The Era of Resilience: Are You An Adaptive Leader?

Today is Veteran’s Day, which is often overshadowed by the commercial departmental veteran’s special clearance/Big Deals/Early Bird Black Fridays Sales, or the extra day-off of work; but today, I reflected on my time when I was working for the Massachusetts Veterans Affairs (VA) Department, where I ran studies on evaluating HIV testing and Hepatitis C treatment programs for veterans. I am reminded of the resilience in our veterans and personnel who are currently serving the country domestically and abroad. In the face of constant changes in the landscape, players, and rules in the game, I am in awe in how people can work, live, and evolve during these adaptive challenges in all fields of life.

In the Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) in Leadership program, we teach students on the topics of systems thinking, systematic reflection, and adaptive leadership to create collective impact for population health. Because it is an online program, I teach students from all over the world, while being in my office located in Chicago, Illinois. Our students are working in various settings, and they are often faced with challenging situations to make a change in their organizations.

Becoming an adaptive leader is the key to creating a culture of health and well-being.


Let’s take a look at one of the biggest epidemic: obesity. Unexpected interruptions to a daily routine to get fit, eat right can derail their mental landscape for getting healthy unless an individual can learn to expect change and adapt accordingly. Creating space and tools to understand the barriers and challenges to achieve overall wellness is one step toward bringing individual awareness for adaptation and global change. With awareness, individuals can learn to adapt to the change for better wellness, and then be empowered to lead their way to a personal self-care model. Through individual’s systematic reflection and understanding of the ‘whole systems,’ we can promote collective action, wherein individuals motivate each other in their shared pursuit of health, can help people live life with optimal wellness as personal leadership in the era of resilience.

For today, let’s give thanks to our veterans for being adaptive leaders in their way.

Design Thinking For Creativity’s Strength

Our traditional educational paradigm focuses on building strength in literary, critical and analytic thinking. To solve our current public health issues globally, I believe that design thinking is the new, integrated approach to developing our creativity’s strength in our community of learners.

Design thinking is boundless, infinite, and undefined – an adjustable toolkit to create innovative solutions for any public health problems in the future.

How do we educate and lead students to be creative problem-solvers for public health issues, especially the complexity of these issues can be transgenerational, global, and systemic?  The MPH program is often divided up in solo programs (Epidemiology, Biostats, Health Policy/Administration/Management, Environmental Sciences, and Behavioral/Community Sciences), and collaborations can be formed across the different fields. Rather than using a transdisciplinary manner, I’d like to adopt a new approach using design thinking to not only create solutions but also to create a new perspective on problems from ‘inside-out.’

The five principles of design thinking are: 1) empathy, 2) observations, 3) ideation, 4) prototype, and 5) experiment. 

Empathy – Before diving into suggestion solution and offering any recommendations, as public health professionals, we need to understand, feel and see the problem from ‘inside-out.’ Cultural competency becomes important.

Observation – With an openness to listen and hear, we do need to stop doing, and observe, take notes, and digest what are the needs and behaviors that are elicited from these public health problems.

Ideation – Using your observation and open heart to listen, brainstorm ideas (not solutions) with others. No judgments, no playing devil advocate, and no negativity.

Prototype – Try out your ideas, your hypotheses, and your suggestions with empathy. If ‘this’ was your community, would your idea be acceptable given the circumstances, conditions, and culture? Give and receive feedback before you test it.

Experiment – With the buy-in from the community, experiment and gather information. The key is to co-create new ideas to foster change for a culture of health and well-being for all.

Design thinking allows us to embrace our creativity muscle to move across different realms with one key feature – inspiring for a better change.

Finding Your Dream Career

Outside the walls of academia, students need to face whether what they learned can actually get them a job that pays the bill or a dream career that carries them through the days when the going get tough.  Is it possible to get a job that is your dream career that pays well and moves you forward to your personal purpose?  Yes. head-1556567_1920

In one of my courses, I teach the subject in ‘strategic planning and management’. A very useful technique called SWOT, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats, which allows assessment, inquiry, and reflection on a problem at hand, the issues to explore, or even a job search.  Here is a SWOT analysis to assess “job searches” effectively:

  1. Identify Your own Strengths. What did you do well in-class and outside of class (extracurricular activities)? When someone had a problem and asked you for help, what were those things? List these items. With  this list of strengths (your mojo), you feel confident during your job search and job interviews.
  2. Be Aware of Your Weaknesses. Even though we live in the world where folks don’t like to hear negative criticism from others, it is important that you are at least aware and can acknowledge your own weaknesses before others (i.e. your future boss) tells you. By having a mental inventory of your weaknesses, you know how you to improve these skills (i.e. take an online course, read books/articles …) or ask for help. Find a mentor who has these strengths.
  3. Find Opportunities.  With your graduate degree, what are new opportunities that you makes you more remarkable than before? For example, did you take a biostatistics class, and realized that you are good at statistical programming and your classmates often ask you for help. During your job interview, you can emphasize how you communicate and share knowledge with others. This illustrates that you are a team player.  Look for opportunities to showcase skills, practice, and sharpen your skills.
  4. Look out for Threats. We all have a tendency to derail our path to success. As you list your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities, your internal dialogue may attack your positive thoughts.  What are the competing voices in your head? Are they real? Are they giving your reasonable feedback?

One position with many applicants. You can maximize your chances for a success job search by completing your own Self-SWOT analysis.

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