Leadership Lab

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

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.

Mark F. Dunn
Friday, May 12, 2017

During his TEDx Wilmington talk, Robert Staub delivered his learned benefits of exhibiting “Daily Acts of Courage.”  During the talk he shared that courage “develops the cardiovascular system of the soul,” mentioning that when we demonstrate courage, we give ourselves positive energy and expand our ability to do more.  As he shared the seven types of courage, I noticed that many of them referred to interpersonal behavior, which led me to think about the courage needed to manage relationships by effectively giving and receiving feedback.

During a recent discussion with a group of mentors, I had an exciting opportunity to discuss the importance of giving and receiving feedback as a foundation to building a culture of engagement and high performance.  Over my life and career, I have experienced many types of teams, some good and others not.  Each team has its’ own culture, and those that are positive all included opportunities for investment in both positive and constructive feedback. 

For many of us, delivering effective feedback is something that requires practice and repetition.  One must truly demonstrate courage and caring for the other person by entering that space with them to do this well.  To provide some structure the next time you need to deliver constructive feedback, here are some key steps to follow: 

5 Steps to Delivering Constructive Feedback:

Step 1: Show your intent is positive and identify a common goal

Step 2: Describe specifically what you observed and the impact of the behavior

Step 3: Ask the other person to respond (and listen with an open mind)

Step 4: Discuss possible solutions

 Step 5: Agree on next steps

During this discussion, one of the mentors asked, “What if the 1 on 1 conversation doesn’t work?  What if the person doesn’t respond?”  When this happens in my world, I gradually increase the intensity of my feedback until behavior change occurs. 

The Feedback Intensity Scale: (begin at #1 and progress as needed until behavior change occurs)

1. 1 on 1: You speak directly with the person

2. 2 on 1: After delivering the feedback privately, you bring a leader or someone of influence into the discussion.  Sometimes the individual may receive this better from another peer.

3. Team on 1: If negative behavior continues, bring focus to the team and develop team agreements on behavior that lead to success.  Often we spend too much time focusing on the 10% of a team that does not want to change versus the 90% that are committed to building a successful team environment.  Let the team’s behavior create an opportunity for change.

4. Organization on 1: The organization’s policy on behavior and performance will come into effect over time. The leader of the team will have a team that agrees to operate at a high level and will have many examples of behavior that is not aligned with both the team’s and organization’s values.

When I shared these concepts with the mentor group, they quickly moved into action, considering how they could help their protégés and teams develop.  Now that you have read this advice, consider the following:

1. How can you help your team move towards success by utilizing these feedback tools?

2.  What courage type do you need to develop to make #1 occur? 

3. Would you be willing to work with your team in creating an agreement to practice effective feedback?

4. What happens to your team if you do not demonstrate the courage to do this?  

Samantha Campbell
Friday, May 5, 2017

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: My “go-to” karaoke song is “Africa” by Toto.

Q: What does leadership mean to you? 
A: Leadership is knowing your strengths as well as your limitations. Leadership is constantly challenging yourself and striving to become better; teaching others as well as learning. Leadership is staying organized, remaining calm and positive and overcoming obstacles. It is asking good questions, contributing to a team in any way you can and thinking outside the box. Leadership is being a person others can look up to and learn from.

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A: My favorite Charlottesville restaurant is Tavola.

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: Without a doubt, my greatest achievement outside of my professional life is raising my four-year-old daughter, Charlotte Rose. She is an amazing kid and I am so very proud of the person she’s becoming!

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: I love the people I work with, walking the beautiful Grounds and learning about UVA’s rich traditions and history.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: No.

Q: Why did you choose your profession?  
A: Prior to my role as Training Administrator for the CLE, I worked in advertising, marketing, and communications. I was looking for an opportunity to completely switch professional gears, and become involved with an organization that would really challenge me and help me learn a variety of new skills. I have especially enjoyed my experience as a Grounds for Success Orientation trainer; it has piqued my interest in training and development, an area in which I hope to continue!

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: On the weekends, you’ll find spending time with my daughter, Charlotte, our dog, Lola, and friends or family. I like taking day trips, museums, going to the beach or a winery, and having a good cup of coffee while reading People magazine. I love listening to music, going to concerts, being outdoors, and watching movies. I also enjoy baking and trying new recipes.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A:  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A:  I am originally from North Dakota and saw the ocean for the first time when I was 22!

Rachel Parsley
Friday, April 28, 2017

I am a new member of the CLE’s Exceptional Assistants’ Network (EAN) Seminar Series group learning program. During the first session of the four-day series, we discussed how to develop a leadership presence and mindset.

For me, the biggest takeaway is that it is important to remember that the opportunity to be a leader is all around us, every day, and in many ways. You don’t have to be in a management or supervisory position to spearhead a project, suggest ideas, or contribute as a leader to your team environment.

