Chief Executive Officer
Susan N. Harding, PhD
"There's not one member of my team that I don't trust with running this organization, like if something happened to me tomorrow, it wouldn't matter."
United in purpose yet divided in approach, Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency found cultural fractures obstructing their essential care mission. Rather than mandate alignment, CEO Dr. Susan Harding consciously centered community wellbeing by first unveiling staff potential. Her courage and commitment to personal growth, cultivated a team dynamic of integrity, passion, openness and trust. The aligned leadership fostered organizational sustainability, benefiting thousands relying on their compassionate support.
In the initial stages of this transformative leadership journey, Dr. Susan Harding, CEO of the OLHSA, sought the expertise of Phoenix Performance Partners. Driven by a passion for addressing poverty and recognizing the organizational silos hindering comprehensive problem-solving, Dr. Harding was determined to create a more collaborative and unified culture within her leadership team. Her goal was to foster stronger relationships, rebuild trust, and align the team's efforts toward a shared vision.
"We were not working comprehensively inside the organization. It was all these different silos we... were all just doing work independently."
The organization operated in isolated silos, impeding effective collaboration and hindering their ability to address the complex issues of poverty comprehensively. This lack of unity within the leadership team resulted in tension, differing opinions, and a fragmented work environment. Dr. Harding faced the challenge of rebuilding relationships, overcoming past conflicts, and creating an environment conducive to open communication and vulnerability. The consequences of these issues included a less effective organization that struggled to work together in addressing critical challenges.
"We needed to come together, maybe put some of the past history of the organization, some of the cultural things that had been going on that we were all a part of, but maybe had different opinions about the future that we wanted to create for the agency."
To address these challenges, Dr. Harding opted for a Transformational Leadership Experience with Phoenix Performance Partners. The program focused on team development rather than individual coaching, aiming to create a united leadership team. Through retreats, workshops, and ongoing coaching, the team learned to understand themselves and each other better, identified core values, and navigated difficult conversations. Dr. Harding emphasized the importance of patience and persistence in this process, as transformative change took two to three years.
"We, as a team, had to come together and agree... We are a united front!"
The impact of the Transformational Leadership Experience was profound. Personally, Dr. Harding gained a deeper understanding of herself, leading to increased self-awareness and empathy. The team, once divided, became a cohesive unit capable of addressing the organization's challenges collaboratively. The concepts and changes cascaded throughout the organization, with programs for supervisors and managers promoting a culture of collaboration. Tangible outcomes included a transformation of the compensation and title structure to address equity and transparency issues. Dr. Harding highlighted the significance of achieving unity in decision-making, stating,
"I don't give all the 'bad messages' or the perceived bad messages. We, as a team presented it to the staff, took their questions together and for me that was a major breakthrough."
In reflection on our partnership and process with her she said,
"They have truly helped our team make amazing breakthroughs! We continue to benefit from their support in looking at everything differently. They inspire our team to think bigger and for that I am especially grateful."
Dr. Susan Harding's advice for other leaders includes:
Prioritize Team Development
Intentionally Foster Trust
Recognize Individual Coaching Alone is Insufficient
Embracing self-awareness, leading by example, and modelling the desired behavior are crucial in creating a collaborative culture. She stresses the importance of patience and persistence, acknowledging that transformative change takes time. The top three takeaways from her journey are investing in team development, embracing self-awareness, and modelling desired behavior at all levels of the organization. As Dr. Harding and her team continue to cascade Transformational Leadership principles, they are poised to create lasting change and make a meaningful impact in their community.