They have different backgrounds and different career paths, yet both are equally passionate about the Leadership Development Program, offered in HR’s Organizational Development group, and both insist that it has been beneficial to their career.
Ruth Kuzaitis started working at McGill in the late 1970s and became a manager in the early 1980s. She acquired the skills of managing people and difficult conversations “on the job” as training was not readily available. Today, as a Faculty Advisor in the Faculty of Arts, Ruth credits the Leadership Development Program for developing skills through its learning cells and through the dynamic exchange of ideas that occurs in her LDP group. She is finding these new tools helpful in her work.
“I knew I had a natural ability for interacting with different people, but it was instinctive, not something I learned,” explains Ruth. “Although in my current role I don’t supervise people, I constantly interact with students, staff, academics and parents. I love what I do, and what I learned in the program has been extremely valuable in having those difficult conversations with my clientele: twenty-something bright, creative students in the Arts faculty.” She has completed a third of the program and looks forward to graduating in December. The way the program is set up makes sense; it is modeled on student semesters, starting with core courses and moving on to electives.
Dan O’Connell, IT Trainer for the Frontline Service in the Communications and Training group, studied in zoology, worked as a film maker and operated his own business until 2004, when he decided that the demands of business development no longer appealed to him. Dan graduated from the program last June. He too is enthusiastic about the program and its approach. “We learn invaluable life skills such as listening and effective communication, leadership and coaching. As a graduate of the program, I have taken on the role of mentor, so many of the courses were perfectly tailored to my quest to bring out the best in those eager to learn. For example, learning about emotional intelligence has taught me how to truly engage people. The leadership skills I learned have boosted my confidence and expanded my McGill network.”
Both give the program high marks. McGill is a learning institution, yet there were few learning opportunities for administrative staff to develop their management skills, until a few years ago. Human Resources recognized the need and developed a network of trained experts, internal and external, in every facet of professional development, to help managers and administrative staff to acquire the skills and capabilities to further their career.
Jane Reichman Van Toch, Organizational Development and Talent Management Senior Advisor, thrives on the experience of seeing people grow in the program. “I feel totally invigorated when people come up to me after a session, saying they didn’t realize to what extent this course could influence their behavior toward their teams.”
The University launched the one-year program last December, reducing it from 18 months to 12. Building on its success of the past five years, it will address a broader segment of employees. Participants can register for one of three streams, either as managers/supervisors, change agents or academic advisors. Through an integrated curriculum with hands-on modules, participants gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to lead in times of change. They increase their level of personal effectiveness, inspire and coach others and increase overall business efficiencies. “Our graduates learn to think and act more strategically and how to bring out the best in individuals, in teams and in the organization,” says Jane.
For Dan and Ruth, the journey has been fulfilling. They are both quick to point to its merits and how beneficial it can be to one’s career.
Ruth represents her Faculty and office on various committees and workgroups. “It is beneficial to the University for me to have taken this program and it is gratifying to know that the knowledge I gain assists me in all areas of my work; this program is like a laboratory of human behavior!”
Dan realized that different work settings require different skill sets, which has taught him to better appreciate other people’s approach to management. Managers deal with different issues in different units. “We all feel some degree of vulnerability coming in, but in such a captive setting, we tend to be more open, so the interaction is much richer. Confidentiality of course is de rigueur. It allows for a more enlightening perspective, hearing and comparing with what others bring to the table.”
Ruth and Dan are strong ambassadors of the program and both agree it is a worthwhile investment in time and energy. The program is making headway with about 45 participants per session, and a host of qualified candidates who would like to be admitted in the coming academic year. Information sessions will be offered by Organizational Development in June, and the next cohort will kick off this fall.
Some 140 participants have graduated since the instigation of this program about five years ago. This is leadership at work.