Recommended Insights
Recommended Insights

Ladder to Leadership: Developing the Next Generation of Community Healthcare Leaders

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
CLIENT:Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
LOCATION:Princeton, NJ
SIZE:270 employees

Client Profile & Challenge

Management expert Peter Drucker once described nonprofits as “human-change agents.” Others describe them as safety nets — institutions that tackle some of society’s thorniest problems. But many nonprofit agencies that provide community health services are facing challenges: potential gaps in leadership as Baby Boomers retire by the thousands over the next decade, and a need for creative, bold strategies to maintain quality care and services with limited resources.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving health and healthcare, took steps several years ago to address the leadership deficit faced by the industry.

The foundation, says Sallie George, a program officer with the Princeton, NJ-based foundation, wanted a customized program that would target early-to-mid-career emerging leaders of nonprofits and government agencies, who would be able to help support their organizations and communities in efforts to improve health and healthcare in vulnerable communities across the United States.


  • Develop leadership skills among emerging leaders in health and health-related nonprofit organizations,
  • Increase effective collaborations and joint implementation of activities between community-based organizations,
  • Increase peer support among Fellows,
  • Encourage innovative and effective approaches to health and health-related challenges, and
  • Increase the visibility of a pool of nonprofit leaders ready for higher-level leadership roles.

Solution & Results

We developed a 16-month leadership development curriculum for 219 early-to-mid-career professionals, focusing on developing leadership skills related to bringing about organizational change; adapting innovations from other fields; creating more client-focused services; and working across internal and external organizational boundaries. The program promoted cross-organization collaboration and encouraged innovation and community visibility to more effectively tackle health and healthcare issues.

The 16-month program includes:

  • 360 Feedback on leadership behaviors,
  • 5 face-to-face leadership development sessions,
  • Team-based Action Learning projects, and
  • Professional one-on-one coaching.

As a result of the Ladder to Leadership developmental process, participants experienced improvements in leadership skills and behaviors. They, as well as peers and supervisors, reported positive contributions to the program a year after program completion.

A year after the completion of the 16-month program, there is evidence that the impact was sustained.

Fellows reported greater job responsibilities in their organizations — 29% had received a promotion, and another 37% had taken on additional duties. Further, 77% reported the program increased their ability as a leader, and 60% reported improvement in effectively engaging in collaborative relationships to a great or very great extent one year after the program.

The operations of health nonprofit and governmental organizations were strengthened by LTL Fellows, according to participants and their colleagues. When asked about the areas of the organization in which the Fellow is responsible, post-program survey data revealed positive organizational changes as a result of the Fellows’ participation in the program.

Survey results show that 86% of Fellows and their coworkers reported an increase or significant increase in their organizations’ ability to deal with complex challenges. The quality of decision-making processes within the organizations similarly increased, according to 82% of Fellows and 84% of colleagues.

reported an increased ability to identify health-related needs in the community.
reported an increase in ability to identify health-related resources in the community
leveraged networks to address community health challenges.
reported an increase in leading collaborative community projects

Participants Say

“I have learned that you can become a stronger leader for your organization and community through dedicated attention to certain actions. This role as a leader is not about your job title but is about the impact you make and what you inspire in others.”

“One of the specific areas that I identified for improvement through the LTL program was collaboration skills. As a result of this, even though I have strong introvert tendencies, I made a conscious effort to spearhead a multiagency grant-application
process that resulted in the award of a $568,000 grant to our county for pregnant and parenting young women.”

Partner With Us

We understand how community-led and community-based initiatives can help build a foundation for real change and greater transformation. We can partner with your organization to create customized leadership solutions that allow you to expand your impact and the meaningful work you bring to the world. 

| What to Explore Next


Subscribe to our eNewsletters to get the latest on cutting-edge, leadership insights & research.

Related Content

Please update your browser. requires a modern browser for an enhanced and secure user experience. Internet Explorer is no longer supported or recommended by Microsoft. The Center for Creative Leadership recommeds that you upgrade to Microsoft Edge or similar.