me and people in my cohort to be that change, so we can actually change things in public health. Public health is forever changing, so we can't keep that same mentality that “oh, it's not broken. Let's not fix it.”

GIL: It's really the people that are the public health infrastructure. A major theme throughout my career journey—has been helping others to develop skills or develop in other ways by providing opportunities. And so, it makes me just know that this is really a long-term mission that we have. It's not something that's going to happen in a few years. It's a long-term investment that we have to keep working on, and it's definitely going to be worth it because, in the end, if the people are really the infrastructure, then we need to invest in these people. I try to practice that in making sure that my team has the resources they need to realize their potential and then be the sort of totally equipped public health staff that the country's going to need moving forward.