Leadership Lab

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

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.

Carolyn Cullen
Friday, September 16, 2016

On Wednesday night, we hosted a reception at The Fralin for the newest executives who have joined UVA, plus Deans and Vice Presidents. We were lucky enough to see the Andy Warhol exhibit that night (it closes September 18th - so hurry before it’s too late!) and three things became clear by the end of the evening: we have very smart and talented employees at UVA; these employees are doing tremendous work that’s making a difference for our students; and creativity and innovation are all around us here at UVA.

I know we all know these three things, but how often do we actually take time to reflect and appreciate them? Time is a precious commodity, and sometimes it’s hard to find the time to explore what’s in our own backyard. But just as Andy Warhol impacted pop art, these newest executives are already impacting UVA.

I met folks from all areas of the University who bring dynamism, a different perspective, and big ideas to their roles every day. A few minutes were just enough to pique my curiosity about my own contributions. When was the last time I pushed the boundaries of my own thinking, let alone the impact of my role? That’s what Warhol did. He pushed the boundaries of pop art by taking iconic images and reimagining them. At the time, it was very cutting-edge, and it continues to be so today.

We know we already have the best of the best working at UVA, and these newest hires are reinforcing that standard. We impact our students – even if we don’t work with them directly – by the work of those who have taken great care of this institution over the last nearly 200 years. We are charged with preserving a tremendous legacy while at the same time advancing that legacy for the next 200 years.

What will your legacy at UVA be? Do we even think of our jobs in these terms? If not, should we?

Theran Fisher
Friday, September 9, 2016

One of my favorite aspects of my work with the Center for Leadership Excellence is helping others explore their personalities. Our personalities are our outward facing selves, the way in which our values, fears, and ego drivers manifest themselves in our day-to-day actions and preferences. Since leadership is rooted in self-awareness, learning about our personality is often a fun and easy way to begin developing our own leadership style.

Perhaps the most widely known – and misunderstood – aspect of our personalities is introversion and extroversion. The common misconception is that those with a preference for introversion are shy and don’t like to socialize, while those who prefer extroversion are outgoing and talkative. In reality, introversion and extroversion describe two things: how we prefer to engage with the world and how we recharge our psychological batteries. Those with a preference for introversion prefer to engage with the world through thoughts and ideas and recharge by processing information quietly in their own heads. Folks who prefer extroversion tend to engage with the world through action and recharge by engaging with others through either an activity or socializing. An over simplification would be to say that introverts think to speak, and extroverts speak to think.

I happen to have a very strong preference for introversion, yet my job requires me to spend a great deal of time speaking in front of others (i.e. extroverting), whether it be facilitating a class, leading a meeting, or guiding a conversation. I enjoy extroverting, and think I am pretty good at it, but as an introvert, it is mentally tiring. After a long day of facilitating, I need time to be alone and recharge.

Gaining a better understanding of what introversion and extroversion really mean and how different people express their preference can be hugely beneficial to your team. You can gain a better understanding of why people behave the way they do, what you can do to support them, and how to appropriately challenge them to either introvert or extrovert when needed.

Heather Humphrey
Friday, September 2, 2016

Next week, we will welcome Jess Hench to the CLE team. Jess is a Learning and Development Specalist and we are excited to have her. Get to know Jess below.

Q: What song would you sing at karaoke night?
“What’s Up?” by Four Non Blondes

Q: What does leadership mean to you?
Leadership is about discovering the potential in people and helping to unleash that potential. This happens by inspiring and encouraging people, helping them discover their strengths, and providing opportunities for them to act on those strengths so they can live up to their true potential. 

Q: Your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?
Brazos Tacos (mmmm……tacos….. what was I working on?)

Q: What is your proudest/greatest achievement outside of the professional realm?
When I was 16, I rode a bicycle from Seattle, Washington back to my home state of Connecticut. It took nine weeks, and we crossed about 4,000 miles. It helped me realize that I can achieve anything if I set my mind to it and put in the work to do it, and it became the first of many lofty goals that I set out to accomplish.

Q: What are three things you love about UVA?
My family has lived in Charlottesville for a long time, but I’m newly a resident myself, so I’m just getting to know UVA in a whole different way. 1. I love the way UVA is the hub of this community, providing events and opportunities for all residents of Charlottesville. 2. I love how beautiful it is, and I look forward to getting to know Grounds through the seasons. 3. I love how it’s a modern university, yet grounded in tradition.

Q: Do you collect anything?
I collect teapots.

Q: Why did you choose your profession? 
I have always been a teacher at heart, and I have taught in many ways in many places. I spent several years teaching elementary school, have taught college students. I have worked with adults in various training and learning settings, and I also worked as a teambuilding facilitator at a high ropes course. I love having opportunities to inspire people and to bring out the best in people. I am excited to join the wonderful CLE team and to work with members of the UVA community. 

Q: What are you usually doing on the weekend or during time off?
Spending time outside hiking, running, or gardening. Also enjoying the great live music and awesome food of Charlottesville. During longer breaks, I love traveling and exploring new places.

Q: What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Use your strengths to help others.

Q: What about you would surprise us?
A:  I’ve spent most of my life in school!

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.