Western celebrates leaders’ commitment to learning

Western attracts many exceptional leaders and also strongly believes it can ‘cultivate’ leadership skills through the new Excellence in Leadership program. Recently, Western celebrated the learning achievement of 50 leaders in the program.

Run by the Talent, Learning and Engagement team in Human Resources, the program focuses on four leadership competencies: leading self; leading people and teams; leading programs and services; and leading innovation and change.

The Excellence in Leadership program offers the university’s 850 academic and administrative leaders special workshops, forums, networking and online resources. To date, almost 300 leaders have participated.

President Alan Shepard told the group that many workplaces still leave leadership development to happenstance, but Western approaches it with intentionality.

“Leadership is lived moment by moment everywhere across campus. We all recognize good and bad leadership when we see it,” Shepard said. “If we approach leadership with the belief we can develop our skills and progress our abilities over time with concerted effort, that will help our individual careers and help Western climb as an organization.”

Andy Hrymak, Provost and Vice-President (Academic), shared stories of his own first steps into an academic leadership position many years ago and acknowledged the pressures of work often make us feel we don’t have time for courses.

“People here have busy roles so it requires that they make a real commitment to continuous learning and growth,” Hrymak said. “If we do, the payoff will be substantial. Building communities of leadership practice is hugely important to Western’s success.”

An example, he said, is how Western was able to address the 10 per cent reduction in domestic tuition fees. “We addressed the change by leaders pulling together and working on solutions together. In good times and bad, it is critical that we ensure our leaders are engaged and that they engage their teams.”

Mariam Hayward, Knowledge Exchange and Impact Manager (Research Western), works to help our scholars move research in practice. She says continuous improvement is essential.

Hayward says one course in particular not only changed her own approach to problem solving, but also positively affected the overall culture of her whole team.

“The course focused on communication skills and offered great examples so we could actually practice these skills – for example, how to deal with a conflict with someone above you.”

“I took those skills into my manager role and it made a real difference. I shared the skills with my team, coaching them on the principles I had learned and noticed a dramatic difference in how my team members approached difficult conversations.  So that one course elevated the skill set across a whole team.”

Professor James Lacefield, Director of the School of Biomedical Engineering, says the Excellence in Leadership program is a positive sign that the university is working to develop its people this way, particularly in the academic stream. “For a long time, when you become a leader in an academic unit, there really wasn’t any training. We are taught to be researchers and teachers, but not necessarily leaders or managers.”

“It can be a stretch outside our comfort zones – becoming a leader in an academic unit,” Lacefield said. “These courses offer a much needed framework that means we don’t have to rely on trial and error. They offer a toolbox of resources to use rather than going on gut instinct.”

Rachel Halaney, Associate Director (Administration and Finance in Dentistry) at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, said, “I started taking programs as soon as I began here. I believe it’s foundational to what makes me (and others too) successful in our roles.”

“If I take away just one new thing in a session, or if it reminds me to be purposeful in my daily work, then it has been worth the time. I have my own deliverables, but with 75 employees, I really need my teams to all be pulling in the same direction. That means empowering people to do the work, to meet our deliverables. The investment I make in training is to make sure I am an engaged and thoughtful leader.”

Hayward, Lacefield and Halaney all agree one of the great benefits of the program is to come together and network with a broader group of academic and administrative peers. “These are people I likely would never have met otherwise,” Halaney said. “These are important connections that help me do my job more effectively.”

Mariam Hayward summed it up. “No matter your title, rank or role, committing yourself to learning is crucial to fulfilling your role and to being the best you can.”

To learn more about Western’s Leadership Competencies, and the programs available, visit the Excellence in Leadership website.