Blog (filtered)

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

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.

Theran Fisher
Friday, April 14, 2017

As you read this post, I am in the middle of nowhere. Well, I’m somewhere, but that somewhere is over 2,000 miles away from Charlottesville and a mile in the ground. Presently, I am rafting my way through the Grand Canyon. I don’t say this to boast or highlight that I’m on vacation; I bring it up as a way of talking about perspective and rejuvenation.

I live a fairly predictable life. Some might consider it routine, others might call it a rut, but my day-to-day activities don’t vary all that much. For the most part, I don’t mind; after all, being able to anticipate my schedule and develop patterns of behavior helps to reduce decision fatigue. However, predictability can also result in a lack of creativity and critical thinking. It can make it more difficult to try new things and discover improvements to our work. Without a change in our routines, we can easily get locked into a certain perspective, making it difficult to recognize opportunities and generate new ideas. Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves and shake things up, and sometimes we just have to get away.

Of course, what getting away looks like is up to you. It may be as simple as taking a walk, engaging in a hobby, or talking with someone outside of your field. It might be spending time with friends and family, reading a book, or meditating. I personally enjoy being outdoors, and I have been reading about the benefits of being in nature to boost creativity and happiness. Ultimately, though, it’s about the end result, not how you get there. Research shows that even just taking a short break during the workday increases motivation, concentration, and energy.

I’m curious to hear how you like to get away and keep a fresh perspective on your work. Feel free to send me an email and let me know, but don’t expect a response until I get back from the river!

Theran Fisher
Friday, December 9, 2016

It’s hard to believe that 2016 is coming to a close. There seems to be a general disbelief that it is December and soon we will be taking time off for the holidays and to ring in 2017. Perhaps we have a distorted sense of time because our work has not slowed down – if anything, it is speeding up. Maybe it’s because we don’t feel ready for the year end. For me personally, I struggle to fully grasp the date on the calendar simply because this year has been one of continuous change; it’s hard to put a bow on that which you never fully got your arms around in the first place.

Now, I like change. I can see the opportunity in it and enjoy a challenge, so I do not wish to convey that 2016 has been a bad year. Quite the contrary, it has been a wonderful year full of growth for our team and has offered opportunities to celebrate each other’s accomplishments and transitions. Here are just a few of the highlights from the past twelve months.

New faces! Over the past year we welcomed Samantha Campbell, Rachel Parsley, and Jess Hench to our team. It has been wonderful watching them integrate with the team and add their voices to our work.

New opportunities. 2016 started off a little rocky as Tamara Fleming, the CLE’s previous Director, announced her departure from UVA. Tamara was instrumental in the formation of the CLE and a wonderful colleague and friend. Holly Heilberg was also a key member of the CLE who celebrated her retirement this summer. We were saddened to see both of them go, but are tremendously happy for them as they take advantage of new opportunities.

Shaping our future. More recently, members of our team transitioned to the Ufirst project team, working to develop the future of Human Resources at UVA. We are grateful that Leslie Andrus, Heather Humphrey, Diane Lahue, and Carolyn Cullen are still a part of the University and are working to make it a better place.

Professional development. Over the course of this year we have made an intentional effort to develop ourselves and our programs. We’ve engaged with our colleagues from other parts of the University in joint trainings, added new programs, and continued to improve existing ones.

A new look. This year we launched our new website and created new marketing materials. We continue to add new features and find new ways to reach our audience, like this blog, the Leadership Lab.

Of course, there has been so much more worth celebrating over the past 12 months, and we will take time to do so at our Team’s annual retreat. We’re also eagerly looking to the future and anticipating what 2017 will bring. I sincerely hope you will join us and be a part of the CLE’s year to come.



Heather Humphrey
Friday, October 7, 2016

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: It is in everyone’s best interest for me to abstain from karaoke, but if I make my way on stage you can expect an 80s power ballad or perhaps some 90s hip-hop. Consider yourself warned.

Q: What does leadership mean to you?
A: For me, leadership is about helping others achieve something they otherwise would not. Leadership can help others engage in new behaviors, gain new perspectives, and achieve what was previously unachievable.

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A: The taco vendor at the City Market. Hands down the best tacos you can get in Charlottesville.

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: Are kids an achievement? Whether they are or not, my two boys are certainly the greatest thing to happen in my life.

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: Its history, its willingness to change, and the opportunity created as a result. It is difficult to preserve the history of an institution as old as UVA and maintain its culture while also trying to innovate, but I find the tension created is full of possibility and excitement.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Vintage climbing equipment. I used to be an outdoor educator and did a lot of climbing. While I don’t climb often anymore, I still love the gear. I’ve spent way too much time (and money) on eBay searching for Chouinard Tube Chocks, Forrest Titons, and Lowe Snargs. 

Q: Why did you choose your profession? 
A: Like a lot folks in the learning and development field, I never set out to be in this profession. I’ve come to realize that I really like to help others develop new skills that allow them to excel at whatever it is they do and my role with the Center for Leadership Excellence allows me to do that.

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: Who knows?! I like variety and having new experiences so I try to avoid having a typical routine on the weekends. However, with two sons there is a high likelihood that a children’s museum will be on the agenda.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A: “If it’s not fun, it’s crap.” Perhaps not the most eloquent of advice, but certainly the most honest I have received. Given to me by a longtime friend and mentor, it has helped me maintain perspective and find the lighter side of life’s challenges.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A: I used to do reenactments and living histories of the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Era. As a result, I’ve lived in a teepee, made my own historically accurate clothing, and had really long hair.

Theran Fisher
Friday, August 26, 2016

The Center for Leadership Excellence focuses on development. It’s baked into everything we do: leadership development, skill development, and organizational development. Development is the most often used word in our office. Yet like everyone else, we get so wrapped up in the deadlines and details of our work that we let our own development slide to the bottom of the ever-growing To Do list.

But we are trying to be more intentional about our own development. We recently spent two days training with our friends and colleagues from the Health System’s Learning and Organizational Development team. We learned new skills, refined existing ones, and had fun collaborating.  We also gained valuable insight into what it’s like to be on the receiving end of professional development. Insights that we need to keep in mind as we continue our work of helping others develop, such as . . . .

  • Development can be scary. Practicing new skills and changing existing behaviors can be awkward and uncomfortable; especially when you are doing it in front of others.  Since our training focused on facilitation skills, we were constantly getting up in front of one another (and the camera!) to speak. Even for those of us who facilitate all the time, it can be nerve-wracking.
  • Development takes time. If you want to improve and learn new skills, you can’t simply read a book or receive feedback. You have to put in the time to learn, practice, and ingrain new behaviors. Stepping away from our offices for two full days was tough, but worth it.
  • Development requires focus. During our two days, my mind often wandered back to my inbox and the work that was inevitably piling up. In the afternoons I’d start to get tired and regress to old and familiar behaviors. I had to focus intently to remain present and learn.
  • Development is fun. Being around other folks committed to their own learning and gaining new tips and tricks is just fun.

We’re taking what we’ve learned and incorporating it into our work. We hope it makes a difference. We also hope you’ll take the time to focus on your own development and take part in one of our programs. We’d love to hear how we’re doing.