Leadership Lab

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

Larisa Hinton
Friday, December 22, 2017

Building relationships with others is extremely important if you want to focus on being a better leader. You need to understand what makes others tick and how to communicate and influence them effectively. In the CLE, we spend a lot of time talking about different behavior styles in the workplace and the importance of self-awareness and connecting with others.

I read a fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review that discusses cultural differences in leadership styles across the world. In the United States, we tend to view ourselves as democratic but can come across as authoritarian to other societies. The author maps leadership cultures into four quadrants by distinguishing attitudes toward authority and attitudes toward decision making. The four quadrants are: Consensual and Egalitarian, Consensual and Hierarchical, Top-down and Hierarchical, and Top-down and Egalitarian. She plots 19 countries on the graph. We fall into Top-Down and Egalitarian (along with the UK, Canada, and Australia.)

The article is geared towards global business but has great take-aways to apply to our ever increasing diverse workforce. The more we know ourselves and understand our colleagues, the better equipped we are to build rapport and become better leaders.

Read the article for some great insights – my holiday present to you all! 

Diane Ober
Friday, December 15, 2017


(Copyright material by Scholastic Publishing - by Jean Marzolla and Walter Wick)   

Recently, I had the opportunity to babysit the young children next door. I took a chance that they would enjoy a book that my children (and I) had loved when they were young, and took with me “I SPY, Christmas,” one of the “I SPY” series published by Scholastic. Each book has a theme, and each page has a poem/riddle that prompts the reader to find certain objects on a page that is filled to bursting with visually rich details!

Here is an example of a page from the book:

(Copyright material by Scholastic Publishing - by Jean Marzolla and Walter Wick)


“I spy a clock, a bumpy green pickle,

Santa on a sleigh and a face on a nickel”


We spent all evening pouring over each page. The oldest child and I took turns reading the riddles while her younger brother listened and eagerly competed with his older sister to find the objects. As the pages went by, they both got faster and their enthusiasm, like their lively competition, was infectious. As soon as we had solved all the riddles, we spontaneously challenged each other to see some detail we had seen and to give the challenge in the form of a clever, intriguing clue. As exciting as it had been to solve the riddle, making up our own added a new level of joy.

Why am I writing about this? Because I spy a metaphor about solving these riddles and my job. Here is what I see:



Visual acuity

Appreciation of the big picture…and the tiniest detail

Questioning what I know and what I need to know

Thinking outside the box (or outside the riddle!)

Competition and its connection and engagement




Relational meaning

Working as a team

Taking the lead




I spy a reader, a thinker, a visual discerner

A grown-up, an employee, a lifetime learner!

Have a wonderful time and winter respite. See you in the New Year.



Tonia Duncan-Rivers
Friday, December 8, 2017

Last week’s blog, The Year in Review, reminded me of an article that might be helpful to you especially since we often make new goals and resolutions for the New Year.

The article, “Conducting a Personal SWOT Analysis for Your Career” by Marci Martin, is about applying the SWOT Analysis to your career. A SWOT Analysis helps organizations identify their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Conducting the analysis reveals what organizations are doing well, what they should work on and where opportunities and threats lie. Martin’s article highlights that a personal SWOT Analysis can do the same for our careers. We can identify our strengths and weaknesses while also identifying external factors that may affect your career.

The article lists several questions for each category to help you get started but you can add specific questions to fit your situation, if necessary. Here’s how a personal SWOT Analysis works.

The first step is to identify your Strengths and ask yourself questions, such as, what are you good at naturally and what are your talents? Remember it is important to be completely honest and not limit your strengths to your existing job. List all of your strengths even if you are not using them in your current role.

Next, you will address your Weaknesses. What are some areas that you can improve? What are your negative work habits and traits? When identifying your Opportunities, you will want to identify factors that will help you pursue a promotion, find a new job or perform better in your current role. An example might be registering for additional training since you are taking on new responsibilities. Your next step is identifying Threats to your career growth. Are there external factors that could hurt your chances of obtaining your goals? Are there any new professional requirements you cannot meet?

The final step is to match or convert the categories to build your strategy. In other words, matching strengths to opportunities will show you where to take action, and matching weaknesses to threats will expose areas for you to work on. When converting, you convert negatives into positives and weaknesses into strengths or threats into opportunities.

January is approaching quickly so SWOT your career and strategize your game plan for 2018! 

Theran Fisher
Friday, December 1, 2017


When my calendar reminder popped up telling me it was time to write my annual ‘Year in Review’ blog, I had to do a double take. This year has gone so quickly that it does not feel like December yet -September perhaps, but not December. Additionally, there is still so much work to be done before the end of the year that it seems premature to write the rest of 2017 off as having already happened. Nevertheless, here we are on December 1, so I have forced myself to slow down and reflect on the past year.

