Five Questions with Casey: Barbara Squires on Social Sector Leadership

Posted August 12, 2013
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog fivequestionsbarbarasquires 2013 1

Barbara Squires

As direc­tor of Lead­er­ship Devel­op­ment at the Annie E. Casey Foun­da­tion since 2010, Bar­bara Squires over­sees an array of ini­tia­tives aimed at increas­ing the pool of diverse lead­ers equipped to improve results for chil­dren, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. Among these efforts is the Chil­dren and Fam­i­ly Fel­low­ship, which cel­e­brates its 20th anniver­sary this year and recent­ly launched a new class of 16 Fel­lows. Before join­ing Casey in 2007 as a senior fel­low, Squires was assis­tant com­mis­sion­er for mater­nal and child health at the Bal­ti­more City Health Depart­ment. In 22 years with the agency, she played a key role in reduc­ing sub­stance abuse and child­hood lead poi­son­ing and improv­ing mater­nal and child health.

Q1. What is the his­to­ry of the Fel­low­ship, and how has it evolved over time?

We launched in 1993 to aug­ment the Foundation’s grant mak­ing. We thought about what it would take to change how the lead­ers of big pub­lic sys­tems and non­prof­its inter­act with kids and fam­i­lies. We want­ed to help mid-career pro­fes­sion­als head­ed toward influ­en­tial senior lead­er­ship posi­tions adopt a results focus. Ini­tial­ly, we used a res­i­den­tial mod­el in which par­tic­i­pants had to step away from their jobs and homes for a year to become immersed in the pro­gram. But after the sixth class, we revis­it­ed our approach. We knew that a lot of amaz­ing peo­ple wouldn’t be in a posi­tion to leave their work and fam­i­lies. So we adopt­ed a 20-month mod­el in which the Fel­lows live and work on their home turf but join us for 10 four- or five-day exec­u­tive sem­i­nars about every oth­er month. This mod­el gives Fel­lows an oppor­tu­ni­ty to apply what they are learn­ing from the sem­i­nars and their peers in real time.

Q2. What is the process for choos­ing par­tic­i­pants, and what do you look for in poten­tial applicants?

Can­di­dates must have at least 10 years of expe­ri­ence in the human ser­vices field and show a tra­jec­to­ry of increased lead­er­ship over time. Beyond that, we look for folks who demon­strate hunger, weight and speed.” They are pas­sion­ate and deeply com­mit­ted to improv­ing out­comes for kids and fam­i­lies; have grav­i­tas and a deep knowl­edge of their field; and are quick to learn, ana­lyze, act and respond to chang­ing con­di­tions. The suc­cess­ful can­di­dates emerge through a lengthy appli­ca­tion, review and inter­view process. For exam­ple, this year we start­ed with 200 appli­ca­tions and fin­ished by select­ing 16 leaders.

Q3. What kind of an impact have Fel­lows had on the peo­ple and places Casey’s work targets?

Our Fel­lows have spear­head­ed efforts ben­e­fit­ing chil­dren and fam­i­lies across sec­tors. For exam­ple, Mol­ly McGrath Tier­ney, who heads the Bal­ti­more City Depart­ment of Social Ser­vices, has imple­ment­ed reforms sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduc­ing the num­ber of kids com­ing into the city’s child wel­fare sys­tem while increas­ing the num­ber of adop­tions so that more kids are find­ing per­ma­nent life­long fam­i­lies. Anoth­er exam­ple is Dan Car­di­nali, pres­i­dent of the nation­al non­prof­it Com­mu­ni­ties in Schools, who has devel­oped a whole range of school-based sup­ports that help young peo­ple fac­ing seri­ous chal­lenges remain in school and go on to graduate.

Q4. The Fel­low­ship is often described as a life­long learn­ing expe­ri­ence, with Fel­lows stay­ing in con­tact after the pro­gram. How does this happen?

We cre­at­ed a Fel­low­ship Alum­ni Net­work to help par­tic­i­pants stay con­nect­ed to each oth­er, pro­gram fac­ul­ty and the Foun­da­tion, and we hold gath­er­ings twice a year to bring all the class­es togeth­er. Fel­lows quick­ly bond with the mem­bers of their own class, but the net­work helps them form ongo­ing ties with those from oth­er class­es as well. The gath­er­ings help them not only to recon­nect and con­sult with each oth­er about their work but also to con­tin­ue to build their skills and com­pe­ten­cies. We have 109 Fel­lows from across the nine class­es, and we usu­al­ly have at least 70 per­cent atten­dance at any giv­en gathering.

Q5. What is dis­tinc­tive about the Fel­low­ship com­pared with oth­er kinds of lead­er­ship devel­op­ment programs?

This pro­gram is first and fore­most about results-based lead­er­ship, not just indi­vid­ual trans­for­ma­tion. Peo­ple often come out feel­ing like they are a dif­fer­ent kind of leader than they were when they came in. But the real mark of suc­cess is that they can exe­cute their lead­er­ship in a way that pro­duces results on behalf of the kids and fam­i­lies that they serve. They do end up imple­ment­ing prac­tices, poli­cies and sys­tem reforms that result in a change for the bet­ter for folks in the sys­tems in which they work.

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