Leaders can be literal life savers

Lan Bentsen tells the story of how a group of leaders with close relationships came together for an incredibly important project: reducing infant mortality in Houston hospitals.

During the mid 1980s, the infant mortality rate in their community—12.5 per 1000 live births—was about thirty percent above the national average, and almost twice the Surgeon General’s Year 2000 goal of 6.5.

Bentsen knew that his community could do better. From his time as a March of Dimes volunteer he understood that the failure of responsible agencies to coordinate their services was a major cause of the problem. He describes how mundane missteps often led to terrible outcomes:

A high-risk pregnancy patient diagnosed at a city clinic would be handed her records and told to go make an appointment with the county hospital. If she were, say, a 15-year-old, she would likely never get there for any number of reasons—fear, loss of records, inability to get an appointment after working hours, lack of bilingual operators, lack of a “hot line”—all manageable circumstances, assuming cooperation. Left alone, her high-risk conditions prevailed until she went into labor, too often with disastrous results.

ALF Houston Class 3 offered to intervene. We felt a community-wide effort would be required to overcome the inertia of the two agencies. Because the subject of prenatal care in those days had become linked with extenuating social issues, we knew all parties that could “veto” the effort had to be involved. In particular, the March of Dimes and the faith community had to come to the table.

To broaden the collaboration, the ALF class members recruited thirty other community organizations with a range of views on health issues. A mission statement was defined, step by laborious step. Our ALF training had taught us that no step could be taken unless all parties agreed. Confidence grew. Respect for values was developed. Misconceptions were identified and clarified. The ALF collaboration approached the city and the county with a request to implement the changes. All leaders agreed that the steps and recommendations were reasonable and desirable.

But somehow nothing seemed to change.

The ALF collaboration then turned to the media, which was suitably impressed with the breadth and depth of the collaboration and its mission. Media cameras entered the clinics asking to see the (nonexistent) multilingual hot-lines for making appointments. The newspaper tracked on the front page how long it took to get an appointment with the county system for high-risk city pregnancies. The television stations visited the “baby cemetery.” The public pressure was unrelenting.

Things changed fast at that point. Systems were integrated quickly, because they had already been designed and funded. Clinics opened on evenings and weekends. Patient records were hand-delivered and appointment reminders were sent to patients. The bus system offered free passes. And the high-risk city pregnancies began to get first-trimester care.

Within three years, infant deaths dropped from six hundred to three hundred per year in the city and county, even as the local birthrate continued to increase dramatically. Houston achieved its year 2000 Surgeon General goal of 6.5 infant deaths per 1000 live births in five years, ten years ahead of schedule.

As it happened, the lieutenant governor of Texas was a Houston resident and saw this unfold. He convened the Select Committee on Medicaid and Family Services and recruited ALF class members to serve on it and make recommendations to the state. The Maternal Infant Health Improvement Act was subsequently submitted to the Texas Legislature.

Over the next five years infant mortality incidence in Texas declined from 3,000 to 2,000 deaths. The state’s infant mortality ranking improved from 49th to 26th, a ranking it continues to hold more than twenty years later.

Audiobook Available

EWKALhardcover_cover_finalEverything We Know About Leadership: Is Less Than We Still Have To Learn Released As Audiobook

Haven’t gotten around to reading the American Leadership Forum’s new book on leadership? Now you have a new choice—just listen to it. Amazon has recently posted the Audible version of Everything We Know About Leadership: Is Less Than We Still Have To Learn.

The audiobook is voiced by Doug Mackey, Marguerite Giguere, Aaron Jacobs, Xola Malik, and Heather Young and runs 4 hours and 45 minutes.  You’ll learn how the American Leadership Forum (ALF) started in Houston and spread across the country, and what’s been learned about leading in America over the past quarter century.

Thousands of people serving their communities through ALF have discovered surprising things about leadership: it’s much more about listening than directing, more about learning than knowing, more about willingness to deeply challenge themselves than any special inborn qualities – and that grasping all this is a rewarding practice that never ends.

A project of the National ALF board, the book defines leadership, analyzes how it is applied, and then looks to the future in what the authors hope will be a continuing, interactive conversation. It was written by Jeff Golden in dialogue with Sharon Babcock, Chris Block, Kent Snyder, Robin Teater, and Anne Udall. The audio book can be ordered for $14.95 at www.audible.com. Or join the dialogue about leadership at everythingweknowaboutleadership.org.

