Leadership Lab

Being a leader takes practice. We’re excited to share our latest experiments and lessons learned.

Rachel Parsley
Friday, July 21, 2017

I once saw Thomas Jefferson in a box. Of course, it wasn’t the real Thomas Jefferson. It was the 1860 Alexander Galt statue of our University’s founder. It is a 6 foot, 2.5” inch, life-sized, likeness made from four tons of white Italian marble. Given as a gift to UVA in 1861, the statue has always called the Rotunda home.

In 2012, when renovations of the Rotunda began, the statue was removed and temporarily relocated elsewhere on Grounds. This marked only the third time in its history that the marble monstrosity was moved from the building.

Last fall, while leading a Grounds for Success orientation tour, I happened to pass by as it was being loaded into a crate for return to its rightful location in the Rotunda. I stopped to watch for a moment as the workers carefully and delicately determined how to transport this valuable, fragile, and incredibly important symbol of our University. I later realized that just by happenstance, I had witnessed a part of history.

More than any other University in the nation, UVA bears the imprint of its founder. Since the Cornerstone was laid in 1819, the Lawn designed and built in the 1820’s and classes first held in 1825, Jefferson and his leadership legacy has been involved, in some way, since day one.

The Rotunda is often used as a symbol of the University, and for good reason. Jefferson designed it to be the “heart of UVA” and to many, this remains true even today.

Construction of the Rotunda began in 1822 and opened in 1826, shortly after Jefferson’s death.

In 1895, the Rotunda was gutted by fire. The Rotunda’s bell rang across the city of Charlottesville and townspeople, as well as students and faculty came running. They started a bucket brigade, trying to put out the blaze.

Students bravely ventured into the burning building and desperately tried to save whatever they could. The statue, then located in the third floor Dome Room, was hauled down a staircase on a mattress, amidst smoke and flames.

After the fire, there was a major remodel and many structural and aesthetic changes were made. It was remodeled again in the mid-1970’s, during which time it was returned to Jefferson’s original three-story design.

Today, Galt’s statue of Jefferson stands once again in the Rotunda’s entrance lobby on the second floor, greeting guests as they enter from the terrace level. If you look closely, you can still see grey smudges of smoke from the 1895 fire on the folds of his cloak. There are chips in the marble, thanks to his mattress ride down the staircase.

The statue’s gaze is fixed straight ahead. It looks through the clear, glass floor-to-ceiling doors, across the Lawn and onto the University.

Though it is just one small symbol of our founder and of the history of UVA, I find myself transfixed and amazed by it. Each time I lead a tour, I think about the 150+ years the statue of Jefferson has stood guard in the Rotunda, and about all the events it has witnessed during that time.

As the University of Virginia embarks on its third century, the Galt statue will serve as a poignant and lasting reminder that in a way, Thomas Jefferson continues to oversee and serve as a leader of it all. 

Samantha Campbell
Friday, July 14, 2017

Recently, I attended a motivational talk with guest speaker, Chic Thompson. He spoke about how people often respond to a new idea with “Yes, but...” We tend to think of all the reasons why an idea will not work. That ‘but’ stops the thought process. Instead, Chic says we should try responding with “Yes, and…” This phrase invites the speaker to keep going, which accelerates possibilities and allows a dialogue.

I have found this idea of stopping at ‘but’ to be quite true, and something that I have done with my own ideas a lot.  For example, I will come up with an invention in my head and get super excited and feel ready to go on Shark Tank right away!  But then my mind says, “but….”  This is mostly because I would fear the legal aspect, budget limitations, or possibly just being overwhelmed with the process and not knowing where to start.

Instead, I want to try the ‘Yes, and’ method. Instead of thinking about all the things that could go wrong, I’ll explore all the things that could go right. I challenge you to try it too. Even if you don’t have an idea for a new invention, try it out on a work related challenge. Like Chic said, “Be curious first, critical second!” Change your mindset to encourage creativity, and see if you can overcome the obstacle by responding with “yes, and...” You might be surprised at the results!

