Leadership Lab

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

Theran Fisher
Friday, December 2, 2016

The University is currently undergoing a multi-year project called Ufirst to optimize Human Resource solutions. This project involves all of the University of Virginia— the Academic Division, the College at Wise, and the Health System, including the Medical Center, University Physicians Group (UPG), and the School of Medicine. While Ufirst began in 2015, several members of the Center for Leadership Excellence have recently transitioned to roles with the Ufirst Project Team.

In October, Heather Humphrey joined the Ufirst Communications and Change Management team. Heather has been involved with the Ufirst Project since the beginning, and so it was only fitting that she continue her work in a full-time role. Leslie Andrus transitioned to the project just this week and will be working on the Talent Management Team. Also on the Talent Management Team is Carolyn Cullen, who will be working in a part-time capacity while continuing to run the Cornerstone Program with the CLE. And lastly, Diane Lahue will be transitioning at the start of the new year to the Technology Team and working on the new Learning Management System (LMS).

Needless to say, the transition of Heather, Leslie, Carolyn, and Diane has a significant impact on the CLE. The rest of the team is working hard to continue providing the UVA community with leadership development opportunities and to find innovative ways to do so. Fortunately for everyone, those working on the Ufirst project have not left the University, and we will be joining them sooner rather than later in the future-state of HR.

Of course, their transition does not only impact the work of the CLE, it also impacts the culture, mood, and feel of the team. We are excited for our colleagues as they begin their work with Ufirst. Their absence is felt in our office, but it is nice to know they are working to shape the future of HR at UVA.



Tonia Duncan-Rivers
Friday, November 18, 2016

Have you ever thought about how an action you take might impact your team and make a difference?

I had a conversation recently with someone who commented that her entire team could benefit from a training class offered by the Center for Leadership Excellence (CLE). Although not a manager, she mentioned wanting to address specific issues that were affecting her team. In her words, she wanted to “make things better.”

Well that’s all I needed to hear! I was eager to tell her about the CLE’s Organization Leadership Services and how we might help. She was quite surprised to learn all that we do (and you might be too!)

Did you know that we can design customized workshops to address your team’s specific goals and challenges? Whether it’s tweaking a current class to fit your department’s needs or creating a special session just for your team, we can do it! The best part? We come to you! We also do organization development to address strategic planning, team building, change management, and team effectiveness. We even offer coaching services to help you create goals or work through challenges. Our consultants also use a variety of assessments such as DiSC, Team Dimensions, and Peer & Partner for performance management and Benchmarks 360®. And finally, we do customized retreats! Imagine a fun-filled day of learning away from the office!

So what’s the important lesson here?

There is such a thing as The Power of One. The person who spoke with me after class shared our conversation with her manager, and I actually did a customized session for their team. Had she not stayed after class to talk to me and taken the information back to her manager . . .  well, you get the picture!

So you see, one person can make a difference, and you CAN too. I’m waiting for your call!

For more information about Organization Leadership Services and cost estimates for customized sessions, please contact Tonia Duncan-Rivers at 924-4320 or tdd3v@virginia.edu .

Larisa Hinton
Friday, November 11, 2016

I listened to an incredible violinist a few weeks ago. He played so beautifully it seemed like he was put on this earth for no other reason. I was mesmerized. It was at an outdoor festival during a rain storm and I was cold, wet, and hungry, but nothing was going to move me from the spot where I stood. I felt like the postman – neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night was going to stop me from absorbing the brilliance of this musician.

I started wondering, can you lead through music? Of course you can. Think of the role music plays at UVA football games. Before the kickoff, the Star Spangled Banner unites everyone in the stadium despite their team alliance. As the game proceeds, the marching band revs up the crowd with their peppy pop repertoire. And then there’s the Good Old Song, set to the music of Auld Lang Syne. It’s reserved for when UVA scores, and it spurs Hoos on to embrace, sing, sway, and celebrate. Music literally leads the crowd to act as a team.

Music at church, weddings, and funerals lead us to rejoice, celebrate, and mourn. Songs can even inspire people to stand together in the face of adversity. A powerful example is the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights movement, “We Shall Overcome.”

I believe music has the power to uplift you, motivate you, inspire you, and lead you.

Music can change the world because it can change people. – Bono

Nicky Sanders of the Steep Canyon Rangers

Samantha Campbell
Friday, November 4, 2016

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
A: I can’t carry a tune, but I can sing the 50 states in alphabetical order!

