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Inspiration for leaders

November 24, 2008
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A SECAD conference presenter will discuss the diverse responsibilities of treatment executives

At no other time have treatment executives in the addiction field been asked to do more with less, states an administrator who will be speaking on leadership issues at theSECAD 2009 conference in February in Atlanta. Over the past decade, administrators’ ability to focus solely on service delivery and program enhancement has given way to a need to be immersed in financial management and also to be reassuring to staff and patients in challenging times, says Peter Palanca, vice president of
TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities) Inc., a Chicago-area provider of recovery management services for individuals in criminal justice and other public systems. “There is a major need to help staff in these times where compensation is challenging, raises are challenging, and even the opportunity to be recognized is not always there because it’s not as if we have the time we need to give genuine affirmation,” Palanca says. Palanca will present on the topic “Perspectives in Leadership” at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at SECAD. The Feb. 9-11 conference, to be held at the Sheraton Atlanta Hotel, is being produced by the
Vendome Group (publisher of
Addiction Professional) in association with the
National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) and
NAADAC, The Association for Addiction Professionals. The redesigned format for this year’s meeting includes a new management/executive track to help administrators improve the effectiveness of their operations and position their facilities for growth. Palanca plans to draw from the insights of famous figures such as Martin Luther King and Dwight D. Eisenhower to examine the concept of leadership, and also will discuss what it means to be a “servant leader” in the addiction treatment industry. For leaders, “It is critical to pay attention to what clients really need,” Palanca says. “Leaders need to facilitate their process of getting to their goal.”
Agencies at crossroads Many treatment centers are facing a critical period in which they are attempting to nurture new leaders as a good number of the founding members of the field are aging out of their organizations. Palanca says some of these organizations are feeling the negative effects of a “founder’s syndrome,” in which a longtime leader is ready to move on and might almost be at the point of wanting to do little more than walk away. Palanca expects to see at the SECAD meeting a number of individuals who have reached middle-management positions in their agencies and have what he calls “a yearning for what’s next.” He says, “They really want to know leadership principles, and what will help them get to the next level. Whether you call it 'promising practices’ or 'evidence-based practices’ or 'technology transfer,’ there is a desire out there for people to do the best they can do.” Palanca’s own organization is experiencing a major transition, as longtime TASC director Melody Heaps is leaving and Palanca and another individual prepare to assume the two top leadership positions in the organization. Palanca says the diverse demands on today’s program leaders have had some organizations searching outside the field for new executives. A former executive director and regional vice president with Hazelden Foundation’s Chicago operation, Palanca recalls that Hazelden has gone outside the field to fill key positions. But he adds that a person targeted under such a search also needs to bring diverse skills to the table. “It’s a good idea, if the person brings an awareness and a sensitivity to the work we do,” Palanca says. “Someone with an MBA but without an orientation toward service delivery will struggle to do well in this environment.” Besides his work at TASC and Hazelden, Palanca is a former executive director of Parkside Behavioral Health Services in Chicago. He also is vice chair of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association.
Prevailing optimism At the same time that Palanca sees many longtime leaders departing the field, he also is witnessing a great deal of resilience among those who are destined to fill the leadership vacuum. He expects to encounter an overall sense of hopefulness among the attendees he will address at the February conference, despite the difficult economic times and the many challenges facing all agencies. “This group is as committed to serve as any group in any service delivery system we have,” Palanca says.