Hoos Well
Friday, July 7, 2017

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week to improve overall cardiovascular health. However, 80% of Americans don’t make exercise a regular habit, with 14% saying they don’t exercise at all. So how do we overcome this exercise aversion? 

Try making a connection between exercise and something that matters in your life specifically. Making a personal goal to get active will keep you accountable and remind you why being active is important to you. Some examples include: losing weight, being able to keep up with your active grandchildren, getting better sleep at night, and even increasing productivity at work.

American Heart Association physical activity infographic

To see how increasing physical activity can improve your everyday wellbeing, check out these three ways that regular physical activity can help boost your performance at work:

1. Energy and Awareness

Research has shown that exercise can help increase productivity at work through increased energy and mental awareness. When you exercise, your body makes energy through the production of ATP in the mitochondria of the cell. Not only is this energy made during exercise, but physical activity stimulates the development of new mitochondria, meaning your body will be capable of producing more energy throughout the day. This energy can be used to fuel your muscles as well as your brain, boosting mental awareness!1

2. Work Output

With the increase in energy and mental awareness comes increased work output. A study found that out of 700 workers surveyed, those who participated in cardiorespiratory fitness were more efficient in completing a greater amount of work, and those who engaged in moderate to vigorous activity were more likely to rate their job performance higher2. Overall, sharpening time-management skills and mental awareness from increased physical activity have been shown to increase work production by 15%!3

3. Mental Health

In addition to energy and awareness, physical activity stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which sends messages to the body to stimulate mood and emotion4. It has been shown that happy workers are 12% more productive, while unhappy workers can be up to 10% less productive.5

Need ideas to get moving throughout your day?
The “Exercising at the Office” links on the Hoos Well website show that it can be easy AND fun to get active at work! Scroll toward the bottom of the page and check them out!

Make a personal goal to join the Hoo’s Well Fall Fitness Challenge starting August 1st. Complete exercise goals to earn rewards – your body and your budget will thank you for it! Stay tuned for details about the Challenge and ways you can stay active at UVA this fall.

Tonia Duncan-Rivers
Friday, June 30, 2017

Have you ever been told that you’re too quiet or that perhaps you should consider speaking up more? Well, it has happened to me more times than I care to admit. Most times I take it in stride, but every now and then it bothers me. I have explained many times that I am a thinker and I prefer to process things. Believe me; those who know me well know there are times when I have a lot to say and I say it!

Actor Emma Watson (a.k.a. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter) once said, “If you’re anything other than an extrovert you’re made to think there’s something wrong with you.” That may sound a bit dramatic, but sometimes people do that or they make comments such as, “You’re so quiet; are you sure you’re okay?”

Recently I was reminded of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” I had heard about it years ago but never read it. Well, I’m reading it now and I invite you (introverts and extroverts) to read it too. You may learn a thing or two about yourself or others.

 The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

You may also want to check out Cain’s TED Talk, The Power of Introverts. In this TED Talk, Cain distinguishes the difference between shyness and introversion. She says shyness is about fear of social judgement, while introversion is more about how you respond to stimulation, including social stimulation. According to Cain, extroverts crave large amounts of stimulation, whereas introverts feel most alive in a quieter, more low-key environment. She also says that our schools and workplaces are designed mostly for extroverts and their need for lots of stimulation - - think open floor plans where there is constant noise and everyone is in plain view because there are no or very low walls. Cain also noted that introverts are routinely passed over for leadership positions; however, research shows that extroverts and introverts are equally successful in leadership roles overall, and that introverts, in certain situations, actually make better managers.

Carl Jung, a psychologist who popularized the terms introvert and extrovert, said there is no such thing as a pure introvert or a pure extrovert. Some people fall in the middle of the introvert/extrovert spectrum, and we call these people ambiverts because they have qualities of both. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me!

As you round out your summer reading list, be sure to add Cain’s book. You won’t be disappointed. You may also want to check out her website at Quiet Revolution. The CLE is looking out for you too! We’ll offer Professional Development for the Introvert later this year.

