The Subtle Dynamics of Leadership Pathways

Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor

A person who chases two rabbits catches neither.– Confucius                                                                      

Author Robin Sharma was correct in talking about the power of focus. No one can successfully be everything to everyone, and the person or organization attempting to do everything accomplishes nothing. Two organizations discovered the harsh truth that their noble service to the community could result in nothing to anyone unless their strategy changed.

ProMedica’s recent announcement of laying off 30 corporate staff following the earlier shedding of over 262 workers highlights the universal truth that the ability to focus on a handful of programs you can do really well and be competitive is better than attempting to be all things to all people.

The former healthcare giant was forced to face its limitations head-on after annually funding many community events and leading local economic development and downtown revitalization.

“They have faced the bleak reality of bankruptcy and have made every move one step ahead of their creditors to just financially stay alive,” one economic development executive said.

A pioneer and former industry leader in the Social Determinants of Health, the “nonprofit” healthcare provider is now living month-to-month because they decided to go all in and expand with a Senior Care division to develop a “coast-to-coast” presence in every aspect of health care. The quest to become a national healthcare provider eventually forced ProMedica to make decisions on a month-to-month basis. In other words, their five-year plan became a month-to-month plan, like so many of those living in poverty.

Reading between the lines, one can conclude that ProMedica is “rightsizing” as a regional hospital chain to become just another medical organization that is an integrated regional hospital. The goal appears to stabilize itself for a couple of years, get out from under the burden of debt, and operate as a regional hospital rather than a national entity.

Like ProMedica, Pathway, formerly known as the Economic Opportunity Planning Association, also announced its intention to change leadership when it decided to not renew CEO Jay Black’s contract.

The principle of “being able to focus on a handful of programs you can do really well and be competitive is better than trying to be all things to all people” conveys a similar principle for Pathway, albeit in a different context: the recognition of the limitations and the importance of focus.

In light of the emergent leadership vacuum at Pathway, Inc., it becomes pivotal to delve into overt narrations and the subtle, unspoken dynamics that may linger beneath the surface of the organization’s official communication.

The officials at the agency were notoriously tight-lipped about its motives or intentions regarding the change.

Yet, I wonder if the straightforward nature of the press release, while practical and unembellished, might be a deliberate attempt to portray control and stability amidst the underlying tumult. The simplistic narrative, free of lauding the past CEO or providing reasons for the leadership change, could indicate an intent to minimize speculation and maintain an unblemished public facade.

While publicly maintaining a poised and stable front, the Pathway board could be grappling with rectifying past leadership discrepancies and internal politics while refocusing the strategic direction, all within the privacy of the organization’s internal dynamics.

The public call for applications for the CEO position might also suggest an urgency to fill the leadership void and potentially redirect Pathway’s course, further accentuating the contrast against the calm, stable demeanor presented outwardly. This could be seen as a silent acknowledgment of desperation for robust leadership in navigating the organization through its present challenges and future aspirations.

Anonymous informants hint at nuances of internal politics, leadership deficits, and operational challenges within Pathways, which led to a “cool and methodical” separation between the organization and its former CEO.

Although he wasn’t formally ousted, the Pathway Board reportedly chose not to renew Black’s contract after an evaluation. He had been on a Personal Improvement Plan and will be paid until his contract runs out, either November 30 or the end of the year.

Another source close to the situation emphasized a need to address the urgent and underacknowledged issue of Lucas County evictions to assist affected individuals. “There’s a notable need for training people to complete the necessary forms.” Although initially believed to have made mistakes, staff were following leadership directives. Hence, not to be blamed, I am told. The genuine issues came to light through community feedback and complaints about lack of responsiveness and apparent apprehensiveness among the staff, prompting closer observation and engagement with the organization’s operations.

Other complaints conveyed frustration toward Black’s leadership style and financial commitment to the organization. Enhanced collaboration among the staff was noticed after the change in leadership was announced.

Lastly, a decision-making and strategic planning issue with Jay’s leadership arose when he renewed a five-year lease on existing office space, which was perceived as substandard compared to the availability of alternative locations. Furthermore, Black reportedly declined a $100,000 per year opportunity for the organization to be part of a development project despite the fact that it would provide a chance to diversify funding and expand the agency’s conventional focus from poverty alleviation to development initiatives.

These and other decisions were all seen as a pattern of missteps, needing more foresight and possibly inhibiting organizational evolution and opportunity maximization.

Where does Pathway go from here?

One of the subtle dangers of running an agency devoted to relieving policy is that leaders can become so pressed by agency responsibilities that they forget about the people we serve, those we lead, and those for whom we labor. In other words, our agency priorities get out of whack, causing us to lose focus.

Thus, pursuing new leadership, in the light of all the silent undertones in its press release, becomes a pivotal juncture for Pathway to realign with its mission, vision, and values. The forthcoming CEO should be adept not only in navigating the overt challenges but also perceptive of the subtle, perhaps unspoken, dynamics that permeate the organizational culture and strategies.

A Community Action Agency like Pathway is tasked with managing a process of systematic poverty. They must help provide ways to lead people out of poverty so that there are fewer people in poverty and not just continuously manage the same process by doling out meager services to people needing significant impact and outcomes.

Undeniably, the perceived shortcomings of Black-owned entities include:

  • Self-induced chaos.
  • Lack of strategic planning.
  • Excessive top-down control.
  • An inability to foster growth and development within the organization.

Despite having a mission “for us, by us,” these entities also often struggle with limited resources and potentially unrealistic aspirations, attempting to be everything for everyone and consequently excelling at nothing.

Furthermore, a noticeable lack of collaboration and a prevalent competition among Black entities, possibly rooted in historical socio-cultural disruptions, inhibit collective advancement and mutual support, even amidst leadership in our contemporary context.

However, the same is also true for many predominately white-led organizations.


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