As we know, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner have consistently emphasized that leadership is learned. But, can every organization say it provides the opportunity for practice? While the answer may be no for some, the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates (ECFMG) is one nonprofit that succeeds at fostering such a culture by encouraging non-management graduates of the Leadership is Everyone’s Business® (LIEB®) Workshop to continue exploring leadership through a program called LIEB Works. Through committee-based initiatives, participants have the opportunity to practice their newly learned leadership skills while also benefiting the organization with creative programs that bring The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® to their colleagues.
Headquartered in Philadelphia, ECFMG evaluates the qualifications of international physicians for entry into U.S. graduate medical education. We verify physician credentials, sponsor the J-1 visa, provide U.S. residency program application support, and assess clinical skills in collaboration with the National Board of Medical Examiners. Dedicated to fostering a culture of leadership, ECFMG searches for innovative ways to build leaders, especially at the frontlines. To that end, in 2009 we introduced The Leadership Challenge® Workshop to management and within two short years hosted the first LIEB Workshop for non-management staff in hopes of truly making leadership everyone’s business.
Enabling future leaders to act
The genesis of this new LIEB Works initiative can be traced back to a LIEB Workshop held in 2011 in which participants were exploring behaviors that exemplify each of The Five Practices. During a breakout session one participant shared his vision to increase recycling within the organization. The facilitators explained that while he was not a manager, he still had the ability to make a difference and encouraged him to Challenge the Process—to seize the initiative and work to bring his vision to life. So together with one fellow workshop participant, he began to Inspire a Shared Vision with other LIEB graduates. Ultimately, a group of seven employees started meeting casually during lunch to identify small wins to improve ECFMG’s efforts to become more environmentally responsible through its recycling program. The group found a common purpose and inspired one another to make their collective vision a reality.
As news of the initial group’s successes spread through word of mouth, participation grew and so did the group’s confidence in how they could make a positive impact on ECFMG. That’s when they decided to again Challenge the Process, approaching Human Resources (HR) to propose that the group become something more formal within the organization. With HR’s guidance and support, the group split itself into four different committees, each focusing on a specific area of impact with its own unique vision: New Employee Orientation, Manager Mentoring, Interdepartmental Communication, and Community Improvement. And as a result of a fun competition among all the committees, they named the program LIEB Works to reflect their belief that the Leadership is Everyone’s Business experience does truly work!
LIEB Works Overview
HR leaders continued to support and advocate for LIEB Works, including working to gain executive approval for the program by demonstrating its benefits to both individuals and the organization: providing non-managers with an opportunity to practice leadership skills in a safe environment without any potential negative impact on the business. As HR’s Assistant Vice President Betty Lehew said, “LIEB Works helps ECFMG solve the age-old frustration of employees claiming they can’t get a leadership position because they don’t have the experience, but they can’t get the experience if they don’t have a leadership position!”
A line-item within HR’s budget was approved, giving participants three paid lunch hours per month to participate in committee work without the worry of overtime or any impact on their actual jobs. This Encourages the Heart as everyone now has the opportunity to gain leadership experience without being in a leadership role! HR also set in place a process to review, provide feedback, and approve each committee’s vision and supporting activities, ensuring that the products produced by LIEB Works are of high quality and meet ECFMG’s standards.
HR also collaborated with LIEB Works members to create guidelines focusing on committee participation and ways to ensure every participant has the opportunity to practice their leadership skills, e.g., the self-initiated and voluntary nature of membership, how paid work time would be administered, and how leadership roles within the committees should rotate. In addition, ground rules were established requiring both employees and their managers to sign the guidelines, signifying the manager’s agreement that the employee has been identified as a high potential who could benefit greatly from this leadership experience and practice.
Committees offer various volunteer leadership roles (e.g., Chair, Vice Chair, Treasurer) in which members can learn how to take initiative, experience risk-taking, and gain confidence in their leadership abilities. Participants also learn what it takes to Encourage Others to Act—to take that jump from follower to leader. During monthly committee meetings, members learn and practice new skills, such as creating agendas and budgets, developing collaboration, facilitating meetings, challenging others professionally, public speaking, and proposing ideas to upper management. These may seem like basic tasks to experienced leaders, but for those who have never had the opportunity to take such active and leading roles within a team, it is an incredible experience! As one participant put it, contributing to and leading LIEB Works meetings “helped me build self-confidence and enthusiasm. I now speak out more and contribute more toward group discussions.”
Quarterly, all LIEB Works participants also meet with HR representatives to enjoy pizza, share success stories and challenges, and celebrate achievements! This serves as a way for ECFMG to again Encourage the Heart and reinforce a sense of community by showing appreciation and joining in celebrating LIEB Works’ values and victories.
LIEB Works Results at ECFMG
There are currently eight LIEB Works committees operating within ECFMG. While each has a success story to tell, two in particular stand out for what they have been able to achieve. Both have been most successful at Inspiring a Shared Vision with program proposals that ultimately have been adopted by ECFMG as formal, organization-wide initiatives:
The New Employee Orientation Committee started when one employee had a vision to create a peer-led orientation to welcome new hires. Realizing that management was occupied with other onboarding tasks, she saw a way for peers to assist in welcoming new employees to the culture. As a result, the committee created an onboarding checklist for managers in addition to a low-cost welcome kit: a tote bag containing a coffee mug, office supplies, an FAQ sheet, a picture frame, and more! New hires are assigned a department buddy, provided peer-led tours of the main office, and invited to attend a new-employee quarterly luncheon. The committee also committed to a vision of Encouraging the Heart of promoted peers and those who take on other career challenges. They designed a paperweight with the LIEB Works logo that says, “Congratulations! Leadership is a Choice!”
The Manager Mentoring Committee, in collaboration with management, created a Mentoring Program in which full-time employees engage in a six-month mentoring partnership with a manager from a different department. So far, there have been 49 mentees, including non-exempt staff, management, and remote employees. This vision was extended to the outside community where an internship program was created in partnership with a second-chance charter school for adults located in Philadelphia. Members had the opportunity to mentor students during the ten-week internship. The pilot program led to an ongoing partnership with this school and enhanced interest from other department managers to host interns moving forward.
Enough talk – let’s see a snapshot of the successes LIEB Works has achieved:
- Eight current committees up-and-running: New Employee Orientation, Manager Mentoring, Interdepartmental Communications, Bee Healthy/Wellness, Multimedia, LIEB Works Logistics, Regional Sites, and Recycling
- Next LIEB workshop is set to include 10 non-management staff and four new managers. There’s even a wait list!
- Since LIEB Works launched, 24 non-exempt, full-time program members have been promoted, including several into management positions
- Created and implemented 15 initiatives, and the list is growing Developing leadership skills in high potential employees before they actually hold formal leadership positions
- problem solving
- building collaboration
- time management
- public speaking and sharing ideas
- seeking and delivering feedback effectively
- professionally challenging others
- aligning and putting core values into action
- leading vs managing
By discussing leadership at all levels, ECFMG is fostering a culture of leadership where everyone shares similar values and practices. We acknowledge that leadership is a journey—and everyone’s business—and are proud that our LIEB Works program helps serve as a “playground” to explore the specific behaviors associated with The Five Practices and is grooming the next generation of leaders that ECFMG will need. What better way to secure the future of our organization?
Helen Ann Lisowski is Employment & Talent Development Coordinator at the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates where she coordinates recruitment and onboarding for new employees, performance management software, training programs, and various other talent development initiatives, including The Leadership Challenge and Leadership is Everyone’s Business workshops. She can be reached at HLisowski@ECFMG.org.