Q: What does leadership mean to you? 
A: Vision combined with action and strategy combined with tactics.

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
A: Tough question! Duner’s is certainly at the top of the list.

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
A: Raising my stepdaughter when she was a teenager.

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
A: 1) When the ice cream truck comes to the UHR parking lot! 2) My smart teammates 3) Knowing that our work is making a difference for our fellow colleagues at UVA.

Q: Do you collect anything?
A: Demitasse. I have most of my great grandmother’s collection and a few of my own.

Q: Why did you choose your profession?  
A: I’d never been so energized and fulfilled as I was the first time I facilitated training. I wanted that all the time!

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
A: So many great things to do here! Errands often take a back seat to Bold Rock or one of the 151 breweries.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
A: Trust your instincts, always.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A: I would like to become a wedding officiant some day.




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!

Jess Hench
Friday, October 21, 2016

If you missed last week's post, check out Part I.

Team Challenge or Pressure Test?

On MasterChef, the contestants often have to participate in a Team Challenge in which they are divided into two teams, Red and Blue, to compete against each other. A Captain is chosen for each team, and the Captains then choose their teammates. The teams need to prepare a meal in a challenging setting, often for high-status guests. The Captains cook alongside their teammates, and there is often a lot of yelling and swearing and even crying as they all work hard to meet the challenge. Ultimately, one team is selected as the winner of the challenge.

But after the challenge is when an interesting twist occurs. The Red and Blue teams worked hard to overcome obstacles and perform together as a team. Yet once the winning team is chosen, the members of the losing team then have to turn against each other and compete in a Pressure Test.  This is a short and difficult challenge in which they have to make a dish that requires technical skill, like a soufflé or a perfect éclair. As a result of the Pressure Test, one contestant is asked to remove his or her apron and leave the kitchen, eliminated from the competition. 

Once again, these challenges make me think about human dynamics we see in workplaces.  Think about your department or office. Is your workplace more of a Team Challenge or a Pressure Test? A well-functioning team should have a clearly designated Captain, in your case probably a manager or director. The Captain helps determine the strengths of each team member, focusing each person’s workload on what they do best, and helping teammates to overcome challenges as they arise. The Captain also works alongside the team, helping to accomplish the work and accepting responsibility for the outcomes. If you are a manager, do you lead like a Team Captain, supporting your team and taking the heat of the kitchen along with them? Or are you more like Chef Ramsay, yelling from the sidelines and keeping yourself at a distance, using praise sparingly?

The pressure test is a strange phenomenon that only really happens on a competition show. In our workplaces, we are not (hopefully!) in situations in which one person will be marked as the loser and eliminated from the team. But sometimes, workplaces can feel like a pressure test. It can feel like everyone is focused on their own goals and working on separate projects, each trying to be the best and outshine their colleagues. Hopefully in a university setting, our offices won’t feel like pressure tests, but there may be certain high-pressure times when they do feel that way.

As the leader, how can you re-focus your team so that the workplace feels less like a pressure test and more like a team challenge?

Jess Hench
Friday, October 14, 2016

My fiancé, Patrick, enjoys watching cooking competition shows like Chopped, Hell’s Kitchen, and MasterChef. I never used to have much interest in competition shows, but I’ve found that I really enjoy MasterChef. I like getting to “know” the contestants, hearing the witty remarks of Chef Ramsay, and seeing all the dishes the chefs create. But while Patrick is focused on which contestant created the best dish from the mystery box ingredients, I find myself looking past the dishes and cooking techniques to the human dynamics at work in the kitchen. 

Chef Ramsay as a Leader:

Gordon Ramsay is known for being a brilliant chef, but also a very tough cookie. He takes cooking very seriously, and he doesn’t hold back his opinions at all. He yells at the home-cook contestants, swears often, and expresses his disappointment openly. But when he’s happy with a contestant’s performance, he expresses that freely as well. He praises the chefs, laughs with them, and willingly admits when he is impressed by a chef’s dish. So what kind of leader is Chef Ramsay? 

Most leadership theories describe the use of task and relationship behaviors, with different leadership styles reflecting more of one or the other. Chef Ramsay is definitely your task-oriented leader, focusing first and foremost on getting the job done, and seeing that it is done well. A chef is no good if a diner has an empty plate or a dish they can’t eat; so the task must be accomplished. But while it may seem that Chef Ramsay is task-oriented to the extreme, we can also see that he does focus on relationships too. He encourages contestants when they are discouraged, pushes them when they are ready to give up, brings them down a peg when their egos get inflated, and pushes them to build on their strengths and improve with each step of the competition. I didn’t bother to watch the show before because I thought Chef Ramsay just yelled at everyone all the time, but now I understand that he really does care about people and want to help them reach their potential. In fact, he is actually a great example of a transformational leader. 

