Public Health Leader Support Theory and Model

Gabriella Korosi
Public Health Leader Support Theory and ModelGabriella Korosi

By Dr. Gabriella Kőrösi

Public health leaders face decision making processes and challenges that come with their decisions every day. In the current environment during a global COVID -19 pandemic public health leader support is crucial. Koh and Jacobson describe in their article: “Fostering public health leadership” that public health leaders face complex health issues and environmental treats that can potentially threaten the population every day. Mullen in his article: “Being a good follower” describes that not every potential health treat can be addressed quickly or effectively, based on the data or resources available which creates accusations and blaming of public health leaders.

There is a lack in supporting public health leaders in their decision-making process. Decisions and retrospective fallouts when decisions are not made quick enough, or the decisions made seem to be incorrect to other entities creates a conflict put public health leaders in difficult positions. There is a high need to support public health leaders who face these challenges every day.

In two reviewing articles “Aligning leadership across systems and organizations to develop a strategic climate for evidence-based practice implementation.” by Aarons, Ehrhart, Farahnak and Sklar and in “Public Health Research: Lost in Translation or Speaking the Wrong Language?” by Kansagra and Farley the researchers assert that making the correct decision is a skill that public health leaders need to be basing on all the available researched evidence they have and their experience in the field.

Both in Nahavandi’s article: The art and science of leadership Using leadership and in Gupta’s articles “Situational leadership” and “Transformational leadership. Practical management: Designing a better workplace” the notion is present that elements from team leading, transformational, and situational leadership styles can help current public health leaders feel more supported by showing adaptability, charisma, serving others and supporting leadership decision making. The above-mentioned leadership styles give mentors and leaders in the public health arena to support and help each other with difficult decision making processes and fallouts.

The Leader Support Theory Model

The Leader Support Theory Model above shows a simple circle with outlining elements that can help public health leaders feel supported in their role. The public health leader is in the middle with all the support systems surrounding them. The model was developed with System’s thinking in mind looking at Public Heath as a system and all the other systems that are affected including education system, the public health leader, other leaders from public health and other disciplines, support systems that include the public with different roles and expectations from the public health leader. The model shows the skills and support necessary for the public health leader to succeed. Using all the elements of support including self – preparation that is the individual leader’s responsibility to having proper education that is the public health schools responsibility to mentoring that is the responsibility of every public health leader as well as leaders in other fields to support each other, continuing skill building that is the individual leader’s responsibility as well as the public health organizations responsibility and support systems that can be personal, workplace or coming from other organizations. When all the elements are present in the public health leader’s life and work, leadership decisions can be less burdensome as the leader has someone to turn to and have the training and knowledge to trust his or her decision-making process and the consequences related to the decision.

Leader Support Theory- Explanation

The Leader Support Theory Model as five elements that break down to additional elements with the public health leader in the middle and the supportive bubble around.

Skill building includes learning new skills as evidence based practice recommends, recognizing weaknesses and strengths, and taking the initiative to improve on current skills, attending recommended skill building classes available at the organization the public heath leader working for.

Mentoring includes having multiple mentors formally within the public health organization and informally people who had been or currently are in leadership positions and dealing with complex health care issues. Mentoring provides support based on experience, the public heath leader has someone to turn to with questions, concerns, and feedback for growth.

Self – Preparation Includes knowledge of the public health issue at hand and the skills needed to work on the public health problem that can include skills like communication, collaboration multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary, understanding and synthetizing public health issues as described by Leischow and colleagues in his article: “Systems Thinking to Improve the Public’s Health”.

Education Includes the support of current public health schools and public health workplaces providing up to date leadership development classes, coping skills of what to do when things are not going well, available resources that could include newsletters of current publications, leadership seminars, classes, discussion forums, focus groups.

Support systems include public and private systems. Public systems include the media and the individuals of our society who benefit from public health efforts. The media could include more positive elements of public health, currently public health is only in the news if there is a problem, would be beneficial to have positive media on public health efforts that keep our population safe including suicide prevention trainings, immunization efforts, disease prevention efforts, health advises. Individual support can be a friend, family member, member of a pubic, co-worker as described by Koh and Jacobson. Education of the public and information on what public health leaders do could gain increased support for public health leaders.

Public health leaders need additional support, and the Leader Support Theory and Model can be one way to add to their development and provided the needed support and encouragement closing the gap that currently exist in this area. Public health leaders are under tremendous pressure and responsible for population health. The more support that can be provided as shown above with the Leader Support Theory Model the higher chance to decrease burnout, stress, and changing professions. Good, effective leaders are needed in today’s fast changing environment and public health leaders can use more support to guide them in their roles. The goal of the Leader Support Theory is to be a framework in providing the needed guidance for developing public health leaders. Providing all the supportive elements of the model public health leader and employee satisfaction should increase. This is a new developing theory, once tested additional changes and adjustments might be needed based on current research. This theory has elements of other leadership styles including transformational leadership that had been well researched, thus have a positive viability and outlook for effectiveness that can be found in the book by Nahavandi: The art and science of leadership. Additional evaluation and research is needed to prove further effectiveness on of the Leader Support Theory Model.

This article is an adaptation from the original article on Public Health Leader Support Theory by Dr. Gabriella Kőrösi.

Aarons, G. A., Ehrhart, M. G., Farahnak, L. R., & Sklar, M. (2014). Aligning leadership across systems and organizations to develop a strategic climate for evidence-based practice implementation. Annual Review of Public Health, 35255-274. doi:10.1146/annurev-publhealth-032013-182447

Gupta, A. (2009). Transformational leadership. Practical management: Designing a better workplace. Retrieved from

Gupta, A. (2011). Situational leadership. Retrieved from

Korosi, G (2020) Public Health Leader Support Theory. Retrieved from

Koh, H. K., Jacobson, M. (2009). Fostering public health leadership J Public Health 31 (2): 199-201 doi:10.1093/pubmed/fdp032.

Leischow SJ, Best A, Trochim WM, et al. Systems Thinking to Improve the Public’s Health. American journal of preventive medicine. 2008;35(2 0): S196-S203. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2008.05.014. Retrieved from

Mullen, J., (2016). Being a Good Follower. Public Health Reports. Vol 131, Issue 6, pp. 739 - 741 doi: 10.1177/003335491666969.

Nahavandi, A. (2015). The art and science of leadership (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-13-354676-7.

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