The AOTA's Emerging Leaders Development Program

AOTA's emerging leaders development program 

Fostering Leadership

The AOTA’s Emerging Leadership Program is designed for OT/OTA students and new practitioners with less than 5 years of experience. The program gives training and mentorship to develop leadership skills and assist the AOTA in achieving the Centennial Vision.

I've been curious to learn more about it. The AOTA has a page with many details, but I’ve wanted to know even more. I also wanted to hear from someone who has been through the program. 

A huge thank you to Midge Hobbs and Elizabeth Hart for answering my questions!

If you are interested in applying, the program will accept applications from April 20-May 11! 

Answers from Midge Hobbs, participant in the very first cohort of Emerging Leaders 5 years ago and is now Chair of AOTA's Emerging Leaders Development Committee:

How many people are accepted into the program?

There are 15 places in the ELDP. However, we have occasionally made accommodations when the scoring is very tight and had 16-17. This is the exception rather than the norm though.   

Are there networking opportunities throughout the year with your cohort?

Each emerging leaders is exposed to networking opportunities via their mentor throughout their term in the program. Networking is considered an important component of the program. There are also networking opportunities within each cohort and across cohorts, although nothing formal is established. 

Are mentors chosen based on interest areas? 

Yes! Prospective applicants are asked to identify specific areas of interest from AOTA's strategic priorities. Armed with this information, the committee is able to match selected emerging leaders with appropriate mentors who are currently working on AOTA related projects. 

Is the program only appropriate for OTs who are interested in volunteering for the AOTA?

The purpose of the ELDP is to recognize and invest in the leadership potential of occupational therapy students and new practitioners who have demonstrated a commitment to serve the profession early in their careers. Selected participants are given the opportunity to work alongside seasoned leaders, receive mentorship and training while addressing the goals of AOTA in the hope that participants will remain involved in the organization beyond their ELDP term. 

What kind of service learning activities can participants expect to participate in? 

There are many different options. Some emerging leaders learn from the experience of working alongside their mentor on AOTA related work while others may work on a specific tangible project. Examples of completed projects include the development of Boardroom to Classroom, the Journal Club Toolkit, and the Distinct Value of OT video. Examples of emerging leader experiences include working on the development of the Evidence Exchange Network, participation on the Volunteer Leadership Development Committee, and developing resources to support OT's role in Primary Care.  

The description states that participants are expected to share their experience though AOTA publications or presentations, what are some examples of this?

Many participants have shared their experiences by presenting at national and state level, including the National Student Conclave. Examples include general leadership development presentations, such as "Ready, Willing, and Able" - a panel presentation including Ginny Stoffel (National Student Conclave, 2010), "Paths to Leadership" - a panel presentation including Ginny Stoffel (AOTA national conference, 2012),  and "Enacting the Centennial Vision: Bridging the Gap Between Students and Practitioners as Emerging Leaders" (NCOTA state conference, 2014). Publications include "GPS and the Art of Mentoring" (OT Practice, August 2013), and multiple editorials on leadership in the special leadership edition of OT practice (August, 2014). 

How many hours per month, on average, should a person expect to spend on EDLP activities?

This is really hard to answer as it varies according to experience and/or project involvement. While the committee appreciates that students and new practitioners may be juggling several responsibilities and commitments, there is an expectation that selected emerging leaders are able to commit to the program and negotiate the appropriate time investment with their mentor. 

Answers from Elizabeth Hart, participant in the 2014-2015 cohort:

Can you give me a brief overview of what the year looked like for you logistically? 

I applied to the program just after I completed my academic coursework and was accepted in the middle of my final FWII. I took the NBCOT exam only a few days before I flew to Bethesda for the two-day ELDP training. The training is a two day exploration of leadership with a combination of small group work, practice with concrete skills like conflict resolution, and individual exercises to foster self-reflection. It helped me identify my own core values and purpose as a leader and gave me a toolkit to start putting those into practice. We also had the opportunity to visit AOTA headquarters and meet AOTA staff, and we had social time to get to know the other members of our cohort and AOTA leaders including Ginny Stoffel and Amy Lamb. On the final day of training, everyone had a chance to meet with their assigned mentor in person or over the phone. I was fortunate in that my mentor Midge Hobbs was present for the training, so we were able to meet in person.

After the training, I completed a leadership charter, which is like a roadmap for your ELDP year. It outlines communication preferences, goals, and any perceived challenges. Midge and I connect for an hour via Skype every 3 weeks or so. Some of our calls are about projects we're collaborating on, but she's also been very helpful in guiding me through the job search process and other projects I'm involved with outside of ELDP. We also exchange at least a few emails over the course of the week. 

Since Midge is my mentor, I go where she goes, which means I have had the opportunity to participate and contribute to the ELDC's monthly conference calls, which typically last an hour. Most collaboration with Midge and the ELDC takes place via Google Docs. I've also been lucky enough to work with Midge on developing a new hybrid leadership program called A Mindful Path to Leadership that will take the leadership training from ELDP, build upon that, and make it available to AOTA members. We'll be developing that program through the spring and early fall, and I'll continue to be involved in ELDC until the end of my ELDP year in September.

This is my experience so far in ELDP, but the program is tailored to each participant's needs & interests, so it looks different for everyone. You develop your leadership skills through the process of engaging in service learning activities supporting AOTA's strategic priorities, though you may not necessarily complete a formal project. 

Can you tell me about the best part of your own experience in the program?

Working with my mentor Midge, who I assure you did not pay me to write that. She's guided me through some difficult moments, each of which have taught me something about myself or helped me develop a new skill. Working with the ELDC has also shown me that what a motivated group of people can produce is so much better than what any individual can, no matter how exceptional they are. And I've learned so much about running an efficient and productive meeting simply by participating in the ELDC conference calls. And it's been really exciting to be involved with the hybrid program from its beginning stages. The volume and caliber of ELDP applicants is a testament to why this leadership training needs to be available to AOTA's wider membership, and I'm looking forward to seeing the hybrid program debut build leadership capacity within the profession.

What was the biggest challenge?

I am not a fan of talking on the phone, so it was hard for me at first to insert myself and participate in conference calls with half a dozen strong, vocal leaders. It took me a while to get the hang of conference call logistics, to get a feel for ELDC dynamics, and to feel comfortable enough to speak up when I had something to contribute. Recently, I started my first job as an OT, so now I'm working on balancing my ELDP responsibilities with my work schedule, my other professional commitments, and my personal life. Thankfully, the ELDP training has helped me clarify my goals and values, so it's easier for me to make decisions about the projects I take on and how I allocate my time.

Who would your recommend this program to? 

Anyone who is committed to advancing the profession through servant leadership within AOTA. 

Any advice for crafting a strong application?

Pay very close attention to the Board's list of Strategic Priorities, and think about how you can use your own interests and experience to contribute to those areas. Your recommendation letter counts for 1/3 of your score, so be sure that the person who is writing it can testify to your growth and development as a leader and that they know your goals in applying for the program. Don't apply with a specific mentor in mind; follow your own passion and interests and trust that the ELDC is going to pair you with the mentor you need. And most importantly, realize that your leadership potential does not depend on your acceptance into this program. If you don't get in, I'd encourage you to seek feedback from the ELDC about your application, try again next year, and think about other avenues you could pursue in the meantime to develop your leadership skills.