Blog (filtered)

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

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.



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!

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

Diane Ober
Friday, March 31, 2017

In November 2016, the Department of Facilities Management was awarded the Outstanding Workplace Education Partnership Award for the University’s GED and ESL program from the Virginia Association for Adult and Continuing Education.

As a partner and sponsor of this program, the Center for Leadership Excellence (CLE) was invited to attend the award ceremony and deliver an acceptance speech. CLE team member Diane Ober, who coordinates the program with Facilities Management and the Adult Learning Center, gave the following speech at the ceremony:

One of the students in our program contributed a poem that was published in the Thomas Jefferson Adult and Career Education Group 2016 book, Voices of Adult Learners. This is an excerpt from April Poteet’s poem Learn, Live, Life:

“Education will never leave you, betray you, or lie to you…It will be a reflection of what greatness you can achieve and who you can be.”

I am Diane Ober and I work for the Center for Leadership Excellence, which is part of University Human Resources at UVA, and here is our vision as stated on our website:

“The Center for Leadership Excellence (CLE) believes in the University’s culture of shared leadership – the idea that everyone is a leader, regardless of position. Whether you’re looking to develop your skills, your leadership, your career, or your team, we’re here to help by providing a large selection of classes and custom programs.”

One of the University HR’s vision statements reads “the University is a wonderful place to work if you want more than just a job: it’s a place to build a career, a place to make a difference.” We sincerely mean these wonderful words and we work very hard to make them possible for our staff; but many come to their jobs facing difficulty in “growing a career,” or believing they have the resources to move ahead in title, position or salary.

My goal and what I see as my most important job at the Center for Leadership Excellence is to help create, coordinate, and implement classes and workshops for the individual learner at UVA, wherever they are and of whatever status in their work world. With this intent and with support from the CLE, UHR, and Facilities Management, we are able to help coordinate what the Thomas Jefferson Adult and Career Education Group does, four days a week, for eight months of each year. This is to work closely with UVA staff who wish to improve their reading, writing, and English speaking skills and perhaps prepare for and take the GED exam.

I believe that for many employees, this is the foundation for believing in themselves, and having the confidence to plan career goals. If I can be a small part of that I have done my job. I thank Facilities Management and Susan Erno and all her staff and teachers for being a bigger part of it, too.  I’d like to close citing another employee/student Said El Hachimi El Idrissi. In this piece, Why is Education So Important?  he quotes former President Obama whose words beautifully reflect the work we are involved with and believe in:

“Every single one of you has something that you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide”.

Samantha Campbell 
Friday, March 3, 2017

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: A Scottish folk song called The Skye Boat Song, but actually I can’t imagine doing karaoke!

Q: What does leadership mean to you? 
A: A leader is someone who knows him/herself and team members well enough to let each person bring their strengths to the mission. Characteristics are compassion, caring, reading people well, intelligence, and passion.

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A: MarieBette and Bizou

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: My husband and I have raised our two children to grow into the wonderful, caring, smart, and thoughtful independent adults they were meant to be.

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: The history, the Academical Village, and the opportunity for exploring and offering my own interests and gifts.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Rocks from far off places that I or friends have visited.

Q: Why did you choose your profession?  
A: I have had several professions in my adult life. I am drawn to exploring whom I can be and what I can offer that makes the world a better place or makes an individual life better.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: Reading, watching movies, singing shape note music, traveling, being with my husband and pets, and visiting family.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A: Try to understand and accept people just as they are.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A: I love to dance really crazy!

Diane Ober
Friday, October 28, 2016

What does growing trees have to do with growing leaders?

I really like this photo of myself taken earlier this year when I was planting 600 saplings at my brother’s house. When I first saw this picture I thought, “This is also what I do at UVA!” Some might find that connection puzzling since I’m not on the landscaping crews who keep our Grounds beautiful. At the same time, it works because the mission of the Center for Leadership Excellence is to “grow” each and every one of us to be the leaders that we have the potential to be.

Seeing myself as a nurserywoman planting seeds or saplings is compatible with a style or theory of leadership that is known as “servant leadership” as defined by Robert K. Greenleaf. From my perspective, this style provides a quintessential guide for how to grow leaders. Here is a very brief description of servant leadership:

  1. The servant leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.
  2. A servant leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong.
  3. The servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first, and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.


Here’s a more granular analogy of implementing this style!

Planting Trees

Growing leaders

I want to have trees on my land

UVA employee is conscious that he/she wants to develop professionally or personally and is willing to engage

Healthy saplings and the space where they can grow

A team (the CLE) plans for professional growth and a promising staff ready to grow

People are needed to plant the saplings and must have good soil, water, sun, and care

People needed (the CLE) to offer great classes, workshops and services that appeal to many needs/circumstances of employees and teams

Trees grow and provide shade, fruit, oxygen, beauty, and so much more

Employees take classes, workshop, use services, and are able to share power, develop their (and others’) talents and skills, and so much more

Everyone benefits (with maintenance needed)

Everyone benefits (with maintenance needed)

I love that my role as a servant leader at the CLE allows me to facilitate the process of growing other leaders.

Do you want to grow? How will that happen? Can we help?


Recently some of our CLE team participated in the UHR Wellness and Benefits fair at Newcomb Hall where we encouraged attendees to enter a raffle by taking a selfie portraying themselves as a leader! The prize was a free online assessment that we use in many of our classes to help understand personality and working styles.

The winner of the DiSC assessment is RUTH DILLON (pictured below on left). She IS a leader!


Click Here to see more from our Leadership Photo Booth!