November 10, 2016
Barbara Sobko, left, and Karen Buckner Clockwise from left: Jason Nichols, Cheri Canon, Duane Donner, Michelle Robinson, Grant Savage and David RogersNovember 10, 2016 | Amy Bickers

The most challenging part of UAB’s Healthcare Leadership Academy experience isn’t climbing a 32-foot pole – or jumping off of it.

The biggest challenge just might be finding 80-plus hours to invest in yourself. But the return on that investment is proving to be powerful for HLA participants and UAB.

Launched in 2009, the Healthcare Leadership Academy – a collaboration between UAB’s Collat School of Business and the School of Medicine – attracts some of UAB’s busiest faculty and staff, who seek to develop their leadership skills by investing in teamwork and individual learning.

Each class – 24 participants per year, nominated by their schools and competitively selected – spend a full day each month away from their offices (and cell phones) between October and May, plus time spent on a team project. Participants include associate deans, department chairs, division directors, administrators, managers and development professionals.

The goal is to nurture emerging and established leaders, positioning them to assume even more responsibility, says co-director David A. Rogers, MD, senior associate dean for faculty development in the School of Medicine. “People are typically promoted based on career accomplishments, but that doesn’t always mean they are prepared work in teams or to lead teams,” he said. “HLA gives participants a solid grounding in team leadership, and because they are away from their normal routine for class time, they have the opportunity to focus on those skills.”

The course begins with a trip to the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, where the class – many of whom are meeting for the first time – participate in a high ropes course (including the 32-foot pole climb and jump-off) and other activities designed to build team spirit.

“I joined UAB in August 2014 and started HLA just a few weeks later,” recalled Class of 2015 graduate Jason Nichols, OD, MPH, PhD, FAAO, who serves as assistant vice president for industry research development. “Being new to UAB, I found HLA to be of tremendous benefit in starting to understand the environment and building my network.”

The rest of the year is devoted to learning about UAB and about leadership styles. “The key lesson I learned is the importance of having different personalities on a team,” said Class of 2010 graduate Michelle A. Robinson, DMD, MA, associate dean at the UAB School of Dentistry. “This changed how I hire, mentor, evaluate, and assign work to my team. It also allowed me to better understand and collaborate with my peers who have opposite work styles and personality types.”

Each class divides into groups for project work mentored by a faculty leader. Several HLA projects have been implemented within UAB, including the Primary Care Scholars Program to encourage more medical students to pursue primary care careers; an online toolkit for faculty and student researchers; and formalized mentoring for clinician-educators in the School of Medicine.

From day one, the program has been funded by generous gifts from Founders Investment Banking and the Dore’ Foundation. Founders Managing Partner Duane Donner grew up in Lafayette, La., but has called Birmingham home for more than 20 years. He recognized immediately that supporting the HLA meant he was investing in the future of the community where his three children will grow up.

“A community is nothing without strong leaders, and leaders are not born — they are developed,” said Donner. “In our business we look hard at numbers. At the end of 2016, nearly half of the leaders who graduated from the HLA course had already been promoted. That means this has been a great investment for UAB and for our community.”

“My participation in HLA’s first class was timed perfectly with my advancement in UAB,” said Cheri L. Canon, MD, Chair of the Department of Radiology and a member of the inaugural class in 2009. “It provided a strong network of collaborative colleagues on whom I still rely, and the confidence to say yes to leadership opportunities. Observing so many different leadership styles was profoundly helpful, proving that successful leadership is complex and not a straightforward recipe.”

For information: Brad Whisenant, Collat School of Business, 205.996.9453;bhwhis@uab.edu