Certainly, a tremendous amount has happened in 2017. We have continued to offer a wide variety of learning and development programs and have assisted dozens of teams and departments with their specific developmental needs. We have oriented hundreds of new employees to the university through Grounds for Success, helped to onboard new executives, and coached new leaders. We wrapped up the third year of the Cornerstone Program and launched the fourth, and put on yet another wildly popular Exceptional Assistants’ Network conference.  Of course, all of this work was planned well ahead of the start of the year and we were ready to take it on, but as I look back, it is the happenings that we did not, or could not, plan for that helped to make the year memorable.

Eleven months ago, we started 2017 by welcoming Samantha Campbell and Jess Hench to the CLE as full-time team members – both had previously been in temporary roles – and we have since bid them farewell. Jess followed her passion for K-12 education and returned to the classroom while Samantha is now doing incredible work with the Office of Sustainability here at UVA. Similarly, we said goodbye to Lindsey Reese in May. She accepted a position outside the university where she continues to do excellent organization development work. We were sad to see them go, but also excited for their new opportunities.

With the departure of our colleagues, we were tasked with reviewing our work and how we get it done. This provided our team the opportunity to take on new challenges, enhance our offerings, and to innovate. I am particularly proud that despite having a smaller team, we did not reduce the number of programs we offer or the quality of the services we provide. 

Throughout the year, we continued to be actively involved and impacted by the Ufirst project, which is the strategic transformation of Human Resources at UVA. Members of our team served as Subject Matter Resources providing valuable input and insight, were part-time members of the project team, and constantly contributed data, information, and perspective to the project. Sometime in the first half of 2018 all of us will transition into new roles and the CLE as it currently exists will cease to be. But do not worry, we will continue to provide all of our services during that time, and will help to provide enhanced services in the future.

We know that 2018 will bring a significant amount of change to all of our daily lives. We will still be providing professional development opportunities for all faculty and staff, but we will be in new roles with new team members. The changes will be both exciting and challenging at times, yet our experiences this year have set us up for success, perhaps making the future just little bit less challenging and a little bit more exciting. 

Theran Fisher
Friday, November 17, 2017


I started my career as an outdoor educator, which is to say that I took people into wilderness settings and taught them how to camp, climb, paddle, and safely enjoy being outside. Of course, my goal was not purely to provide recreational experiences, but to develop the leadership skills in my participants through outdoor recreation that they could then use in other aspects of their lives. At the core of my work was the idea of experiential learning; specifically the three-stage model developed by John Dewey in 1938. An over simplification of this model is a continuous cycle of Plan-Do-Review: formulate a plan based on past experience and present information, act out the plan, and then review the results to gather new information that can be used in formulating future plans. It is a simple cycle that we all go through whether we realize it or not.

Later in my career, when I traded the backcountry for boardrooms, I continued to use this basic experiential learning model to work with leaders and managers. I learned that rather than calling it experiential learning, academics tended to refer to the cycle of taking action, reviewing results, and applying the lessons learned to future actions as single loop learning. Ultimately, whether you call it experiential learning or single loop learning, this process is about answering the question “Am I doing things right?” Because of asking this question, the ultimate goal of single loop learning is behavior change – If your actions are not getting you the desired results, you need to change your actions.

This model has served me well as both a manager and as someone who works daily with other managers to help them improve. However, recently I have been struggling to help clients for whom behavior change alone is not enough. Thankfully, researchers, academics, and theorists have already explored this problem and discovered the idea of double loop learning. Double loop learning goes beyond simply reflecting on our actions and their results and looks at the underlying assumptions that lead to our actions. By digging deeper into our decision making the question changes from “Am I doing things right?” to “Am I doing the right things?” This question goes beyond changing our behavior and challenges us to change our thinking. (There is even triple loop learning, but we will save that for another blog post.)

I have often talked about the challenges of being a working manager - being held responsible for deliverables like an individual contributor while also being charged with guiding and developing others as a manager. By definition, working managers have more on their plates, but without the luxury of more time in each day. Therefore, the idea of spending even more time trying to change our own thinking, let alone that of our teams, is often entertained with skepticism or summarily dismissed. Yet my experience has shown that in order to effect lasting change we have to not only look at our behavior, but the underlying assumptions that lead to our behavior, regardless of the time and effort involved.

Carolyn Cullen
Friday, November 10, 2017


I love a book with a catchy title, so Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams got my attention right away. Recommended to me by my colleagues in Facilities Management (FM), the book is a quick read, but the insight it provided me is far-reaching. Based on the premise that if we reframe our problem-solving approach by asking better questions, we will learn how to make better decisions and therefore have better outcomes.

