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A Different Drummer
The Leadership Development Program proves that trailblazers come in all personality types.


Dolores Njoku with her advisor, Steve Thompson.
Dolores Njoku with her advisor, Steve Thompson.

It is not in Dolores Njoku’s nature—or culture—to toot her own horn. Two years ago, the young assistant professor, whose parents had emigrated from Nigeria, had a promising résumé but, she felt, poor packaging. “I spent my time primarily in basic science and in a little bit of clinical research, but I clearly had a lot of organizational skills I hadn’t used at all. I was on the cusp of getting promoted, but I didn’t know how to go about it,” she says. Then she was nominated (by someone who still remains anonymous) to apply for Hopkins’ Leadership Development Program. Everything changed.

Now Njoku is an associate professor in three departments (Anesthesiology, Pediatrics and Pathology), a lead investigator in a liver study and director of the fellowship in pediatric anesthesiology. She knows how to ask for what she wants and recognizes her strengths, particularly her “ability to understand things. Njoku says, “As soon as I started believing in what I see and think and began saying it, things are just completely different.”

The Leadership Development Program celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It was started in the early days of Johns Hopkins Medicine as a way to explain the new concept, to get faculty and administrators talking to each other and to develop a cadre of future leaders. “We wanted people to understand what leadership is, to explore their own particular style of leadership, and then to put it into practice in their current job,” says Steve Thompson, senior vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine and a co-director of the program since its inception.

The program’s success rate is impressive. Representing one-fifth of the inaugural class are Nobel Prize winner Peter Agre; Mario Amzel, now head of biophysical chemistry; Rick Bennett, chief operating officer and executive vice president at Johns Hopkins Bayview; and Justin McArthur, director of neurology.

Today, competition for the 35 class slots—20 for faculty, 15 for administrators—is rigorous; there’s a 5-1 ratio of applicants to acceptances. The group meets monthly for lectures and other activities. Then each participant is paired with a Hopkins leader who acts as an advisor throughout the year.

Other benefits include roundtables where small groups have lunch with top leadership as well as open access to meetings and decision-making forums.

Kathy Smith found ”the opportunity to be up close and personal to the leaders of the institution” to be particularly helpful. “It was refreshing and educational to see, even at the highest levels, that there’s always opportunity for self-exploration and personal development,” says the director of market development for Marketing and Communications. “There’s not one way to be a leader and there’s a lot of different meanings of the word. Leadership is not about position; it’s about the qualities that you exhibit.”

One of the hallmarks of the Leadership Development Program is the overnight retreat held in the beginning of the year where the class begins to bond.

Before the session, each participant takes a half-dozen personality and other assessments. “What leadership development theory tells you is that it’s really important for people to have a lot of very accurate personal information about themselves so that they know who they are,” says Linda Dillon Jones, learning and development consultant in Talent Management and Organization Development. “They need a good understanding of the skills they lack, so they know where they’re likely to need support from others. People have the legitimate right to be different from each other, and the best leaders respect those differences and use them to maximum advantage.”

Njoku was struck when she saw the data charting her class’s personality types. “They were all different,” she says. “That’s the beauty of it. You don’t have to be cookie cutter.”

Now she uses that knowledge in her own management role. “[The program] helped me recognize other people around me who are there, and who may not be as visible because they’re not the loudest players. But everybody’s here for a reason; otherwise we’d be in private practice. We’re trying to contribute something to a big system that we believe in.” 




Johns Hopkins Medicine

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