But…would you want Chef Ramsay as your manager? Does his leadership style have a place in a university setting rather than a fancy restaurant’s high-pressure kitchen? Do you like to be pushed to perform at your best, knowing that the manager is pushing you because he believes you have the potential? Or do you prefer a softer approach, someone who is more upbeat and cheerful and encourages in a gentler way? What is more effective?

Check out next week’s post: Part II!

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.

Leslie Andrus
Friday, September 30

You know it when you see it, but can you define it? Can you become it? Think of someone you know that has great leadership presence. It can be a manager, a colleague, an acquaintance, or a public figure. Pause now and jot down some of those characteristics. What did you come up with?

My guess is you listed some of the key characteristics of being a mindful leader. A mindful leader is one who is in the moment. They look you in the eye. They listen. They carry themselves with a peaceful confidence.  They are centered. Janice L. Marturano, Founder and Executive Director of the Institute for Mindful Leadership said, “Presence is a dynamic and fluid sense of being fully present in body, mind, and heart and knowing it.”

Are you still here with me now? Or is your mind wandering off to the next thing you need to do? Or to that noise you may be hearing from the other room? Stop. Take a deep breath, and come back here. Breathing is one of the keys to being mindful. 

In this complex world with multiple stimulations and competing priorities, we have to more intentionally work to stay present. Awareness of your breathing, body, thoughts, sensations, and feelings help you to achieve this state of being. Mindfulness helps you to de-stress, to focus, and to be a better you. People notice; you begin to exude leadership presence.

Are you thinking that all this is just a new age fad? Think again. Extensive behavioral and brain research is proving how mindfulness practice can help you succeed in many aspects of your life, with leadership being one of them. When you are mindful, you are less reactive and more creative, strategic, engaging, healthy, and vital. You can engage with others and help motivate them toward their goals.

If you are not already practicing mindfulness, take one small step and try it out. Perhaps try integrating the practice of pausing and taking deep breaths when you find your mind is unfocused. Over time, I’m confident that you will realize that mindfulness is essential to successfully existing in today’s world and to being an effective formal or informal leader.

Great leaders, therefore, are fully ‘here’ – they are present. Are you still here?

Diane Washington, Executive Assistant to the Dean, Dean’s Office, School of Nursing
From MyUVaJob.com

Lindsey Reese
Friday, September 23, 2016

Including and unleashing everyone in next steps. I know what you’re probably thinking when you read that phrase.

“Sure that sounds great in theory, but it’s just not practical.”

“That approach would never work in my department.”

“It’s inefficient and would take too much time to listen to everyone’s opinions and ideas.”

I’ll be the first to admit that some of those same thoughts ran through my mind five minutes into the workshop where I was first introduced to Liberating Structures. While I enjoy collaboration, I feel that it is sometimes over-utilized in the workplace, impairing our ability to make quick decisions and progress towards goals. I’m the type of person who loves to see results. So why would I want to potentially slow that process down by encouraging even more discussion and collaboration?

What I didn’t understand at that point in time, but quickly realized after experiencing several of the microstructures, was that Liberating Structures are not just brainstorming techniques or activities. They are powerful, adaptable methods, that provide the right balance between structured and unstructured dialogue. Liberating Structures distribute participation throughout an organization to allow all individuals to provide input, regardless of level or position. The microstructures can be used in a variety of groups to create impactful solutions for a wide array of challenges. One reason that Liberating Structures are so powerful is that they create opportunities for individuals to share ownership of a decision or an idea. Plus, they are extremely easy to learn and use!

It has now been almost two years since I was first introduced to Liberating Structures and I have successfully utilized them in many different settings including departmental meetings, project groups, and training sessions. My go-to microstructure is 1-2-4-ALL because it creates space and opportunities for every individual in a group to provide input. Ecocycle Planning is another great method to identify and mitigate inefficiencies and bottlenecks in a process. The What, So What, Now What? microstructure helps groups reflect on a shared experience and determine next steps together.

While Liberating Structures are easy to learn, their value is quickly realized through experience. Try them at your next meeting and see what happens.

Interested in learning more? Check out the abundance of resources on the Liberating Structures website or in Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless’s book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures: Simple Rules to Unleash a Culture of Innovation.