Rita Young Allen, MA, MS

Collaborative Leadership

Rita Young Allen
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Collaborative Leadership

Rita Y. Allen 






Management leadership has been a subject of great controversy for over a century.  Some have spent their lives in search of the most productive method to lead the masses.  We have run the gambit of the very tightest controls, such as timing bathroom breaks, to no control at all, allowing the employees to run the show.  Neither extreme has stood the test of time.  Because leadership will affect another person’s life forever, either negatively or positively, it should never be taken lightly. There are many great researchers who feel the same way:  Kurt Lewin, Douglas McGregor, Fred Emery, just to name a few.  A leader with the ability to help each employee mature into confident, contributing adults is a premium.  Leaders who are able to maintain their authority while instructing, training, encouraging and empowering are priceless.  Theory X/Theory Y, Immaturity/Maturity, Autocratic/Participative/Laissez-Faire, Authoritarian/Democratic are examples of important theories, models and principles. 

In the world of daily change, not much remains the same, and yet, stability is the hope of almost every employee.  Businesses are faced with leadership decisions continuously, many times because they are not able to efficiently evaluate and hire leaders that can lead people to maturity.  With the turnover in the healthcare industry, today more than ever, we need leaders who not only know what they are doing, but who are willing to be lifelong students constantly learning new and effective ways to lead.





Since Douglas McGregor’s Book, The Human Side of Enterprise, was written in 1960, the business world of leaders has effectively been divided into two groups:  Theory X and Theory Y.  McGregor asserted that Theory Y people were ready to take full responsibility, had a desire to grow and achieve, cared a great deal about their jobs and really wanted to do excellent work.  The Theory X leaders believed most people were inherently lazy and irresponsible, needed to be very tightly controlled and needed their work broken down into tiny pieces or they were sure to make a mess of things.  Frederick W. Taylor’s development of scientific management was the forerunner to this theory.  Theory X leaders not only allowed no tolerance for mistakes, but the entire working atmosphere was anti-learning.  There was no trial and error, give and take, experimentation, no life; there was time clocks, stringent work rules, timed bathroom breaks, adults treated like children, expectations of delivery with no understanding, a ten cent raise once a year and a ham at Christmas (Weisbord, 2004).  In order for any living entity to grow and thrive, there must be constant, consistent learning.  Theory Y leaders embraced the “learning organization.”  Mistakes would be allowed because growth only comes through trial and error, through making mistakes, and learning how not to do things the next time.  Theory Y leaders find new life springing up everywhere, relationships deepen, people become more productive, and, eventually community is formed (Weisbord, 2004).

Although the business world will assert that Theory X leadership is no longer widely used, Chris Argyris would disagree.  It is still a widely used leadership model in business.  This leads to individuals being treated as very immature.  It creates a workforce of “plastic” people



who wear a variety of masks to hide who they really are because the person they really are would be unacceptable.  Relationships are not authentic, which breeds suspicion, which breeds mistrust, which breeds a hostile working environment.  Ultimately, when a person is treated a certain way for so long, they become who they are projected to be. These bureaucratic-pyramidal values are responsible for many business organizational problems the business world suffers today (Hersey, 2008).

This paper will examine Argyris’ Theory of Immaturity-Maturity and Participative Management, and will compare the two theories as how they apply to Brookdale Senior Living, the largest retirement corporation in America. 



Immaturity-Maturity Theory

            Chris Argyris began his career with an unrelenting desire to reduce injustices.  He was intrigued with the ability that humans have to maintain corrosive and non-learning features.  There were no universities that taught these counterproductive skills, so “how do we explain their omnipresence and perseverance,” Argyris questioned?  This presence was accompanied with the inability to learn or detect error.  He pondered how we human beings became so skilled at non-learning.  These actions could only thrive if they are reinforced by environment, such as organizations.  We create the very systems that sanction our self-defeating actions.  Initially, Argyris blamed the leaders who had power over others, thinking that they could offer liberating alternatives.  After extensive research, he found that those leaders were not fully able to do that without the early involvement of their subordinates.  In his 1957 study, he arrived at


the conclusion that organizations, through hierarchies and managerial controls, had created a work world that kept human beings in a state of infancy.  He even went further to say that those individuals who actually wanted an adult work environment would probably experience conflict and become frustrated.  Then there were those who didn’t care what they had to adapt to, as long as they drew their paycheck and had reasonable security.  To go one step further, because of the paternal position that management had assumed, the hygiene factors were supplied as well (Argyris, 2003).

