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U.Va. Seeks to Grow Culture of ‘Shared Leadership’ Among Employees

The term “leadership” doesn’t seem to go out of favor, but it begs a question: Can everyone be a leader?

Yes indeed, say those behind the University of Virginia’s new Center for Leadership Excellence, which has recently opened shop to provide resources to help all employees succeed in their careers, bringing together past training offerings while expanding many more opportunities.

The center, a key component in the University’s strategic Cornerstone Plan, is intended to encourage, support and provide opportunities for the ongoing growth and development of each employee, director Tamara Sole said.

The initiative is jointly sponsored by Pat Hogan, executive vice president and chief operating officer, and Dr. Rick Shannon, executive vice president of health affairs, and supported by University Human Resources. It is endorsed with the full support of President Teresa A. Sullivan and her cabinet. 

Below, Sole answers questions about what the center is all about and what leadership means for employees who are either individual contributors or managers.

Q. Why a Center for Leadership Excellence?

A. U.Va. has an intelligent, talented pool of employees capable of doing great things. The center works to support employees in developing both their talents and their careers by embracing the concept of “shared leadership.”

Shared leadership is not based on power that comes from title, position or organizational authority. Instead, shared leadership views each individual as able to contribute in significant ways to the mission of the institution.

We believe a shared leadership philosophy is more appropriate for the emerging way in which work occurs.

Q. What about those who are in supervising positions – how do you describe their role?

A. Leadership includes developing a sense of empowerment amongst employees. It enables them to take their careers in their own hands and continue to develop the aptitude and tangible skills to be effective members of our community. It means inspiring others to excellence and then stepping out of the way to let them do their jobs.

Q. What kinds of resources does the center provide?

A. The center provides a range of professional development opportunities – in-person and online classes, career and succession development resources, book club-like discussion groups and leadership consultation. A sampling of course topics includes leading complex decisions, managing change and negotiating through influence.

Q. And these resources are for everyone?

A. The center’s development opportunities are for all members of our community – staff and faculty. Attendees can choose from topics appropriate for individual contributors or for managers.

Leadership consulting services, including those to help managers consider optimal work structures and approaches, are also available.

The center serves all schools and units at the University and in partnership with the Medical Center.

Q. What’s coming up this fall?

A. The center’s future work includes creating an up-to-date list of development activities associated with the 15 job families that make up U.Va.’s job structure, tailored to job sub-families and therefore, as relevant as possible. Opportunities beyond traditional classroom instruction will be posted there and conveniently displayed.

A succession development pilot program, “The Cornerstone Program,” – the name is deliberately linked to the University-wide plan – is scheduled to begin in October. The program will be offered to an initial group of 20 to 25 staff members who vice presidents and deans have identified as high-performing individuals.

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