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Communities of Excellence 2026 Blogs

Recruiting Senior Leaders is an Essential Ingredient in Community Excellence

Two Leaders in South Florida Share Their Recipe for Effective Leadership

February 6, 2020 | By Christel Gollnick with contributions from COE 2026 participants | 5 minute read

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about."  –Meg Wheatley, American writer and management consultant who studies organizational behavior

Do you remember the game, Follow the Leader? Regardless of global culture or economic class, most of us played some form of this game, learning the basic roles of leaders and followers at a very early age. Over time we have gravitated towards the responsibilities of followers, managers, and leaders through our efforts, attitude and behavior choices, and environmental circumstances. All three of these roles are essential, fulfilling interdependent needs in groups of all sizes. An individual without a group isn’t a leader, and a group without a leader isn’t going anywhere. Even if taking turns at being the head goose just as Canadian geese fly, someone has to care enough to be the first to act, and everyone else has to care enough about each other and the destination to follow.

What senior leaders say and do on their own, and together in a community, sets the vision for other stakeholders. The vision is defined as the intended destination about which everyone in the group cares. Thousands of studies and millions of everyday examples tell us that a single leader’s inspirational vision, influential character, realistic guidance, and resilient strategic thinking is important in an organization’s success. The chief executive officer, executive director, mayor, governor, president, chairperson – whatever the senior leadership title is for the informal or formal group considered – shoulders the responsibility of setting the standard for desired and acceptable attitudes and behaviors for others to copy.

What researchers who study the effectiveness and performance of thriving communities are finding is that a collective group of senior leaders from many sectors and organizations such as government, healthcare, education, business, and others are just as essential to the success of the broad community of groups. No one anchor organization is responsible for success. It is how well all of these groups work together that makes the biggest sustainable difference. Many of the key priorities and concerns of individual groups are so interconnected in today’s world. A systems approach of coming together to jointly work on innovative solutions is required.

The Baldrige Quality Excellence Framework provides a set of guiding questions validating the promising practices that have proven to drive organizational continuous improvement and results for over three decades. The same principles are now being applied to the broader need of a system for joint vision-setting, decision-making, and collaborating – in other words, operations – in communities. The first category of the Baldrige-based Communities of Excellence Framework that has been developed and piloted in communities of many sizes across the United States is leadership.

So, what are the key requirements of these leaders, and how can they be recruited to come together for the community’s sake or support in their effort to take their joint efforts to the next level of success?

Let’s start with input from two healthcare leaders in southern Florida who have been early adopters of the Communities of Excellence Framework. Dr. Lillian Rivera, former Administrator and Health Officer for the Florida Department of Health in Miami-Dade County, and Javier Hernandez-Lichtl, CEO of Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Florida, CEO of the Miami Orthopedics Sports Medicine Institute, and Chief Academic Officer for Baptist Health South Florida, have worked tirelessly to achieve real improvement in the access to quality healthcare for families in underserved communities. Their leadership within their respective organizations, paired with a belief in the power of community, has allowed them both to serve as catalysts to community development and public cohesiveness among diverse community organizations. 

Dr. Rivera shares that her guidance or true “north” when it comes to her role as a leader at the organizational level or in the community is the science of operational excellence and organizational behavior. She says, “Operational excellence can simply be described as a philosophy that embraces problem-solving and leadership as the key to continuous improvement.” Not surprisingly, people are often unsure of how to approach the subject of operational excellence, much less performance improvement of processes and systems. It is a complex term to define. Most people either find the topic to be too ambiguous or too broad to talk about. According to St. Louis-based software company Tallyfy, “Operational excellence is not a set of activities that you perform. It’s more of a mindset that should be present within you and your employees.”1 Rivera agrees. She goes on to share, “I believe that leaders who embrace performance excellence link mission, vision, values, purpose, strategy, structure, and systems to foster a culture of continuous improvement based on trust, respect, and empowerment.”

The following is a list Dr. Rivera feels are some of the vital characteristics of systems-thinking leaders:

  • Expressing and defining the culture through role modeling the vision, mission, values, and purpose
  • Believing in teamwork and collective wisdom
  • Being competent in the leadership role
  • Believing in continuous learning and building acumen
  • Believing in the power of innovation, change for the better, and community

Javier Hernandez-Lichtl, a proven innovator in his healthcare work and community, shares many of Dr. Rivera’s perspectives on the topic. He motivates his team with a leadership style of his own flavor. Hernandez-Lichtl shares that he feels effective leaders in high-performing organizations and communities exhibit the following:

  • Sets bold vision statements
  • Inspires others to follow by explaining the benefits to community, organizations, and individuals
  • Builds affinity with internal and external stakeholders
  • Sets an “annual theme” that aligns to vision and strategy and builds on the prior year’s theme
  • Establishes “pillars [of focus] and strategic statements”
  • Rotates “Pillar Champions” for leadership development and communicates developmental deliverables
  • Engages external consultants or content experts in the process
  • Sets annual strategic goals with measurable targets
  • Sets bold financial goals (exceeding budget) and inspirational “stretch targets” to meet goals
  • Cascades the annual theme, strategies, and goals to all levels of the organization from the Board to staff
  • Conducts monthly group review and explanation from each Pillar Champ on current outcomes
  • Inspires and supports leaders to achieve goals without micromanaging 
  • Holds leaders accountable 
  • Recaps opportunities for improvements
  • Rewards and celebrates accomplishments

Both leaders list hard skills, soft skills, and activities that clearly show how much work they have on their plates. Not only do all of these take commitment and ongoing diligence to maintain and improve, but they require an immense about of time if done well. Time and attention on any one thing are valuable commodities at the top levels of leadership. For this reason, communicating with senior leaders can be challenging.

Recruiting the people who have so much influence in empowering others to participate in community efforts may seem like a secret recipe, but the ingredients are simple. Although they don’t have time to spare for things unrelated to their vision and goals, they will generally give you the respect of 30 seconds or a couple of minutes to decide if they’ll take more time. The final list of this post covers the Top 10 Tips for Communicating with Senior Leaders 2:

  • Before you even start, understand their agenda.
  • Keep it short and simple at first. Less is more as long as it makes sense.
  • Make your opening approach relevant to them in their language.
  • Top-level leaders are curious by nature. Tell them something they may not already know that impacts their ability to achieve their goals.
  • Know your message and specific word choices well enough to engage in a meaningful short dialogue versus leaning on a presentation. Any written or visual communication tools you may have are for back-up and to honor the fact that everyone consumes and learns information differently, even concise messages. This is the reason video and television advertisements that use sound, motion, as well as verbal and written words on the screen are so effective.
  • Once you have their attention, tell them exactly what they need to do. Be direct, specific, and remind them what is in it for them and those they care about most.
  • Read their reaction. Build a relationship of respect by being confident and assertive, but not pushy.
  • Networks are important to senior leaders. Let them know their peers, competitors, and others they may have an interest in are also getting involved.
  • Leave the background and details for them to read and refer to later. If they are interested, they’ll take the time to dig in.
  • Finally, follow up and follow through with polite persistence and professionalism.

This list of tips may seem easier than it is in practice. However, our feedback from Dr. Lillian Rivera, Javier Hernandez-Lichtl, and many other senior leaders involved in Communities of Excellence 2026, confirm that following these tips - and finding and developing leaders in your community with these characteristics, is worth the effort.

1 Johnson, Jaime. (2019).

2 Gollnick, Christel. (2019). JUPER Communications, LLC