The Leadership Journey Update

By: Sean McDonald

This past summer, nearly 1,200 alumni from across MOR’s leadership development programs responded to our survey invitations and shared, amongst other things, how their MOR experiences have proven helpful during the pandemic and what they were prioritizing over the next six months.  Your feedback is a gift, and we thank everyone who took the time to respond.  At MOR, we are committed to supporting our alumni in your lifelong leadership journey.  The insight provided by this survey is enabling MOR to craft a variety of new and evolved solutions to help you best meet the challenges of these times.

How MOR experiences have proven helpful

Three main themes encapsulated how participation in a MOR program helped respondents navigate the pandemic: relationships, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking.


Relationships are currency, and, for many, that currency has been indispensable during the pandemic.  This has taken two main forms: relationship networks built through the MOR program that are helping alumni help their institutions navigate complex and ever-changing realities, and the value of relationships to alums personally in helping them navigate and persevere through these challenging times.  In both cases, having colleagues who share the “MOR glossary” of mindsets, toolsets, and skillsets has helped.  Not everything revolved around existing relationships and networks:, the 4 I’s of initiate, inquire, invest, and influence were cited by many as a helpful framework to use for building relationships while socially distanced.

Being part of my campus community of ITLP grads before COVID-19 has paid big dividends during COVID-19. We know each other, trust each other, and have each others' backs. We have a shared vocabulary and toolkit, and I'm always getting ideas from other ITLP grads. I have continued meeting with my peer coaching partners during COVID-19. These are just some of the things that have been helpful. To list them all would take days!


Lisa Jansen, 2011 IT Leaders @ University of Wisconsin System Program


Emotional Intelligence

Making sense of pandemic realities over the past few months has elicited more than a few strong emotional reactions.  Survey respondents recognized this, and many cited emotional intelligence as a key toolset.  Comments touched on all five dimensions of emotional intelligence: social awareness of others’ emotional state, relationship management in the context of that awareness, self-awareness of our own emotional state and its impact, self-management of those states, and doing what we can to stay healthy so that we can most effectively lead.  Of all those items, staying healthy seems to be the most difficult for the collective community, given the increased demands on our time necessitated by the pandemic. Other, related themes that emerged from the survey included exercising the habit of mindfulness, being present (even though often virtually), and communicating effectively.

Emotional Intelligence and listening skills have been key at this time when people have all types of varying degrees of personal stress.  Understanding and acknowledging personal situations has been very important as we appropriately engage our staff and continue to manage our ongoing IT support to the University.


Elizabeth Dority, 2013 Advanced MOR Leaders Program


Strategic Thinking

While we are at times frantically moving toward action, we can’t make up in tactics that which we lack in strategy.  Getting up on the balcony was critical for many during this time, and many noted that it was a challenge to see the bigger picture when so much was changing so quickly.  For many, the three lenses have been an important framework to enable them to see the unfolding strategic, political and cultural dynamics of their institution—and how to navigate them in effectively leading change.  The theme of communication arose here as well: much more frequent communication with staff and other stakeholders is critical given the rapid rate of change.

I can say with certainty that I use my ITLP toolkit on a daily basis, particularly when navigating extremely complex political landscapes with multiple stakeholders with varying needs and agendas. Of particular note, I find myself constantly using the 3 lenses and I get up on the balcony frequently (mostly to better understand the context and needs of the varying Deans, Vice Provosts, Vice Chancellors, Dept Chairs etc...) to find resolution and viable paths forward at a campus level.  I feel that these approaches allow me to be an extremely effective leader and facilitator.


Blaire Bundy, 2019 BTAA MOR Leaders Program


Priorities for the next six months

As alumni describe looking ahead to the next six months, from the summer months into 2021, it is not surprising that all survey responses related to confronting challenges related to the pandemic realities and working remotely.  The three main themes that emerged from the data were: working remotely, prioritization, and COVID-inspired changes.

Working Remotely

While we have collectively grown accustomed to it over the past few months, there remains strong sentiment that working and leading remotely is different and requires new and evolved practices.  Alumni would like help in how to lead and manage remote teams, support and create community among staff, manage customer expectations, invest in relationships, define best practices and processes, maintain professionalism in a highly personal environment, leverage different tools, and coordinate asset replacement lifecycles.  While these are similar at the core to how they were handled in-person, there are differences that require new habits of intentionality and mindfulness in the coming months to navigate.


There is a collective feeling of being overwhelmed at times.  Demands are higher, including COVID-inspired changes as well as previous priorities.  Budgets and/or staffing levels have also generally been reduced.  In the midst of all this upheaval there is frustration with a feeling of lacking in clear direction.  The need for more robust prioritization is a strong area of focus.  Alumni would like to know how to better make strategic decisions to balance competing priorities, how to be more efficient, reduce waste and gain time. Some mentioned that a formal prioritization process would be helpful.  In addition to work-related prioritization, this also extends to balancing competing demands of work and life when the two have become more integrated than ever due to working from home.  It appears some number of us may be putting unreasonable expectations on ourselves given the extraordinary demands placed upon us.

COVID-Inspired Changes

While MOR alums strive to spend an increased amount of time leading and managing, alums have generally found the need to focus on doing in the immediate time ahead.  “The immediate had become the important” a few commented. The unknowns of the situation are making this more difficult, with an increased amount of scenario planning and what-if analysis as well as the ability to be agile and flexible.  Changes alums were and are leading involve new technologies, new health and safety protocols, new training for faculty and staff, and new support models.  These changes take varied forms in support of faculty and staff generally as well as specific solutions for the education, research, and patient care missions alumni collectively support.


Leadership, like any craft, needs to be practiced over the course of our lifetime.  Effective leadership begins with taking care of ourselves.  A number of folks have found setting aside time to get on the balcony or meeting with colleagues who have been through the MOR leaders program has kept the engagement going. 

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