When asked to define our role in the workplace, many of us would answer in a way that just describes the tasks we do, and in a way that doesn’t consider all things we do that are “outside of our job description.” These are the ways that we, consciously or not, set ourselves apart from our colleagues, and are the things that, in turn, make us leaders.

Simply greeting folks with a smile, encouraging them to do their best, collaborating with them, thanking them for their efforts, or offering your help and suggestions are small things we can all do to become  leaders. Actions like these can set the tone for someone’s entire day, or for their experience with your department. Whether your interaction with someone is their first, last or is ongoing, it’s your responsibility, as a leader, to make it positive and productive.

Leaders ask questions of themselves and of others; communicate assertively, yet effectively, and are active listeners. Questions could challenge, indicate empathy, ask an opinion, or ultimately, offer help.

Leaders express feelings and emotions properly. They let others know they are valued and important. They extend their appreciation, demonstrate a willingness to work with others, and offer trust. This helps build constructive relationships. Leaders also establish credibility: they do what they say they are going to do!

A leader acknowledges their own strengths and challenges. Most of all, leaders aim to be their authentic self, and reflect their values in decisions and actions.

To be a leader, you must be ready and willing to take on challenges. No matter what the situation, all it takes is the motivation to go above and beyond what is expected of you.

Check out the chart below: “What Great Leaders say to Highly Engaged Teams” for some simple phrases you can use to support and motivate others, contribute to your team, and take ownership of your work. You’ll be well on your way to living life as a leader!

Lindsey Reese
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Stress. The very word is enough to make me feel a little anxious and to get my heart beating faster. Let’s face it – so many of us feel overwhelmed by what we have on our plates. Personally, I feel like I’ve been going nonstop for the past few months trying to balance a full-time job, graduate school, family commitments, social engagements, and my own wellbeing. Many of you are faced with even more competing priorities and obligations. So how can we better manage stress in our lives?

When one of my professors recently showed the Ted Talk by Kelly McGonigal “How to Make Stress Your Friend”, it really hit home for me. I’ve always considered stress a bad thing. I’ve heard plenty about the negative effects that stress can have on your health and even on your relationships with others. I had never considered that a moderate level of stress may actually be helpful. McGonigal’s research shows that the way we view stress is actually what makes it harmful or beneficial.

Are you interested in learning how stress can help you feel more connected to others and can actually promote self-growth? If so, I encourage you check out McGonigal’s 15-minute Ted Talk or her book, The Upside of Stress.

Erin Erickson
Tuesday, April 25, 2017

April is Stress Awareness Month. Here are a few tips to help you de-stress this Spring:
  • De-clutter your space to create a calm, organized work environment. This will help improve productivity, focus, and stress levels.
  • Get moving! Exercise has been shown to help reduce stress by releasing endorphins, a feel-good chemical that will boost your mood!
  • Breathe! Need somewhere to go? Talk to your department about adding a Wellness Room for a safe space to sit down, relax, and de-stress.

Samantha Campbell
Friday, April 21, 2017

I recently watched a video that was part of the Supersoul Session series. It featured psychologist Shawn Achor, who talks about the science of happiness and the issue with the current formula for happiness and success. I was immediately interested in the topic, and pleasantly surprised with his quick sense of humor. (Although, I suppose someone who specializes in the science of happiness would naturally be funny!)

You may be familiar with this formula: “work harder = become successful = be happier.” It has been instilled in many people from a young age. Lately, I’ve been having an internal conflict with this way of thinking. Why do we need to work harder in order to be successful? Why does happiness need to be so hard to obtain? Now, I’m not saying that working hard isn’t a good thing. I worked hard to buy my first home, to raise my daughter (especially through the continuous and everlasting sleepless nights), to be good at my job, and to be a good person, but is that the only way to achieve happiness?

I started thinking: how is my life different when I’m happy? When I’m happy, I believe I’m enjoyable to be around. I’m much more inspired, creative, and productive, and things often come to fruition more easily. What would life look like if we followed our bliss and put happiness first? It would be a revolution of humanity as we know it, and I believe it’s starting now. We are stretching, pushing, creating, and growing our minds, and we’re changing how we function in this world. This stems from the urge to pursue greater happiness. It is bubbling at the surface, waiting to overflow from the cast iron pot we live in.

It’s a positive way of mind, and it’s extremely contagious. I love the “experiment” Achor did during his talk, where he speaks of mirror neurons and how easy it is to spread happiness to others. I’m interested in trying his 21 day challenge: every day, for 21 days, write down three things you’re grateful for and see what positive differences occur in your life. I’m going to give it a try! Will you? Watch the video.