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By Monica E. Oss

What does an “effective” organization look like today – and what will it look like in the future? What makes a leader effective in this time of change? Kevin Ann Huckshorn Ph.D., former Director of the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health and author of Principled Leadership in Mental Health Systems and Programs, had an interesting answer to that question. Courage.

Kevin Ann Huckshorn Ph.D., MSN, RN, CADC, ICRC Author, Principled Leadership in Mental Health Systems and Programs; & Former Director of the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health

In our recent conversation, Dr. Huckshorn noted that she thought “courage to take risks” is one of the most important qualities for a leader in a market with many disruptive innovations. “In today’s market, full of changes, if your goal is to keep your job, rather than do your job, that is a problem,” she said. “You have to be willing to try new things and have the courage to seek out new partnerships and stakeholders to pull your organization forward.”

I think the concept of courage as a leadership competency can be viewed from a number of perspectives.

There is the courage to innovate (with new strategies and new services) and risk failure. Innovators need to challenge the unquestioned rationalizations of “why” things are done the way they are done; find new solutions to both new and old problems; and shift their organization’s vision away from “survive today,” to a long-term strategy (see Innovate or Else? and Innovation – From Concept To Reality). Be that with new services, new technologies, new financing arrangements, or new partnerships. This also means being open to feedback and new ideas. As Dr. Huckshorn said, “We cannot operate in a vacuum.” External stakeholders, board members, and even internal team members can bring fresh ideas to the organization.

There is the courage to facilitate a change in the “order of things” in pursuit of better consumer outcomes. This is leading to the remaking of the roles of stakeholders in the field and altering the traditional challenges of competitive advantage and sustainability – the changing value chain. As an example of this openness, Dr. Huckshorn mentioned the benefit that a peer workforce can bring to a mental health organization. “We sometimes find that there is a fear of building a peer workforce. Whether that stems from an economic fear for their jobs, fear of violating HIPAA standards, or an unwillingness to accept consumers as peers, there is sometimes an unwillingness among staff to accept peer support workers,” explained Dr. Huckshorn. This is just one example of many. The real challenge for leaders is being willing to do what it takes to do what is best for their organization – even if it is uncomfortable or difficult.

And then there is the courage to realize that your organization has outgrown some of your team members – or outgrown you. For success, an organization absolutely must have an executive team that has the right combination of talent, skills, and management experience to take that strategy “from paper to practice” (see Defining Your Executives’ Critical Competencies).

For more on what it takes to be an effective leader, join Dr. Huckshorn on September 22 at The 2015 OPEN MINDS Executive Leadership Retreat, in historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where she will kick off the retreat with her keynote session, Changing Executive Leadership Competencies In An Era Of Outcomes & Value-Based Reimbursement.

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