Emerging Leaders at Lehigh Take Journey to High Performance

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Friday, October 12, 2018

by Hallie Fuchs '19


Every Friday afternoon, a reminder labeled, ‘recognition reflection’ flashes across Stacey Morrow’s computer screen. For Stacey (pictured at left), manager of a team of four in Development and Alumni Relations, this is a time to sit down and reflect on what her staff has accomplished that week and how she can properly recognize them based on their unique personalities. This practice stemmed from a conversation during Journey to High Performance, a new program offered to managers at Lehigh University across all divisions and areas.

Stacey recognizes that not everyone feels comfortable being praised in the same way. “I can congratulate one of my staff members in a meeting, and that public praise may be something that gets her excited about her work. On the other hand, I may have another staff member who would rather have a one-on-one conversation with me where I let them know that they’re doing some really great work and thank them for that.” Stacey says that she now thinks a lot more critically about the way she uplifts and congratulates her staff members for the work they do based on their individual personalities. “I try to carve out this time every week, even if my schedule is really crazy. I want to be deliberate about it.”

The 2018 Journey to High Performance Program was considered a pilot, and all participants were asked to promise honest feedback. Judy Zavalydriga, director of employee relations and workplace learning and performance, worked side by side with the Center for Business and Industry at Northampton Community College to construct a program designed for a cohort of experienced Lehigh managers. As Judy explained “This program provided an in-depth look at various aspects of leadership and management that went well beyond the boundaries of a crash course for managers.” The program was recommended for managers who might be considering growth opportunities at Lehigh or were looking to become better managers in the position they were already in.

Adrienne J. McNeil (left), Lehigh’s assistant vice president for community and public affairs, believes that a willingness to commit and immerse oneself in the program’s activities was a key prerequisite. “You have to be willing to participate and stay engaged throughout the entire process,” she said.

Adrienne’s role at Lehigh doesn’t lend itself to visiting the main campus very often, so she decided it was important to her to sit at a new table every session in order to expose herself to a diverse group of people. “I remember one group in particular was absolutely hilarious. They made me laugh, and we had a lot of fun together.” By stepping outside her comfort zone a bit, she was able to hear about some of the challenges that other managers face on a daily basis.

Adrienne wasn’t the only participant who took advantage of the opportunity to interact with new people. Ilena Key (right), assistant director, LTS Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, was thankful to be able to hear the struggles and victories of employees who worked in a wide variety of positions. “Because the program spanned over a full year, I was able to meet people from different areas and sustain those relationships.” In other one-day programs Illena has attended in the past, she recalls making connections with people and hoping to see them around on campus, but never having the chance to fully get to know them. “Here, I was able to develop a higher level of empathy for these people.”

Illena works in the Center for Innovation in Teaching and learning, a space for students and faculty to collaborate on multimedia projects and use cutting edge technology such as virtual reality. “I have an incredibly talented group of people working for me,” she said. “They need to know that their organization cares about them, that their boss cares about them, and that we want them to be successful. For me, the motivation comes from trying to keep them engaged.” During the Journey to High Performance Program, Illena discussed the difference between leading and micromanaging. Successful managers and leaders will give their staff the autonomy to work on their own and trust them to do quality work, but also be there to provide structure and assistance, if it’s needed. “It’s my tendency to get overwhelmed by everything that’s sitting right in front of me, but I’m learning to pick my head up and look outwards instead.”

As participants of the program learned, management isn’t all about sending emails, hosting meetings, and supervising staff.  Illena learned that it’s important to lead with compassion and connect with employees on a personal level. Participants joined conversations framed around understanding what their staff need to thrive in the workplace. “We talked a lot about trying to reach out to people, whether it’s a hand-written note or a little rock with a quote on it. Something that says, ‘hey, we are really happy to have you on this team.’ There are ways to encourage people that aren’t costly that will help sustain positive and productive relationships.” Managers that attended the program, like Illena, looked at various examples of leaders throughout history, analyzing their strongpoints as well as mistakes they’d made. This provided a significant historical context for some of the techniques taught in the program.

A new cohort of Journey to High Performance participants takes flight.


The 2019 cohort kicked off with a welcome from past Journey graduates.  When asked by this year's cohort for the highlight of their experience, the graduates put the connectedness and spirit of support they felt in an open and professional exchange at the top of their list. “As managers, we are aspiring to build that same trust in our teams," Judy reflected. "That doesn’t happen without first understanding how we can bring our best selves to work and how we can create an environment where positive things can happen. It takes commitment and discipline with a dash of courage to develop the art of delivering feedback that helps the other person, and ultimately, the entire team. That is what we consider the goal of the program.”  


For more information about Lehigh's career enrichment programs, CE@L, visit the Human Resources website.