One technique from the book is called Q-storming, and it proposes taking a traditional brainstorming session and changing it into a session about developing the right questions instead. In other words, you’re not looking for answers or ways to solve a problem in the session; rather, you’re asking the right questions in the session and those questions will ultimately lead to better solutions. Here are some tips for Q-storming session questions from the book:

1.      Questions should be first person or plural using “I” and “we”

2.      Questions are open-ended, such as “How can we” vs. “Can you”

3.      Invite courageous and provocative questions, as well as “silly” and “dumb” ones

Our colleagues in FM have started using Q-storming as they embark on some strategic planning initiatives. They recently began socializing the concept of Q-storming with various FM teams, and then practiced using the technique by applying it to a real-life scenario. Feedback from the sessions was very positive, and participants could see how asking better questions leads to better solutions.

The other main theme of the book is to become aware of the judger and learner mindsets. Namely, everyone falls into the judger mindset at times – we judge others, situations, and even ourselves – but by asking “switching questions,” we can make our way to the learner path, which is better mindset for solving problems. Examples of switching questions include “What are the facts?,” “What assumptions am I making?” and “How else can I think about this?”

So where does the Change Your Life part come in? The author structures the book as a fable, following the journey of the main character as he applies what he’s learned about questions at work, and also in his personal life. So by default, his personal life improves as well as his work life and effectiveness.

How powerful are your questions? Do you think you could deploy a Q-storming session in your organization? By asking better questions, and switching your thought process from judger to learner, imagine what you could accomplish!  

Hoo's Well
Friday, November 3, 2017

The holiday season is my favorite time of the year. I love being bundled up in sweaters and blankets, seeing the trees and rooftops covered in snow, and having the excuse to have that extra cup of coffee just to stay warm. But along with the holiday season comes stress, lack of sleep, warm and cozy (and not so healthy) comfort food, and less time spent being active and outside. This could explain why on average, even if you are in good health, people tend to gain between two to five pounds during the holiday season1. Although this may not seem like a big deal now, as the years go on, these extra pounds can add up.

Then, after each holiday season, it’s time for the annual “New Year’s resolution.” The time where, after we’ve gotten through the holiday slump, we recommit and create new goals to a healthier lifestyle and better wellbeing.

This year, I challenge you to commit to yourself before the holiday temptations and craziness begin. Take a moment to think back on the holidays. What is one way you can keep your health and wellness goals in check during these next two months? For inspiration, check out these three goals to stay on top of your health and wellbeing this holiday season:

Plan ahead.
Whether it be planning your fitness routine, your meals for the day, or your to-do list for your holiday party, planning ahead and being prepared helps calm the chaos during this time of year. Research has shown that those who plan ahead and schedule their time have reduced levels of stress, are more efficient, and are more likely to stick to their goals. 3,4.

Don’t forget to schedule time for yourself! The holidays tend to be about others. Whether it be driving your kids around during winter break, trying to find the best present for your loved ones, or even being stuck in traffic around hundreds of other people when running errands – it can be hard to find time for yourself. As you are planning your time, I challenge you to schedule ten minutes per day to do something for you.

Find time to be active.
Fitness goals are easily pushed aside during busy times of the year. But don’t forget, exercise has been shown to reduce stress, provide energy, and help prevent weight gain (all things that are prevalent during the holiday season).2 Even if it’s getting a few exercises done during commercial breaks, or taking daily ten-minute walks, try to meet the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week throughout these next few months.

Take a deep breath.
In the midst of chaos, stress, and fun, don’t forget to take a few deep breaths. Deep breathing helps to lower stress, lower blood pressure, and clear and refocus the mind. Simple breathing techniques, such as 4-7-8 breathing5 (which involves inhaling for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and exhaling for eight seconds), have been shown to be beneficial.

Looking for help managing the stress of the holidays? Check out UVA’s FEAP’s seminar on Tips for Coping with Holiday Stress on December 13th. Click here for more information and to register online! 

Rachel Parsley
Friday, October 13, 2017

Bicentennial Rotunda
Photo by Rachel Parsley

On October 6, 1817, Thomas Jefferson, then Rector of UVA’s Board of Visitors, James Madison, member of the Board of Visitors, and James Monroe, then fifth President of the United States, ceremoniously laid the Cornerstone of the University of Virginia near present day Pavilion XII.

200 years later, on Friday, October 6, 2017, over 20,000 UVA students, faculty, staff, alumni, and their family and friends, as well as members of the Charlottesville community, gathered on the historic Lawn to witness a birthday party of epic proportions.

The Bicentennial Launch Celebration that evening marked the official start of ongoing events to commemorate the founding of the University of Virginia.

I attended the celebration, along with my daughter. She is, at the age of five, a mini, self-professed Jefferson historian, so there’s no way she would have let me miss it! We were thrilled to watch the performances, hear the music, and witness such a spectacular presentation of two centuries of UVA stories. It was an absolutely incredible evening, which included a variety of culture, arts, history, and special guests.

