Context: Public health leadership development programs are widely employed to strengthen leaders and leadership networks and ultimately agencies and systems. The year-long National Public Health Leadership Institute's (PHLI) goals are to develop the capacity of individual leaders and networks of leaders so that both can lead improvement in public health systems, infrastructure, and population health.
Objective: To evaluate the impact of PHLI on individual graduates using data collected from the first 15 cohorts.
Participants: Between 1992 and 2006, PHLI graduated 806 senior leaders from governmental agencies, academia, health care, associations, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other organizations. Of 646 graduates located, 393 (61%) responded to a survey, for an overall response rate of 49% (393/806).
Intervention: PHLI has included retreats; readings, conference calls, and webinars; assessments, feedback, and coaching; and action learning projects, in which graduates apply concepts to a work challenge aided by peers and a coach.
Methods: A survey of all graduates and interviews of 34 graduates and one other key informant.
Results: PHLI improved graduates' understanding, skills, and self-awareness, strengthened many graduates' connections to a network of leaders, and significantly increased graduates' voluntary leadership activities at local, state, and national levels (P < .001). Deeper and wider network connections shaped graduates' sense of “belonging” to the national cadre of public health leaders, provided access to supportive peers and ideas, and bolstered confidence and interest in taking on leadership work. Nearly all graduates remained in public health. Some partially attributed to PHLI their promotions into more senior positions.
Conclusion: Leadership development programs can strengthen and sustain their impact by cultivating sustained “communities of practice” that provide ongoing support for skill development and innovative practice. Sponsors can fruitfully view leadership development as a long-term investment in individuals and networks within organizations or fields of practice.