The Capacity to Lead

Jan 20, 2021

By: Shelly Trumbo

7 min read


This year I committed to the practice of blocking out at least 3-5 hours in my calendar every week to focus, to write – to think. And now, here I sit, at 7:00 am on a Wednesday – fingers hovered over a keyboard attempting to put into words this deep conviction – almost burden – I feel to connect the dots between our ambitious vision and inspiring goals–to measurably and sustainably improve the well-being of individuals, organizations and communities throughout the world–AND the leadership capacity and qualities we need to actually succeed.

I am far from alone in wondering how to empower and mobilize individuals as leaders of powerful transformation. Hundreds of thousands of books are just a click away full of research and brilliant frameworks. My inbox is full of articles offering me three easy steps to lead my team, five habits I can adopt to achieve the next level of synergy. There is no shortage of insights, and yet, in every organization you’ll find projects that continue to stagnate, developing ever-increasing complexity and failing to achieve significant results. Why do collaboratives filled with smart, passionate, mission-aligned leaders spin into frustrating power struggles with little momentum? How is it that we often find ourselves – busy, intelligent committed leaders with great ideas – simply admiring problems rather than solving them?

These questions have been growing within me for many years, hovering over my shoulder with every new project, whispering in my ear as we develop the next strategy. This journey of inquiry began in earnest for me – not surprisingly – through a leader. 

I have been blessed to serve under a number of generous, inspiring leaders, and one in particular shone a light down the path of inquiry into leadership development. He was an elected official and the leader of an organization where I had the chance to first build my own team leadership muscle. He launched a book club concept, in which directors were encouraged to read the same book and discuss and extend the learning. The first book we read was Linchpin by Seth Godin. When I read the book, fireworks were going off in my mind. The book ended up with underlines, highlights, turned corners and notes scribbled in the margins. I guided my own small team through a Linchpin book club, resulting in a pinball machine effect that sent me into hundreds of directions, each new book and author achieving the same. When I left that organization, my leader went to a hardware store and found an actual linchpin to present as my parting gift. To this day it’s hanging on a ribbon next to my computer as a reminder to be courageous and relentless – to constantly consider that “perhaps [my] challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better box. Perhaps [I] need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate. People with passion look for ways to make things happen.” (Seth Godin)

“The linchpin is an individual who can walk into chaos and create order, someone who can invent, connect, create, and make things happen. Every worthwhile institution has indispensable people who make differences like these.” –Seth Godin

We can have the most innovative, transforming strategies, but if our leadership capacity is lacking, we will not succeed. We must align across divisions – Care Division, Health Division, Well-Being Division – toward a common vision of transformation in which each leader becomes a Linchpin, linking arms to bring solutions the world has never seen. The famed sixth century, B.C., Greek storyteller, Aesop, tells a fable of the Four Oxen:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near, they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

 Competing strategies, internal power struggles and lack of collaboration will squander this precious opportunity we have been given. Simon Sinek shares that “leadership, true leadership, is not the bastion of those who sit at the top. It is the responsibility of anyone who belongs to the group.” That responsibility to cultivate true leadership belongs to you and it belongs to me.


While there are thousands – probably millions – of leadership frameworks we can use to analyze and explore, I have chosen to use our own evaluation results as a starting foundation to guide a year-long discussion of leadership and the critical role it will play in our ability to succeed in what we are here to do. I’ve divided our nine evaluation findings into three categories: Inspiration, Activation and Acceleration. Through this publication, PEARLS, we will explore each one, find some rabbit trails, meet inspiring leaders in our organization who embody these traits, and discover other resources and ideas that extend beyond the simple format of an e-newsletter.

Qualitative Results Extract: Leadership Considerations


  • Inspiring and aligning stakeholders toward a future vision


  • Awareness of strengths and limitations as a leader


Stage Craft

  • Comfort being a public face of the hospital, and the face of well-being on behalf of the organization


  • Ability to create and lead effective collaboration


  • Leadership through influence rather than direct supervision


  • Ability to convene the right partners to the table



  • Cognitive and interpersonal flexibility

Leading Change

  • Change leadership on a large scale

Leading Through Ambiguity

  • Successfully managing a sprawling, ever-evolving project



Last year, the Community Well-Being team launched the Pioneer Project. Five sites and our system team worked with subject matter experts from across the country to create and pilot a rigorous, scalable system for strategically investing community benefit dollars to impact measurable and sustainable well-being transformation. We invested deeply in evaluation with the goal of publishing outcomes and success after three years. Our first year of evaluation just concluded, which included deep analysis of specific leadership competencies related to implementation, collaboration, and sustainability.

John Maxwell believes that “leadership is influence – nothing more, nothing less.” This vision we collectively share to transform the well-being of individuals, organizations and communities, hinges on our ability to individually and collectively influence our community partners and align with our internal colleagues and stakeholders. In my mind, there is no workstream of greater importance than the rigorous evaluation of our own leadership capacity and prioritizing intentional investment into maximizing our potential to lead. I hope you’ll join me in this discussion focus for 2021 as we grow together as leaders.


Please join our colleagues in discussion below.  Feel free to comment, debate, and share insights with the team.