The print version of Everything We Know About Leadership:Is Less Than We Still Have To Learn was published last fall, and a 141 page paperback version is available at amazon.com for $12.99.  Or download it from Kindle for $9.99.

In the book’s foreword, Peter Block comments, “What I appreciate about the ALF approach is its intentional focus on bringing compassion and care to the whole community–all citizens and all institutions.”  The book also has dozens of examples of leadership in action, with practical approaches profiled about ALF seniors fellows and how they’ve come together to create positive change.

Redskins: All in a Name?

wrsPeople across America are debating whether or not the Washington Redskins of the National Football League (NFL) should change their name. Some people find the name offensive, some do not. What do you think the football team should do? Why? What role do you think America’s Native American communities should play in this decision? It would be great to hear from some of the ALF Native American senior fellows.


Gender Pay Gap Narrowing

gender payGender Pay Gap Narrowing

It’s 2013 and one of the most important issues that we don’t talk about is the gender pay parity.  It’s 2013 and we still don’t have pay parity between men and women in America.  Why is this the case and what will it take for this to change?

Government Shutdown

debtceilingRecently, U.S. national elected officials chose to shutdown the government over differences in the debt ceiling and the Affordable Care Act.  What has the shutdown taught you about leadership / lack of leadership in America, today?  Are there any ties with these issues and the themes that were addressed in the book?

An early review! "Everyone has a story."

ALF Senior Fellow John Doan, City Administrator for Tumwater, Washington, recently weighed in on the book:

For the 4,000 ALF Senior Fellows, “Everything We Know About Leadership” is an excellent reminder of the ALF framework and experience, and helps us see how other ALF chapters have executed on the ALF values. For students of leadership, the book outlines the proven history, work, and results of ALF as a model for leadership development and community education.

Among the many powerful reminders from my ALF experience was the seven minute talk and realizing that “everyone has a story.” As we work with potential partners, collaborators, employees, and family we need to truly pause to hear the stories. Every community is filled with many people, each with their own story that shapes who they are.

Thanks, John!

Whether you have been through the American Leadership Forum or not, you can share your thoughts about the book at Amazon.com.

Have you read “Everything We Know About Leadership” already? Share your thoughts!

EWKALhardcover_cover_finalPeople all over the country are discovering “Everything We Know About Leadership.” Maybe you are a senior fellow, maybe you are thinking your community could use an ALF chapter, maybe you are just passionate about the topic of leadership, and found this book randomly on Amazon.

However it happened, please consider telling taking a few moments to review it on Amazon or Goodreads. Your shared feedback will help others like you make a decision about the book, and it would be a real help to furthering the national conversation about leadership that ALF hopes to foster.

Thank you.

Announcing “Everything We Know About Leadership”

EWKALhardcover_cover_finalThe American Leadership Forum, celebrating its 30 anniversary, is proud to announce it is publishing a book about the collective experience of ALF Senior Fellows across the country. Everything We Know About Leadership harnesses the wisdom of 4000 Senior Fellows into a slim volume of the stories and values that make up the ALF experience.

Written for anyone interested in leadership and community change, the book has already garnered a lot of praise:

“Right now, we need stories of courageous leadership—and the guidance they offer — more than ever. The powerful lessons in this work can help each of us build our strengths. Thank you!”
Frances Moore Lappé | Small Planet Institute 

“Many of us find it difficult to move out of our silos, if we even think of doing it at all. This book explores ALF’s unique process for helping leaders understand how to bridge divides, create new networks of unusual allies and help generate new thinking around system stalemates.”
C.S. Park | Director, Seagate Technology

“I participated in ALF soon after being elected to the Houston City Council, but after years of work as a community activist and experience heading many non-profit groups. My experience helped me communicate and work toward goals in new ways. The close bonds I was able to forge with a diverse array of leaders affected how I understand the world and how I continue to act today. The network of those with the shared ALF bond has been a resource in tackling tough problems.

Everything We Know About Leadership serves to remind readers of one of the most important lessons I have learned: a true leader has agreed to accept the challenge of leading. Too often what we call leadership is following from the front.”
Annise Parker | Mayor, Houston, Texas

Read more praise for the book here.

Now available!