            Argyris believed that this state of infancy was not caused by individual laziness, but rather by management practices.  Employees are not given sufficient control of their environment and they are taught, by both management and other peers, to be subordinate, dependent and passive.  These are learned traits.  These are the traits of infants; therefore, they act with immaturity.  This vicious scenario is built into the nature of organizations creating giant beasts that devour their young.  Power and authority belongs at the top (parent); those at the bottom are controlled (children); tasks are simplified (repetitive, boring and unchallenging); leadership is directive (demands, square peg in square hole); decisions made by managers and workers carry out orders (obedience).  What else can we expect (Hersey, 2008)?

The world has been flooded today with do-good, self-help manuals designed to bring humans to their fullest potential.  Chris Argyris wrote the book, Flawed Advice and the Management Trap that elaborates on how this advice won’t work.  He further says that the problem is not with the authors, but with the faulty logic naming the inconsistency as, “skilled unawareness.”  It’s great to Live Your Best Life, Heal Your Life, develop the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Become a Better You.  You can even search for The Secret, The Law of


Attraction and The Purpose Driven Life but successful business cannot happen until the work environment encourages internal commitment rather than just external commitment and change.  Internal commitment creates motivation; external commitment alone creates bondage.  Leaders must learn to lead in a way that brings forth internal commitment.  For example, when a leader says they support the theory of open and honest discussion, but never allow it, they are setting themselves up for employee dysfunction.  The bickering and discontent will mount and production will wane (Hicks, 2001). 

            On the other hand, when humans are treated with democratic values, the result will greatly increase organizational effectiveness.  Work will be exciting and challenging.  Individuals will have the opportunity to develop and mature into contributing adults (Hersey, 2008).

Participative Management

            Experiments with participative management began as early as the 1920’s, although many managers were reluctant to sign on.  The depression was looming and jobs were scarce.  It was much easier to issue orders and push people around.  The seventies brought the struggle against foreign competitors and participative management picked up steam.  Asking the employees how they might improve their work and then allowing them to do it was very eye-opening.  A study done of 101 industrial companies found that those who had participative management outscored the others on 13 of 14 of the financial measurements.  The concept seemed to spread like wildfire.  “’The problem with participative management,” says Raymond E. Miles, dean of the University of California’s business school at Berkeley, “is that it works.’”  The management theory was a real threat to hard-line bureaucracy, therefore, many efforts to


implement failed.  In the early 80’s, three fourths of all attempted programs failed.  The reason did not lie with the workers; it was management.  Most of them were not interested in changing behavior and organizational structure (Saporito, 1986).

            In his article, The Fantasy of Formalized Participative Management, Roy Lobenhofer dispels the possible prescribed band aid of participative management through formalization. In the perfect scenario of participate management the teams make the decisions; the boss supports whether he agrees or not; the boss takes the blame if something goes wrong; employees support decisions made by other teams; employees are happy; the bosses are happy; all decisions were unanimous.  Sounds like a utopia, and probably is.  So, the question was asked, do we need to formalize participate management?  That’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face, as the old saying goes.  The very reason participative management worked so well in the cases where it flourished was because it was natural, not formalized.  Here again, the answer lies in empowering people rather than manipulating/mandating people.  Formalization means requiring employees to be members of teams, spend time in meetings, spend time on something just to have the boss veto it, wasting time waiting for the last member of the team to show up for a meeting, catching up the person who missed the last meeting, and so on and so on and so on.  Empowered teams work because ideas are encouraged to blossom naturally, managers listen to and value the input of the employees, and collaboration happens when it is convenient, reducing the loss of production time (Lobenhofer, 2002).

            The American Society for Public Administration has published research in both the public and private sector, and multiple regression analysis, which shows that participative management does improve job satisfaction.  Historically, management theory has shown the


advantages of focusing on human motivation.  Participation is where influence is shared among those who would otherwise be at different levels of the hierarchy.  Not only is this good for the company, but has been shown to be beneficial to the workers’ mental health and job satisfaction.

(Kim, 2002).

            The common way to label a management style is by how much authority the manager has.  Autocratic managers give very little authority to their employees.  This means that communication goes one way, downward.  The Laissez-faire manager gives a great deal of authority to the employees and communication is typically superficial.  The Participative manager retains authority but makes decisions only after seeking input from the employees.  These managers highly encourage employee involvement and consistently make provision for two-way communication (Nowicki, 2008).


