LeadBoston Alum Highlight: Lessons with Leslie Aldrich on Her Leadership Commitment
YW Boston recently sat down with Leslie Aldrich, LeadBoston Alum ’20 and current Strategy & Implementation Officer at Massachusetts General Hospital, Equity & Community Health. Our signature leadership program, LeadBoston, supports all individual participants as they create and implement a leadership commitment. This leadership commitment is an action plan that confronts some of the systemic inequities they’ve learned about and that are showing up in their organization. This plan, and the collective LeadBoston experience, empowers leaders to create meaningful change in their workplaces, in their communities, and in the city of Boston itself. Staff work alongside alums for a year following the program to ensure participants have what they need to see their plan through.
Leslie was previously the Executive Director of the Center for Community Health Improvement at MGH. Through LeadBoston, she realized she needed to work differently. To learn more about Leslie’s story and how she executed her leadership commitment, read below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What did you identify as your leadership commitment, and why?
Our Center’s (Center for Community Health Improvement) leadership team had been talking and working on DE&I efforts for some time. Lead Boston helped me to put a commitment in writing and give me the push I needed to carry specific work forward that needed to get done. My leadership commitment, which came out of our team’s DE&I efforts, was to develop diverse, equitable and inclusive leadership within MGH Community Health by building racial equity competencies among leadership, hiring and recruiting differently, and developing leadership skills and opportunities for staff, particularly staff of color.
How did the experience of trying to implement your leadership commitment differ from your expectations? Were there times you had to readjust your plans?
Right after I put forth my leadership commitment, the world was reckoning with racial injustice that was now in the headlines and that we saw exposed through the pandemic. This provided me momentum to make change. I realized the path forward was for me to move out of my position as Executive Director, into a more administrative role, focused on strategy and implementation to elevate others. This was a different sphere of influence. but it was time for other voices to be elevated. We had so much talent within the center and many were women of color who had a wealth of experience simply different from mine, who were interested in new opportunities, and the ability to create positive change to the work and culture. Change did not happen as quickly as I would have liked. It took about two years for me to move out of my position. My colleague, who had been at the Center for over 15 years, who had experience bringing staff and people together to make needed change, was promoted to the Executive Director role. Together we were able to, reorganize our organizational structure creating new management opportunities that brought new energy to the work. We also revamped our internal interview practices and hiring decisions by ensuring they were made by diverse committees.
Because staff were learning new ways to work during COVID, and under a new SVP, our work was merging with others, change had to happen slower than I would have liked. I also didn’t want my leadership commitment and change efforts to be perceived as reactive to current events which I thought would take away from deserving candidates as well as people’s trust in me. I definitely had to grapple with this inner conflict.
What factors made your change effort successful?
Leadership and team buy-in! While I was doing this work, there were leadership changes in Community Health at MGH, which brought additional momentum to this work. MGH created a new Senior Vice President position of Equity and Community Health, a physician who had dedicated his career to reducing disparities in health care and who had worked on my leadership commitment for decades. Having the SVP of Equity & Community Health endorse the changes that were needed was monumental. He put trust in me to carry out my vision to create more opportunities for staff who had unique and important skills, yet who were confined by the organizational structure that had been in place for years.
In addition to buy in from leadership, were there other factors that you can think of?
Getting colleagues invested is really important.
In 2020, I created a plan that outlined how we could start to “Lead, Plan, Engage and Work” differently in order to carry out my leadership commitment. I presented the plan at a town hall with our staff (over 100 people) and then held meetings with smaller teams to talk through and ask questions. I wanted to hear and learn from staff, have honest conversations, and have them hold me accountable. I have found that when we create work plans in smaller circles a lot of the work does not move forward.
How does trying to drive DEI change differ from other change efforts you’ve been a part of?
Unlike many other times in my leadership journey, I needed to learn to step back more and give others a voice. After being in my job for so long, this was not always easy because of the habits formed. When you are in a job for a long time, I have been at MGH in community health since 1999, people naturally go to you out of habit. I needed to make sure to redirect people and remind those in new positions to do the same so we were all managing and leading differently.
How did you apply what you’d learned about successful change efforts in your new role?
I learned the key to successful change is transparency and buy-in. I try to make sure to over communicate when making change and block out the negative influences, especially those who may doubt me or my motives. Before making any big decisions, I seek feedback, guidance and buy-in from staff and work to recognize staff for their contributions. I have also learned to embrace different styles and really tried give people the chance to work differently, without judgment.
What are the benefits to this work?
I have noticed that our more racially diverse leadership team has more robust conversations. We take more time to talk about how current events and management decisions feel to each of us based on our race, gender, etc. which creates a vulnerability and authenticity to our team’s dynamic. People are more comfortable talking about our differences and sharing perspectives and I feel this has created stronger bonds and trust amongst us.
I recently read an article about white supremacy culture. Perfectionism, creating a sense of urgency, being defensive, not embracing new ways of thinking, power hoarding, fearing conflict, and not being transparent about decision-making were some of the characteristics listed. These are characteristics I believe are strong in many work cultures and were definitely part of ours. I feel like our culture now, at least at the MGH in our center, has shifted. Some of this change may have naturally occurred because of COVID, but I think a lot of it has to do with who is in leadership and has the opportunity to be more vocal. What I have appreciated from our new Executive Director, a woman of color, is the way she gives people the grace to work at a different pace, does not shy away from conflict during meetings, and the ease in which she acknowledges staff and the events in our world that affect us all. When I am moving too quickly at work and rushing through information, she texts me often and tells me to breathe. I always appreciate this and feel fortunate to be learning from her and others.
Become a part of YW Boston’s LeadBoston program and join a network of over 1,000 inclusive leaders in Boston. During this 11-month program, participants explore and learn how to address barriers to inclusion through facilitated dialogue, expert speakers, and peer learning. Through experiential activities, participants delve into the social, political, and socioeconomic realities of Boston and explore innovative solutions to inequity. Interested in learning more? Reach out to Rachael McCoy, Director of Leadership Services, at email@example.com with any questions about the program.