The main thing to remember is that it’s okay to be quiet! As stated in The Quiet Revolution Manifesto, “In the long run, staying true to your temperament is the key to finding work you love and work that matters.”

Diane Ober
Friday, June 23, 2017

We all know what safe space is, right? We articulate it as an environment that allows us to discuss controversial topics with honesty, sensitivity, and respect. We use safe space frequently in our CLE classes as a way to ensure participant confidentiality and encourage honest sharing. Recently I learned of a new way to frame how we talk about controversial issues. It’s called brave space, and we now incorporate this in our classes and workshops on diversity and inclusion.

But let me back up a bit and tell you how I learned about this idea and why we are using it.

Currently the CLE offers two classes, Multicultural Fluency and Growing Deeper: The Power of Privilege, which have been popular both as open enrollment classes and as workshops for our learning groups, and for UVA teams and departments.

The Multicultural Fluency class was created by Tabitha “Tab” Enoch from Student Affairs and John Alexander from Shanti, both of whom have been facilitating this for more than three years. The class lays the groundwork for exploring the crucial topic of diversity and inclusion as employees at UVA. The need for this exploration and training continues to grow, which is reflected partially by the increasing requests for this workshop from departments and schools. As such, Tab, John, and I realized we needed to expand our small group to include more people who could assist with creating and delivering classes and workshops about diversity and inclusion. To this end, we gathered a group of four other UVA staff to discuss, explore, and in particular, to lend expertise to professional development opportunities for staff and faculty.

In one of our first meetings, a new member named Val shared an article with us, From Safe Spaces to Brave Spaces by Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens. At its core, brave space recognizes that difficult conversations rarely mean being free of discomfort or difficulty and that labeling space as “safe” encourages staying in an “I’ll agree to disagree” position which does little to foster real understanding or learning. When exploring and learning about diversity and inclusion, we must create ground rules that encourage us to stretch our understanding and comfort zones to see things from another’s perspective. The honesty, sensitivity, and respect that are invoked by “safe space” remains vital, but the exploration is deepened as we encourage ourselves to be brave as well.

This slide we use in our classes helps rephrase the environment we wish to create:

Moving from Safe to Brave

Making the change to brave space seems to resonate with our class participants and helps in diving deeper into the topic, which of course helps in learning!

By the way, we call our group of seven staff from around Grounds, Hoos Brave!  I’m very grateful to be a part of a group that allows me to continue educating myself about diversity and inclusion issues in our culture and in our University and whose members assist in creating and facilitating classes and workshops for us all.

I encourage you to attend these classes and practice being a brave Hoo!

Thank you to the rest of the Hoos Brave team!

Tabitha Enoch
John Alexander
Valencia Harvey
Daniel Fairley
Faran Saeed
Jess Dollar

Larisa Hinton
Friday, June 16, 2017

We often think we’re delegating when we ask someone to do something for us. But delegation is more than simply assigning tasks. Real delegation is asking someone else to be accountable for results. You’re giving the responsibility, along with the authority, to do what’s needed to take action and get the job done.

There are three parts of this process: who, what, and how.

Who you are delegating to is an important consideration. You need to take into account their experience, abilities, strengths, and professional development needs. What involves matching the assignment with the appropriate person, not just choosing the closest person at hand or the person who always says ‘yes’. And the how – you need to give clear expectations of what you want, communicate boundaries and requirements such as budget and deadlines; but not the nitty gritty details of how to do it.

Because we feel we can accomplish the task best, delegating may feel uncomfortable at first.  Maybe you don’t want to overload your colleagues, or think you can get it done quicker yourself, or you simply like the task and don’t want to give it up. These reasons can send messages of ‘I don’t trust you’, or ‘I’m a control freak’.

Keep in mind that delegating doesn’t mean abdicating responsibility. Involving others helps them grow professionally and although it may be true you can do it better or more quickly yourself, the time and effort you spend up front will be worth it in the long run.