(Nowicki, 2008).


            Kurt Lewin was an early proponent of democratic leadership.  By the 30’s his work was known throughout the world of social science and psychology.  One of Lewin’s experiments involved a volunteer boys’ club where the leader led the group democratically for several


meetings and then autocratically for several meetings.  Acting as authoritarians, the leaders “dominated, set goals, issued instructions, interrupted, made all decision, and criticized the work.”   The boys argued much more than when led democratically.  They were more hostile, fought amongst themselves, scape-goated the weaker members, and damaged their materials and toys.  Some of them lost their initiative and became lifeless showing no concern for group goals.  As democratic leaders (participative) the groups shared cooperation, set group goals, developed friendliness and stuck to their task together.  All the while Lewin was running a movie camera behind the scenes filming these remarkable differences.  One of the group leaders, who was less experienced than the other leaders, allowed the boys to do what they wanted (laissez-faire).  The boys became frustrated with the lack of direction.  They started having feelings of inadequacy and blaming their unhappiness on the weaker members.  Lewin was amazed at how quickly the actions of the boys changed when the leadership changed.  Additionally, (as the movie camera captured) the acts and attitudes of the boys was even more amazing when their leaders left the room.  The boys in the autocratic group picked on the weaker members, goofed around instead of working and even destroyed some of their own work.  The boys of the democratic group hardly noticed that their leader had left and kept working.  In the laissez-faire group, they quickly became bored and some started wondering around the room.  What this experiment proved was that the differences could not be contributed to the differences in individuals; it was the difference in leadership.  Another note-worthy action was how quickly the children who went from a democratic leadership to the autocratic leadership reduced in demeanor, excitement and became closed…less than 30 minutes.  It was also noted that it took much longer for the children



to go from autocratic leadership to democratic leadership; a powerful lesson to those desiring to change management models (Weisbord, 2004).



            Mary Parker Follett lived from 1868 to 1933.  She was a management scholar who believed that management was “the art of getting things done through people,” but her assertion was worker participation and shared goals among directors and managers. Her administrative principles were used by many businesses of her day (Daft, 2007).  It seems that there has always been an advocate, albeit a quiet one, that has voiced the need for worker participation and less authoritarianism, but when the age of industrialization came along, it appeared that those voices were almost inaudible.  Organizational behavior was so deeply embedded in the culture, that although we have made some strides back to human democracy, we still labor today with injustices in the workplace. 

            A published report of the study, Inspired Leadership, an Insight Into People Who Inspire Exceptional Performance, gave the following three main characteristics that employees long to see from their leaders:  -Genuine shared vision from executives – Leaders showing confidence and trust in their teams – Respect from line managers and customers.  The single most important thing that employees wanted to see from their leaders was “inspiration” although only one out of ten felt they had that at work. (Dourado, 2005).

            On June 26, 2006 American Retirement Corporation (ARC) and Brookdale Senior Living, Inc. (BKD) merged.  Brookdale was, and is, the leading owner of senior living in the United States.  American Retirement Corporation was established in 1978 and held 83 senior


living communities in 19 states at the time of the merger (PR Newswire, 2006).  Today, Brookdale has 550 communities across the US (Brookdale, 2008).  The merger brought about many changes.  The CEO of both companies became Co-CEO’s of the new entity.  February 7, 2008, Mark Shulte was elected to the Board of Directors.  He stepped down leaving Bill Sheriff as sole Chief Executive Officer of the company.  Shulte had 17 years building Brookdale and Sheriff had 23 years building ARC (Reuters, 2008).

            Galleria Woods Retirement Community (GW), owned by Brookdale Senior Living, is located on 20 acres in beautiful Hoover, Alabama.  It is an upscale, entry fee, lifecare retirement community.  There are approximately 150 employees (110 full-time and 40 part-time).  We are an independent living community for adults 55+ with Assisted Living and Skilled Care on campus.  The corporate culture of Brookdale is on the left side of Participative.  Although directives come from the top down, there is much freedom allowed within each community and there is a flow of communication in both directions.  The managers retain their authority, but make decisions after seeking input from both the employees and the residents.  It is assumed that all levels should contribute input to the local decision-making process.  This is not something that can be asked for; it must be fostered by the attitude of the community.  The attitude and personality of GW is a very positive and upbeat.  The clientele is younger than most rental communities and very actively involved in all six areas of Optimum Living:  Physical, Intellectual, Spiritual, Emotional, Social and Purposeful.  The intellectual stimulation is strong (and so are the attitudes) as we have a number of Professors, Engineers, Business Executives, Military, Senators, and very successful entrepreneurs.  The residents not only have a Resident Council that meets once a month to discuss the direction of GW, but we also have a Foundation


