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Leadership, humility and forbearance

For past seven years, the Connecticut Health Foundation has selected 20 outstanding individuals to be a part of its annual Health Leadership Fellows Program. The focus of the program is to support the development of community leaders that will act as champions for achieving health equity in the areas of public policy, public health practice, community advocacy, academia and other related fields.

Lateef Habib, a 2010 graduate of the Fellows Program, spoke with Health Justice CT and shared his experience as a Fellow. Below are excerpts of this interview.

How did you hear about the Health Leadership Program and what inspired you to apply?

I attended a conference, entitled the Cultural Journey in Healthcare Delivery, an awareness into action conference, sponsored by Central Area Health Center (AHEC) and the UCONN School of Medicine. There, I met Elizabeth Krause, Senior Program Officer, Connecticut Health Foundation, who served as a panel speaker. She spoke about the foundation’s effort in creating public will by way of supporting leaders to become agents of change. In speaking with her, I learned about the leadership development opportunities that were offered to address racial and ethnic health disparities. My conversation with Elizabeth inspired me to apply for the program.

What were your first impressions and did it align with your expectations?

My expectations were exceeded. I was aware of the commitment needed to participate: the monthly meetings, the two retreats, the projects and the leadership development opportunities; however, I was unaware of the real fellowship that would emerge. This “fellowship” created a safe haven for candid conversations about cultural competency in health care, and provided the support and courage needed to address the issues of racial and ethnic health disparities in Connecticut.

Can you expand on how the program provided a safe haven for conversations?

Trust was developed among members of my class. Heidi [Brooks], Yale Professor, played a large role in facilitating these conversations, and we felt safe to share our ideas and frustrations. I learned many valuable lessons about leadership… mostly about modestly, patience, consultation, knowledge, humility and forbearance.

How were these leadership skills applied in your daily work on eliminating health disparities?

I believe no power is like forbearance. Attaining that quality actually signals a triumph over oneself because it requires patience and self discipline. In this line of work, I think leaders too often are under pressure, and are tempted to act out of emotions. I learned that we have to understand our own emotions and our subjectively. I learned as a leader, I have to respond to challenges with integrity and clarity of mind to make decisions.

What was the most valuable leadership lesson you have learned from this experience?

Consultation, because not one person can know everything. To get feedback from your peers is truly valuable. As a leader, you must seek the opinions of others, even at the risk of being contradicted. You must build consensus and work towards a common goal. Humility helps to ensure integrity for the sake of the larger interest.

What was the most challenging aspect of the program?

Honestly, it was the time commitment. When you are a part of this program, you become part of a fellowship- and the movement. It’s more than just committing to meetings; it’s a commitment to the issue. My wife and I welcomed our second son during the retreat last year, and I wouldn’t have been able to fully be engaged without the support of my wife. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have this external support.

What kind of candidates should apply to this program and what would you recommend to the candidates?

The fellows program is looking for a cohort of diverse leaders committed to eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities. I see this program benefiting emerging leaders who are passionate about the issue; individuals who need the training and support to take that next step. The ideal candidate should not only show a commitment to the program, but need to possess a commitment to the fellowship. The real work begins after you graduate.

Do you have any final comments you would like to share?

My favorite quote is from Newtown’s first law of motion: “Everyone continues in a state of rest or of uniformed motion in a straight-line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces upon it.” For me, that force was the Health Leadership Fellows Program. The program helped me view and perceive health disparities with a different lens. It not only gave me an opportunity to express my passion, it also gave me an opportunity to engage with like-minded individuals, whom made me feel supported and in turn, inspired me to change.

Lateef Habib, a graduate of Columbia University, with a master’s in social work and a bachelor’s in psychology from Siena College, received the 2006 40 Under 40 Award from the Fairfield County Business Journal as one of the outstanding community leaders under age 40. He is the Clinical Coordinator for outpatient services at Norwalk Hospital, and cherishes family time with his wife and two sons.

The Connecticut Health Foundation (CT Health), the state’s largest independent health philanthropy dedicated to improving lives by changing systems, is pleased to announce a call for applications for the 2012-2013 Health Leadership Fellows Program. Completed applications are due on or before April 2, 2012. Please click here for more information.

This interview was conducted on April 1, 2011 and reposted on March 21, 2012.

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