For some great tips, take a look at the Delegator’s Dozen: A Preparation Checklist included in this SHRM article.

Carolyn Cullen
Friday, June 9, 2017

I recently read William Bridges’ Managing Transitions and co-facilitated a workshop with Bryan Garey on change and transitions for a cohort program I manage. In the book, Bridges talks about how change is transactional but transitions are psychological. He introduces a model that may seem paradoxical on the surface; namely, that transitions always start with an ending and end with a beginning. This premise makes sense when you think about it: a change, especially a transformational one, always starts by stopping the current practice and ends by starting the new. Furthermore, the ending represents a loss, including how people knew they were successful and how they were rewarded, and therefore it must be acknowledged and processed.

In between the ending and the beginning is the neutral zone, which is the land of the most opportunity, according to Bridges, and therefore is a powerful step in the transition process. This zone occurs after most of the loss has been acknowledged and processed, and the impact of the beginning is just starting to take shape. It’s when people can either start to get excited about the change or it’s when they decide they must resist the change. This zone is also when those who decide they aren’t on board with the change often decide to leave the organization.  

I have been through many organizational changes in my career, and have seen the neutral zone first hand (though I didn’t know it had a name at the time).  Based on my experience, the neutral zone is indeed the land of opportunity. Organizations who seize on the opportunity to show people what’s in it for them with regard to the change stand to reap the most benefit, both for the organization and the employee. Change is hard, to be sure. But, positively managing the transitions of change is what can make or break the change effort.

What changes are you currently experiencing? How are you managing the transitions? How do you think you’ll harness the power of the neutral zone?       

Samantha Campbell
Friday, June 2, 2017

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: Save Tonight by Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Q: What does leadership mean to you? 
A: To me, leadership means responsibility. It means having the ability to listen, inspire, empower, and encourage others.

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A:  Bodo’s.

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: Learning to listen to my inner voice, my amazing little daughter, and moving to Hawaii on my own to pursue my education.

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: The sense of community, the architecture, and the gorgeous gardens.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Basically anything awesome from Goodwill.

Q: Why did you choose your profession?  
A: Graphic design gave me the opportunity to share my artsy, creative side with others. It was something that I was always interested in, and it came somewhat naturally for me.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: Making jewelry, doing photography sessions, gardening, and most of all, spending time with my husband and 2 year-old daughter.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A: My mom has always been supportive of me. From the day I could hold a crayon, she encouraged me to do what I love, no matter what. She would always tell me: Look at the birds of the air- they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. She helped me to understand that it’s better to live a life full of doing what you love then to do what everyone thinks or tells you to do. When you live a happy life, everything else is taken care of.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A: I was dance club president in college and loved performing in front of large crowds- just don’t ask me to do any public speaking!

Jess Dollar
Friday, May 26, 2017

There are many common quotes out there about change, like “The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” These quips make a point, but they paint change in a negative light. I prefer the quote attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus:

This phrase reflects change as a constant, without suggesting that it is negative. A river continues to flow, moment to moment. From afar, it may appear to stay the same. But slight changes are taking place constantly, reshaping the river a little at a time. It might look the same each day, but if you were to leave and come back after a year or two, you will notice some significant differences.

Change is not bad, but it can definitely be difficult, especially when a large change happens in a short time period. Daniel Goleman, known for his work on Emotional Intelligence, suggests that we can actually change how we respond to change (see article here). We can learn to adapt by practicing mindfulness and developing our Emotional Intelligence.


The practice of mindfulness is about focusing on the present moment, rather than worrying about the past or the future. When we practice meditation or mindful breathing, we can ease our fears and concerns about what the change will bring, and return our thoughts to the present moment. If we recognize that change is happening all the time, all around us, then we are not so thrown off by it.

Emotional Intelligence

Goleman explains that adaptability is one of the competencies of emotional and social intelligence. This skill allows you to “quickly adjust to new situations and handle multiple demands.” When you are adaptable, you are more comfortable with uncertainty. Emotional and social intelligence can help us better understand ourselves and others, so that we can more smoothly process change and help guide others through it.