that engages in endeavors creating goodwill in our local community.  Our yearly Resident Satisfaction Survey is taken very seriously and is the source of recognition and monetary rewards for GW, from corporate, if we score high.  The residents send in their survey to corporate in a sealed envelope and our Executive Director, Wyman, receives nothing but the compiled report back.  The residents not only feel that this is their home, but they actually feel that they are the ones running it!  When unexpected change does occur, Wyman labors to make sure everyone is in the know.  When they have an understanding of the change, then they feel less threatened. 

            Wyman is a young executive director and is both knowledgeable and charismatic.  He consistently requests input from his department directors and various other employees.  His management style is S3/S4 while favoring S4.  He wants to give the overview and have the directors figure out and implement the actions for their department.  He does not want to have to “initiate structure or provide direction for people.”  For the most part, his team operates at an S3/S4 readiness level. They are all department directors with their own staff.  Occasionally, there is someone who, for various reasons, begins to decrease in performance readiness and this creates difficulty although Wyman can raise his socioemotional support when he has to. 

            The leadership style for most of the department heads is S1/S2.  Their staff operates at a readiness level of R1/R2/R3, according to how long they have been employed.  With a number of our departments such as maintenance, dining services and housekeeping, there is constant pressure to produce.  Most of the department managers are not able to use S3/S4 leadership; therefore, their staff will remain at a readiness level of S1/S2.

            The Marketing Department is the exception.  The leadership style of our director, John, is S2/S3.  He is high relationship by nature.  The readiness level of our Outreach Coordinator


(Stephanie), Move-in Coordinator (Jessica) and me, Retirement Counselor, is R4.  Our Outreach Coordinator has the greatest problem with John’s S2/S3 leadership.  She has definitely felt cornered, entrapped, entangled, and patronized.  Jessica is over-qualified for her position, but loves the relationships with the residents.  They are very fulfilling to her.  The readiness level of our new Retirement Counselor is R2, approaching R3.  She has been employed for two months.

            GW, and Brookdale, certainly fit the maturity side of Argyris immaturity-maturity model of leadership.  Management practices discourage employee infancy and encourage growth.  There is freedom at any level to offer input.  A personal experience centered around another employee who was creating a very hostile work environment for me.  A Senior VP, three levels up the management chain found out about it and called me to see if I was doing o.k., encouraging me to always let management know when situations such as this arose.  His comment was, “We don’t allow detrimental attitudes such as this to go unchecked and negatively affect other employees.”  I was quite impressed that he cared enough to call. 

            I have noticed a slight shift further toward the left of Participative since the merger.  There seems to be top-down decisions that have taken us all by unpleasant surprise.  I don’t know if this will be temporary just as a side-effect of the merger, or if this is the new synthesis of the new management structure.  A contributing factor could be the fact that with the housing slump over the last year, BKD shares have sunk 40% (Colias, 2008).  That is reason for dotting every i and crossing every t.  Most new residents sell their homes and use the proceeds for the entry fee to move into GW.  They are having trouble selling their homes; therefore, they are putting it off which results in fewer move-ins.  On a personal note, after selling a lady one of our Garden Homes, she went home and ran the numbers on what she could expect to get for her



present home.  She called me back to let me know that she would lose up to $30,000 and she just could not do it.  Even after paying her deposit, she pulled out.  The housing weakness has created more of a problem for Brookdale than the other half-dozen companies in the senior housing industry who are publicly traded.  This is because of the large independent living market of Brookdale.  Independently living residents don’t have to sell their homes for health reasons; they can wait for the real estate market to recover…and many of them have decided to wait


            If the readiness level of an employee is R1 and he has a leader that uses S1/S2, that employee will not be able to mature past an S2 readiness level.  If he stays in that position for years, there is the sad possibility that he will become R1/R2 for life.  He will condition himself to

stay within the set parameters that have been set.  His potential will never be realized and the world could be cheated out of great contribution. 

