Leadership Circles Go Remote

Leadership Circles Go Remote

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September 1, 2020

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Healthcare, like many other industries, is reeling from the effects of the global pandemic.

Leaders are physically and emotionally separated. They are lonely, overwhelmed, and busy. This is the time that support and development are critical to their success and well-being as well as their organizations’ success.

We began asking how we can provide effective learning opportunities when classrooms are closed, time is limited, and application of learning is imperative to behavior change. After much discussion and analysis of our needs, the Saint Luke’s Health System organizational development and talent management team decided to experiment with remote Leadership Circles.


What Is a Leadership Circle?

Leadership circles are a type of professional learning community focused on building specific skill sets while supporting other leaders experiencing the same challenges. A small- to medium-sized group of leaders meet monthly to discuss a specific topic. Each circle has a different focus and is moderated by one or more participants.


Why Leadership Circles?

Professional learning communities are one of the most effective ways to transfer knowledge and wisdom within an organization. These communities provide a safe space for members to ask each other questions, share successes, and learn from each other. They also foster a network of support, which is crucial to well-being.


What Are the Organizational Benefits?

  • Low cost
  • Leveraging institutional knowledge from subject matter experts
  • Developing supportive networks for leaders
  • Application of learning through coaching to increase behavior change


How Are Leadership Circles Started?

The following list of questions uses the ADDIE model to start leadership circles and is not meant to be an all-inclusive list of questions or considerations.


  • What support have our leaders acknowledged that they need right now?
  • What skill gaps are we seeing in our organization?
  • Are there skills that can be practiced and reinforced through social learning?
  • What benefits do leadership circles provide the organization?
  • How will we evaluate success?


  • What are the learning objectives?
  • What is the capacity for each group?
  • Who should be invited to attend?
  • How will participation be managed?


  • Who will coordinate and facilitate the sessions?
  • What resources or support tools do we have available to help support learning and collaboration?
  • How will we promote leadership circles?


  • Promote the sessions and sign up participants.
  • Train the facilitators.
  • Schedule the sessions at a time that is convenient for participants.


  • What’s working?
  • What needs to be changed?
  • What additional support do the participants and/or facilitators need?


What Support Tools and Resources Are Needed?

It can be as simple as registering through a learning management system and calendar invites.  For Saint Luke’s Health System, we use the mentoring software MentorcliQ to manage our leadership circles. We were successful with our nursing and new leader onboarding mentoring programs and wanted to capitalize on the use of the software. MentorcliQ allows us to register participants, time communications, and evaluate program effectiveness.

In addition, we recently launched Office 365 and Teams. We used this opportunity to encourage use of the new systems in a low-risk situation. Our secondary learning objective was to structurally and socially influence leaders to use and become more comfortable using these collaborative tools.  We created a Microsoft Teams channel for each of the learning circles for them to connect and share resources in between meetings. For the meetings, we use conferencing software to host the meetings with videos and breakout rooms.


What Have We Learned?

We launched the program with four leadership circles to gauge interest and capacity. We started with these circles as they captured the current felt need within our organization:

  • Making Crucial Conversations Live
  • Read to Lead
  • Resilience Through Change
  • Leading Remote Teams

Initial feedback on the program is strong.


Tammy Leslie, a Saint Luke’s director stated, “Being part of the leadership circle has provided me insight to what my clinical peers experience. Hearing where we have all come from and the professional ups and downs of each of our careers provide me more of the other leader’s story. The leadership circle has provided me new authors to read and learn some new views.”



Kristin Whitehair, a Saint Luke’s manager, commented, “The leadership circles connect me to leaders throughout the organization to discuss common issues. My leadership circle is a book club. Hearing the reactions and insights to the book from others gives me a broader perspective. Especially at this time where we are practicing social distancing, leadership circles are a great way to connect across the organization. I appreciate the opportunity to explore leadership in an accessible and flexible format.”


Leslie’s and Whitehair’s thoughts echoed the quick and clear response from participants. Leaders, even in this challenging time, want to continue their development and connect with other leaders. We are only a few months in and anticipate adding more leadership circles as we continue to hear from our leaders and subject matter experts on needs.


As we reflect on the last few months and ahead to the uncertainty of the next year or more, our team will continue to be agile to meet leadership development needs. Just as our clinical teams have been creative and innovative to adapt to change, so will we.