One great tip that Goleman offers is to frequently seek out new situations and experiences. When you step outside your comfort zone, you expose yourself to uncertainty and learning. When you do this often, you become more adaptable to change.

When reading Heraclitus’ words, it is easy to focus on the river – the external thing that is changing around us. But the second part of the quote is very important: “he is not the same man.” We so often focus on the change itself that is happening to us or around us, but we often forget that we are changing too. We are learning every day and having meaningful life experiences that shape our perspectives. When we seek out professional development on topics like Emotional Intelligence, we can continue to grow and shape ourselves. We can increase our adaptability and better prepare ourselves for the many changes we will encounter.

Related CLE classes to help you grow and navigate change:

Leading Others through Change

The Steps of Change

The Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Lindsey Reese
Friday, May 19, 2017

May is always an exciting month –spring weather is here, people are making their summer travel plans, and students are gearing up for graduation. This spring is especially exciting and significant for me because I’ll be one of those students who will don a cap and gown and receive a diploma today.

I’ve been fortunate to spend the past two years pursuing a M.S. in Organization Development and Knowledge Management at George Mason University. It’s been an exciting and challenging journey – one in which I learned as much about myself as I did about my field of study. This outcome was a bit surprising for me, yet extremely fulfilling and energizing.

My program’s curricula was strongly rooted in the idea that a successful OD practitioner needs to have a great deal of self-awareness.  In order to effectively partner with others to help them overcome challenges in their organization, you have to be fully aware of your strengths, weaknesses, biases, and values. All of these factors combine to create the lens in which you view the challenge, diagnose the underlying issues, and help the client discover steps to solve the problem. 

The idea of using the self as an instrument is relevant to all leaders, not just those in OD. Yet, so often the important leadership competency of self-awareness is overlooked. This may be due to our competitive societal culture – someone may be viewed as weak or incompetent if they acknowledge their weaknesses or admit to not knowing something. But when leaders are honest with themselves and have a consistent focus on building stronger self-awareness, the benefits are powerful.

Having a solid awareness of your strengths and weaknesses gives you a starting point for planning your professional development. Your strengths and developmental challenges may shift over time, but a leader who consistently sets aside time to reflect on their performance and assess their behaviors is typically more adaptable and effective in their role. Showing openness and vulnerability can also help to build trust, thus improving the quality of your connections with others. When leaders acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers, they also send a message to their team that it’s ok to make mistakes, ask questions, and request help from others. These behaviors help to promote a culture of learning within the organization.

So how do you develop a stronger self-awareness? In the article, The Self as an Instrument – A Cornerstone for the Future of OD, Mee-Yan Cheung-Judge recommends various ways to improve self-knowledge and awareness:

Develop lifelong learning habits

  • Continually develop and enhance competencies that are important in your role
  • Develop relationships with peers to talk through challenges and discuss different perspectives
  •  Actively seek feedback from others
  • Take responsible risks that stretch your professional comfort zone and proficiency

Work through issues of power

  • Acknowledge personal issues around power and control and recognize their emotional triggers
  • Clarify your personal values and ensure your actions are aligned with those values

Build emotional and intuitive self-awareness

  • Use your personal and family history as a source of strength
  • Identify your fears, blind spots, and comfort zones. Use your emotional comfort (or discomfort) as data in making decisions

Commit to self-care

  • Organize your calendar to include time for reflection and recharging of your intellectual and emotional energy
  • Schedule regular time-off and truly disconnect from work
  • Use meditation or other practices to develop and maintain inner awareness
  • Engage in hobbies and activities that you enjoy
  • Ensure you set aside time to socialize and spend time with those you care about

By incorporating some of these activities and behaviors into your routine, you should find that you’re more comfortable, confident, and effective in your role. Modeling these behaviors may also encourage those around you to do the same.

As I walk across the stage today to receive my diploma, my formal educational journey may be coming to a close, but my journey on the path to greater self-awareness will surely continue. I hope yours does, as well.