Reflections — February 16, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Bedrock Leadership Beliefs

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by Lisa Erwin-Davidson, MS, CCC, SLP

It is our privilege to have Lisa Erwin-Davidson join CCCSLP to share her thoughts on leadership. I have known Lisa for over 20 years as a dear friend and colleague. Her exceptional talents and skill as an SLP, her passion and drive to advance what is best in our field, and her caring and compassion for her patients, students and staff make her a true leader in our field. Welcome Lisa and Happy Birthday!

Friday morning of November 16 I met five of the top SLP leaders in the country. Thanks to a research study and national search, we now know a little bit more about the conceptual brain patterns of SLP’s who lead.

Dr. Wayne Secord, Dr. Elisbeth Wiig, Dr. Robert Fox, and Michael Towey were curious how SLP leaders got things done and if they shared similar bedrock beliefs. Out of the University of Ohio, a short answer questionnaire was created, but before that was sent out, these researchers solicited nominations from each of the state’s speech & hearing associations, and asked for names of the top SLPs in their state. Then, those nominated SLP’s were emailed a questionnaire entitled the “Clinical Leadership Questionnaire.” Responses to these questionnaires were organized and statistically analyzed, then core leadership values were plucked out from all the responses, and out of hundreds of responses, six SLP’s were chosen who had inspiring stories to tell, and who shared similar ideas of leadership. None of these SLP’s knew their leadership beliefs were being analyzed, or that their names had been submitted by their state leadership – I should know, I was one of these SLP’s.

Dr. Robert Fox, who was inducted as an ASHA fellow at this November ASHA, put our “bedrock leadership beliefs” to statistical analysis, and created a visual concept “cloud” identifying the primary mind activities shared by the six SLP leaders from around the USA. I must admit, the purpose of such an analysis seemed rather enigmatic, but after reading Mark F. Goldberg’s article on “Leadership in Education: Five Commonalities”, I began to see the rationale. Mr. Goldberg had conducted 43 interviews since 1989 with eminent individuals, and extrapolated their “ big picture” characteristics. As a new graduate school instructor, and a long time clinical mentor for SLP students, I could see the value of nurturing such characteristics and inspiring others to be catalysts for change.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, all six of us shared common stories. Even though we grew up in different states from all sections of the country, we had parents who served as examples of leadership, even though their actions may not have resulted in immediate change. All six of us had faced a problem, or a set of ongoing problems, and basically said, “That’s the last straw!” There was usually a “catalyst” , and something that pushed us to engage others, solve problems, and change how things were done in our field, our state, or with an individual client. All of us worked for the betterment of working conditions every day, we rarely took “no” for an answer, and successfully developed programs, systems or activities that were goal directed and that improved the lives of people.

My personal “bedrock leadership beliefs” were formed by my upbringing, then nurtured by wonderful mentors, and finally honed throughout my 25 years of working as a speech language pathologist. Most of the time, I was not trying to lead, but merely trying to actively listen, then listen again, until I really understood what needed to be changed.
Only by being an accepted voice for those who could not speak, showing compassion, keeping perspective, and persevering despite great odds, did anything change.

Describing leadership qualities across individuals is not new information by any means.

Historically, military leaders have had their leadership qualities sung or written about and their skills extolled. Political leaders, activists, CEO’s and religious leaders have all been analyzed for their leadership qualities. Mark F Goldberg identified “large-minded qualities”, such as the “courage to swim upstream , possession of a social conscience, seriousness of purpose, and situational mastery”. There were these “bedrock beliefs” that kept leaders on a path with purpose.

Leadership abilities can emerge within any socioeconomic class and requires no specialized education. People have emerged as leaders even when placed in horrendous situations, such as Malala Yousufzai, the young Pakistani education activist, shot for having seriousness of purpose.

If I learned anything from being a part of the ASHA Short Course: “Leadership & Clinical Excellence: Up Close & Personal”, it was that other SLP’s need to be inspired. It is easy to become negative when fighting to justify one’s existence to the insurance world. It is easy to become complacent. One may have reasons that make it difficult to make “big changes” , such as fear of losing a job. There are, however, smaller changes which can be made with “seriousness of purpose” to improve our clients’ lives or our working environment. Most importantly, those SLP’s who are new to this field need to understand that despite challenges, time pressures, and stress, it is a great field, and if they believe in a cause, and wish to right an injustice, they should be mentored through the process of change.

My advice is to Lead On but be smart about how you wish to make a change. Avoid impulsive decision making, examine the ramifications of the change you wish to make, and who it ultimately affects. Be respectful and avoid getting caught up in emotions. Keep your “eyes on the prize”. Envision the goal, select people who are like-minded in that goal, and can envision the change as well. Choose people on your “leadership team” who offer different but necessary talents to achieve that goal. Try not to sway from that goal, and persevere despite the odds. Your timeline may need adjustment, but lead on anyway. Most importantly, maintain a sense of humor.

About the Author
Lisa Erwin-Davidson, MS, CCC ran for the Vermont State House of Representatives in 2010, was chosen as 1 of 3 top clinical SLP leaders in the nation this November, started the first SLP department in a northern VT hospital in 2001, and is active on the Northwoods Stewardship Center conservation board in beautiful East Charleston. She has held numerous professional & community leadership & activist roles. Her younger brother, Dr. Eric Erwin, an elementary school assistant principal, will readily tell people his older sister has always been “bossy”. Lisa likes to remind her brother that she is a Black Belt in TaeKwonDo. This usually keeps him quiet.
Contact Lisa at l.e-d@comcast.net

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One Comment

  1. Marguerite Mullaney

    Thank you for clinical look at Leadership in our field. It really lays out just how change is actively created versus the concept that change ‘just happens.’ Wonderful update.

    Is there any chance the questionaire could eventually move from research to function? It could be helpful for members to see how people nominated for leading roles at ASHA answer those question before we actually vote.

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