A highlight of many in attendance was an incredible, projection mapping technology that brought to life some of the most influential events in the history of the University, right on the south side of the Rotunda.

Among it all, I was especially struck by one very poignant remark:

“We are the ink of a future yet written.”

UVA’s history, its legacy, and its future, belong to all of us. We are all a part of it. Whether we know it or not, the work we do, the discoveries we make, and the pride we show for our great University each and every day will create the stories that those 200 years from now will celebrate, commemorate, and ink into the indelible history of UVA, hopefully, with another big birthday party on the Lawn.

You can read more about the Bicentennial Celebration, and see pictures and videos, here and here.

Hoo's Well
Friday, October 6, 2017

Everyone has a friend that they love to be around because they are genuinely a positive person. Typically, we like to be around these types of people because when you’re around a positive and happy person, their mood and expressions will begin to uplift your mood as well.

However, current research is telling us that a positive attitude goes far beyond smiling at someone as they pass you on the street or feeling good when you have a good day at work. Yes, these things are still important – but it has been shown that when you see more joy, contentment, and love, you will also see more possibilities in your life and open your mind to new opportunities!1

Positive psychologists have seen trends that suggest positive thinking can build skills such as social and creative skills, as well as help individuals cope with times of stress and during hardships.2 A study at a hospital in Denmark found that patients with a more positive attitude/mood were 58% more likely to live at least five years longer.3

Consider adding a few of the following tasks into your daily life to increase your personal positivity:

Meditate daily
Start your morning off with meditation. Remember last month when we mentioned the book The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod? Well he, as well as many others, recommend starting your day off with a little daily meditation. Meditation is a great way to refocus, set intentions for the day ahead, and to reduce stress before the day even begins.

Write down daily positive experiences 
At the end of each day, take five minutes to write down three positive experiences or three things you are grateful for from that day. Check out the “5 Minute Journal” app for daily reminders and journal space right on your smartphone!

Help others
Studies have shown that people who volunteer tend to be happier than those who do not. Volunteering is a great way to give back to your community, spend time meeting new people, and get together as a family.

Schedule time to do something you enjoy each day and HAVE FUN
It is so easy to let our days fill with to-do lists, work, and chores. Focusing only on things you have to do, deadlines, and the obstacles in the way is a sure-fire way to get stressed, overwhelmed, and let negativity into your life. Instead, spend time with your family, play outside, read a good book, dance to your favorite song, or anything that makes you happy. Don’t forget to have a little fun!

Increase your positivity this month by giving back or getting involved. Check out the Hoo’s Well Schedule for volunteering events and ways to get active in the community! Visit the Health & Benefits Expo on October 11th at Newcomb Hall from 8:30am – 2pm for more ideas and activities to benefit your well-being.

Diane Ober
Friday, September 29, 2017

When I was in elementary school, there was consistent talk about how much things would change in a future work world as we eagerly anticipated timesaving technology and greater efficiencies. In my memory, we were assured that by the time I was an adult we would be working only 4 days a week, which meant of course, a 3-day weekend! Even in my 9 year old imagination, this sounded promising since it meant more time off to play, be with family, read, do errands, etc.  So even as a young child, I dreamed of a healthy work life balance.

Here it is, 30 years later after a lifetime spent in 9 am-5 pm careers, and a standard flexible, shortened or creative workweek seems more in its infancy than it was at 9.

Recently I read an article that gives a good overview of the consequences of continuing to insist on the 40 hour a week professional life. You can read the article from the online “Business Insider” here.

To me it is no surprise that in the U.S. (where we work more hours and take less time off than the workers take in any other developed country in the world) it took scientific research to begin to explore the benefits of more flexible work hours.

For example, K. Anders Ericsson, an expert on the psychology of work, compiles research on what is required to build expertise. Ericsson found that “practice makes perfect”, but only if we spend shorter blocks of time practicing. When pushed past shorter time limits we form bad habits that take away from our goal of perfection, i.e. social media, reading the news, chatting with colleagues, etc. (sound familiar)?

Of course, not all work is well suited to flexible time schedules, but I am encouraged that even large companies like Amazon (see article) are experimenting with shorter workweeks and finding employees responding productively and effectively.

This has been brought home to me in the last several weeks by talking to two professional millennials. One is my daughter who has a demanding community-organizing job and who consciously tries to keep her workweek at 40-45 hours so she has time for her personal, away-from-work life. Another is a young colleague who is dedicated to working a (negotiated) 4-day workweek because personal and family time is also important!

I applaud these young women and am excited to see the move towards a more flexible, and therefore more creative and productive, workweek.

Perhaps when their children are in elementary school there will be more options for creating a healthy work/life balance and the more balanced future we were promised when I was in elementary school will be coming more clearly into practice!