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Becoming a Leader at the International Forum

By IHI Open School | Wednesday, April 24, 2013

By Ariella Camera, Brandeis University

“You can’t do this alone; you need to align with allies with shared interests to create change.” – Helen Bevan

I recently attended IHI’s International Forum on Quality and Patient Safety in London, England. I spent four engaging days discussing quality improvement, diverse health care systems, reverse innovation, and leadership development.

I am a second-year master’s candidate at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, studying Sustainable International Development. I also have been working in the quality improvement field at the national level with the National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality (NICHQ) for the past eight months. I am fairly new to quality improvement and attended the International Forum with the aspiration to meet like-minded professionals and students. I also wanted to learn more about how quality improvement is changing health care systems around the world.


International Forum

Helen Bevan, Chief of Service Transformation at NHS Institute for Innovation and Improvement, presented a session titled, “A Half Day School for Organizational Radicals” that really impacted me. I was able to meet other students and professionals who considered themselves to be “organizational radicals” and were trying to implement change within the health care system. We kicked off the session by drawing what we each thought it meant to be an organizational radical (please refer to my stick figure picture) and then had to share our creations with each other. It was pretty evident after going around our table that our individual pictures were tied together by very similar themes. These themes included how challenging and lonely it can feel to lead innovative change, that every leader needs to align themselves with a group of people with shared values and passions, and that the most valuable lessons are in your failures. Helen encouraged us to start with ourselves, build alliances, and learn fast that we don’t have to consider ourselves martyrs to be organizational radicals. There is an art to learning how to the “rock the boat, but also stay in it.”

As a change agent in the health care field, I am learning that I need to frame change effectively and link values to emotions and a clear action. Data can be helpful in achieving this, but the power of storytelling is central to creating momentum. Often as a student, I limit myself when I feel defeated or faced with numerous obstacles. It is easy to think that once I become a seasoned professional, receive my degree, or have a distinguished title next to my name, I will be considered a “real” leader.

However, I am learning quickly that the more I sit around and wait for someone to label me a leader, valuable time is being wasted that could be dedicated to making an impact. I often find myself having conversations with other students who find themselves in a similar position. As Helen encouraged, we need to change the way we are having conversations about leadership and innovation. We need to create an authentic approach to creating buy-in to the change we want to create. I want to encourage you to find your authentic approach, embrace your failures, and join me in saying, “I am a leader!” (Doesn’t it feel good?)

Follow Ariella on Twitter @AriellaCamera


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