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.  What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”  ~Henry David Thoreau

If the readiness level of an employee is R1 and he has a leader that knows how to use all four leadership styles, that employee can move to R2, then R3 and hopefully on to R4.  He will become a mature, contributing adult in our society with much to give.  His level of satisfaction will be higher and his life will be more rewarding.
Good leaders make people feel that they're at the very heart of things, not at the periphery. Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.  ~Warren Bennis


The most powerful and productive quality in an individual is their passion.  The business world would be so much better off if they could tap into that passion, but that requires leaders to loosen the reigns, which can be a scary thought.  A vivid example of this is Southwest Airlines.  They have added fun back into a crippled industry of long faces.  Southwest knows that the only employee that can thrill a customer is one that is passionate with inner commitment.  There is enough knowledge, energy and passion hidden in the employee pool to take businesses where no one has gone before; but most leaders have no idea how to tap into that golden pool.  Leadership is more than setting direction and inspiring the team.  True leadership is understanding how to serve.  We have lost this somewhere along the way (Bush, 2004).

But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.

Matthew 23:11  ~The Holy Bible

There is one executive who is so convinced of the methodology of servant hood that he has staked his career on it.  This executive is Mike Chesser.  In 2003, when he took the position of CEO of KPC&L’s holding company, Great Plains Energy Inc. he introduced a spirit of collaboration.  The company began to reach out to employees, environmentalists, community activists, ratepayers and others.  It shifted the focus away from looking for the cheapest way to generate electricity to a more balanced portfolio.  Chesser’s influence is also spreading nationally through his service in other organizations.  Great Plains’ has monthly meetings of their Winning Culture Action Teams, which are led by employees.  The employees have bought in to a company that they believe in.  The benefit is like ripples on water (Lorenz, 2008).  Chesser did caution the employees that there were no free rides, no cruising.  He made them understand that



the qualification for job security and job satisfaction was continuous learning, continuously seeking ways to improve the company and continuously reinventing themselves.  It’s work, but what a rewarding journey! (Bush, 2004).  David Warm, executive director of the Mid-America Regional Council says, “Because they have walked the walk, people have begun to trust them and hold them in high regard and work to see them succeed.”  The leaders have become servants, servants to the employees and to the community (Lorenz, 2008).  Uniquely, what happens when leaders become servants is that the employees begin to take on the spirit of servant hood as well.  They are motivated to serve their consumers with passion. 

            This is participative management at its best.   The employees become mature, contributing adults while daily learning that the greatest motivation, with the greatest reward, is serving others.  It doesn’t get any better than this.

I would like to close with a story that Zig Ziglar used hundreds of times in his very famous speeches.  This story was about a scientific research project done at a major university on the subject of external conditioning.  A group of fleas were placed in a small clear jar, with a lid, and set on the counter for two weeks.  A flea can jump naturally up to 13 inches.  This is about 200 times the length of its own body.  If we put it in the context of humans, this would be the equivalent of a 6-foot man jumping 900 feet (MSU, 2008).  After the two-week span, the lid was removed.  What happened next was quite remarkable.  Not one of the fleas jumped out of the jar.  Nothing had changed except their perception.  They still had the ability to jump as far as ever before, but they had been conditioned, conditioned to understand that if they jumped any higher than the height of the lid on the jar, they would be knocked back down.  Perception IS reality. 







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Rita Young Allen Teaching Credentials.....

Master of Science in Management Leadership (Healthcare Administration) from Troy University, Troy, Alabama
Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (Counseling, Emergency Management, Public Administration) from Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama
Executive Director & Marketing Director for two National Healthcare Corporations
Bachelor of Science in Sociology, Minor in Music Education from Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama
Associate of Arts in Vocal Performance, Wallace State College, Hanceville, Alabama
Music School Owner for 24 years
Performed at Carnegie Hall with Private Choirs, 6 years
Church Music Minister, 30+ years
Published Author, "The Sheaf Dreamer"
Columnist, 20+ years
President of Alabama National Speakers Association, 3 years
Public & Private School Teacher, 10 years (Choral & Drama)
Pageantry, Top Ten, National Competition of Ms. Senior America & Alabama State Director

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Rita Young Allen, Keynote Speaking Professional / Concert Soloist / Published Author / Bible Teacher / Emcee

Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (Concentration in Counseling) from Jacksonville State University.

Master of Science in Management Leadership (Healthcare Administration) from Troy University.

Bachelor of Science in Sociology, Minor in Music, from Jacksonville State University.
Associate of Science in Music Education, Vocal Performance
Snead State College, Gadsden State College, and Wallace State College.


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