Taking Time to Develop Professional Branding as a Public Health Leader

June 28, 2022 | ASTHO Staff

 5 white blocks with black letters, the last 2 are being flipped to a new side, so they read "LEARN" instead of "LEAD"Who better to tell your leadership story than you? Developing your brand is essential to displaying what type of leader you are and what type of model you are portraying. Whether that is online or in-person, there is an audience that is looking to see what you are going to do next.

This month, our Diverse Executives Leading in Public Health (DELPH) scholars travelled to Greenville, SC to learn about confidence, impact statements, and the importance of practicing one’s communication skills—tools essential for developing professional branding. They have examined how they come across in presentations, through LinkedIn posts, or even through video conferencing. These lessons are critical so our participants can continue to develop as leaders.

In this post, we speak with James Bell III, a state assistant administrator for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and Sandy Noel, a statewide planning and HIV coordinator for the Florida Department of Health. They speak about their leadership brand and how they show up as a leader within the field of public health.

Why did you apply to DELPH?

JAMES BELL III: DELPH is supplying me with the resources, network, relationships, and strategies for being a better leader. Everything that I saw in the DELPH application pushed me out of my comfort zone, including the video we had to submit of ourselves. I thought DELPH would continuously push me and it has.

Why is it important to spend time developing your own leadership?

SANDY NOEL: I humbly believe leaders are made, not born. Several years ago, I read a Forbes magazine article emphasizing how leadership is 76% learned and 24% genetic. So, regardless of whether someone was born with natural leadership abilities, leadership is a marathon for everyone. As you advance in your career, you must learn new skills and grow your leadership abilities. It is an investment.

BELL: When people think of leaders, there are specific images or individuals that come to mind, and I want to be one of those people. When thinking about public health leadership specifically, there is a need to network so people become familiar with what you do and who you are. Leadership development is working together across states so that we have stronger networks to create healthier communities.

This June, DELPH has focused on developing professional branding. What is a lesson you have learned through the process of developing your own brand?

BELL: I had an interview many moons ago where I was worried about what I wanted to say and how I would dress, but what I found was that it was important to just be myself. There is a level of authenticity that people appreciate. I do not shy away from being myself on the podcast I run or in meetings—I cannot afford to code switch. There are just too many places where people need the whole me. The best advice I can offer is to be yourself in whatever space you occupy, because there is someone looking for you exactly how you are.

What is the experience like of being involved in DELPH while enrolled in school?

NOEL: I took a risk because everybody in my doctoral program was applying for research opportunities, but I wanted to focus on my leadership abilities. By honing my leadership skills, it is clear in my mind where I want to go and the direction I am headed as far as my leadership and research abilities. DELPH has pushed me to be intentional about that growth. I see everyone in my DELPH cohort and in my classes as colleagues and share the information I learn with them. That is how we grow our diverse public leadership. We do it as a community, as a village.

How does diversity in leadership strengthen public health?

NOEL: Public health cannot exist without diversity. There are several types of public leaders, and we all have a specific skill set that will propel public health forward. You cannot do public health without diverse leadership. Collectively, we will transform public health. We will prevent diseases and bring communities together. Public health impacts everyone and impacts all communities. So, to create a better tomorrow for ourselves, we need to transform and work together—something you cannot do without public health.

BELL: Having people who come from diverse backgrounds and who can approach a problem in a variety of ways lends itself to the future sustainability of public health. When I think about my own upbringing, coming from the city of Detroit, there is a certain way that I view social problems compared to my colleagues who come from other larger cities or rural areas. We just have more tools in our toolbox for addressing problems when we come together.

What are your plans after the DELPH program?

BELL: I feel like it is time to step into that next leadership role. I would love one day to run an organization committed to the public health of a state. And I know with the tools that DELPH has provided, I can do that. DELPH is really trying to position its graduates to better understand the future needs of public health.

NOEL: My immediate goal is to get my degree. But before DELPH, I thought life started after my degree. That was not right—it happens simultaneously. So, I started applying for new positions while also talking to my supervisor about where I want to grow and what I want to learn. I am also planning to maintain my relationship with my DELPH accountability partner as well as my cohort members because we are a village. I want to continue to grow with them and learn from them because you do not lead by yourself. You lead with assistance and guidance from others.