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Maddox Stresses Listening To Staff, Responding

By Robert Bock

"The people who work for you will tell you what the organization needs," said Dr. Yvonne Maddox, acting NIH deputy director and deputy director of NICHD. "A good leader listens to staffers and then takes action when it's needed." As a double deputy, she's in a position to know.

But listening to staffers does not cede decisionmaking to them, she cautioned. Rather, a good leader seeks advice and carefully weighs the information provided. Although the leader makes the final judgment, the act of decisionmaking often involves consulting with numerous individuals throughout the organization and seeking their advice before embarking on the final course of action.

"Leaders usually don't construct the decision," Maddox said. "Most of the time, they just deliver it."

NIH acting deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox

Typically, she arrives for work each day at 7 a.m. and departs around 9 p.m. Her areas of responsibility include NIH budgeting, staffing and operations.

Maddox received her doctorate in physiology and biophysics from Georgetown University. There she served as assistant professor, studying how various inflammatory agents injure cells and examining gender differences in the vascular system.

In addition to her NIH duties, she also has a leadership role in DHHS' National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the department's Race and Health Disparities Initiative. She also finds time to serve as the spokesperson for NICHD's Back to Sleep Campaign, which seeks to prevent sudden infant death syndrome by urging parents and caregivers to put infants to sleep on their backs. Although the campaign has succeeded in reducing the overall SIDS rate, the rate for African Americans has not declined as rapidly as it has for other groups. Evidence shows that African American infants are still more likely to be placed on their stomachs to sleep.

"One of the greatest challenges we face is reaching underserved populations in which poverty and cultural barriers interfere with this simple, but vital, message," Maddox said.

To overcome these barriers, she has helped to forge a partnership between the Back to Sleep Campaign and several national African American organizations involved in community outreach. Members of the partnership now distribute culturally appropriate materials to African American communities and are providing training sessions on SIDS and its impact on families.

Although the ability to form coalitions is important, a leader's success ultimately depends on the respect he or she garners from the workforce. First, Maddox said, it is essential to acknowledge employees' contributions; everyone needs to know their efforts are important and have helped move the organization forward. Ultimately, however, to obtain employees' respect Maddox relies on a fundamental tenet: "I treat everyone the way I would want to be treated myself."

(The author is press officer for NICHD and a graduate of the NIH Management Cadre class of 2000. This article, the last of a series, resulted from an assignment to study science and leadership at NIH. Information about the cadre program is available at

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