The Practicalities of Effective Leadership: A Conversation with Robyn Golden

Article excerpt

Robyn Golden, a former chair of ASA's Board of Directors, and now a co-chair of the ASA Public Policy Committee, is director of Health and Aging, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, III. Recently, Aging Today asked her to share her thoughts on what it means to lead.

Aging Today: How did you learn to be a leader?

By watching both people who I thought were "good"- and "not so good"- and incorporating what made the most sense. I've most wanted to emulate people who respect what you have to say, take time to listen and try to incorporate it into their ongoing work. They care about your advancement as well as their own.

There is an emotional intelligence quotient to good leaders- those who want to improve themselves as leaders as they improve their organization. I read books about leadership and took courses in aging and social work, as well as business for the nonprofit and for-profit fields, trying to understand the diversity of how leadership is addressed.

AT: What were some of your earliest leadership experiences?

Volunteering for leadership roles, in the workplace and through other groups. It's important that you're involved in different groups and committees, and take on more leadership roles, to get experience where you build skills. At ASA, I started with the mental health in aging constituency group, then became treasurer on the board, then chair.

AT: Who have been your strongest leadership influences?

One of my favorite mentors has been Jennie Chin Hansen. I was on the ASA Board when she was chair, and it was wonderful to watch her lead such a large, complex organization with grace and intellect. She combined her analytic skills with a way of encouraging others to take a lead in such a gentle manner. She established a culture of learning and commitment. People were engaged because of her clear vision. She was the best example of a leader: being sensitive to diverse views, incorporating them all, sitting back, not feeling her voice had to be loudest, trying to create consensus.

AT: Can you speak to specific accomplishments that you are particularly excited about?

Developing programs for the hardto-reach older adult and their family. In our field, there are always populations that get missed, and an important part of my development was to create programs for populations that would otherwise fall through the cracks. Early on, I developed a program for Holocaust survivors, then I developed a similar program for elders with HIV/AIDS. It's not just about innovation, but also about scanning the environment to see what else is out there. Sometimes we re-create existing programs that work nationally, like the Gatekeeper model out of Seattle. Through ASA meetings, I found out where we were missing opportunities to serve.

I left a position of 18 years to move to D.C. to learn more about policy. In 2003, I applied for and received a John Heinz Senate Fellowship in Aging and Health, and went for a year to work with Hillary Clinton on health and aging policy issues. The connections I made and the skills I learned around policy and politics have been very useful; I've integrated them into my experience and position at Rush. This experience made me more activated politically. I went to Washington because so many of the programs we were developing could not be sustained after the money vanished. I needed to understand policy to potentially sustain much-needed programs.

Being a former chair of ASA. It was a wonderful time because of the incredible people you come in contact with. …