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Duke Leadership Academy Regroups with Lessons for a New Normal

The academy, which was paused at the start of the pandemic, resumes in a new online format with new lessons

A collage of headshots.
A few of the members of the 2020-21 class of the Duke Leadership Academy.

Roughly a year ago, the members of the 2020 Duke Leadership Academy class were just getting rolling. They’d had a few meetings, including the kickoff celebration with visits from Duke leaders and then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and put the program on hold.

But on a recent Monday morning, the class was together again, gathering through WebEx, examining the imperfect flow of information and ethical decision-making challenges at play in scenes from the 2000 film, “The Dish.”

Edward De La Garza.“I always enjoy hearing new ideas and learning how other managers and leaders at Duke go about trying to do their jobs better,” said academy class member Edward De La Garza Jr.,  director and postmaster of Duke Postal Operations and Campus Mail Services. “I was happy to get this training started up again and honored to represent the Financial Services division of Duke.”

Since 2010, the Duke Leadership Academy has helped roughly 300 Duke managers sharpen skills used to help and lead teams. The 27 members of the current class, which first met in early 2020 and restarted their work together in January 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic paused the academy for nearly a year, will experience the program in a unique way – virtually.

“At such a time as this, to continue this program, speaks volumes of Duke’s commitment to building leaders and finishing what you start,” said Regina Graham, associate director of Black Church Studies at the Duke Divinity School. “And it shows a commitment to us. We were invested and they are invested in us and helping us continue to grow.”

The year-long program from Duke Learning & Organization Development (L&OD), a division of Duke Human Resources, draws from ideas from the Fuqua/COLE Leadership Model and features coursework, coaching and individual analysis aimed at enhancing class members’ management and leadership abilities. The participants get a chance to flex leadership muscles through group projects that solve real-world issues facing different Duke units.

But in the latest incarnation, L&OD found a way to replicate the tight teamwork and chemistry that comes from in-person meetings in a virtual environment. To do this, organizers leaned on the experience gained from facilitating several months’ worth of online professional development courses and webinars for Duke staff and faculty.

Regina Graham.The new course material is tailored to leaders trying to help teams thrive in a work landscape that’s been reshaped by the pandemic. This year’s program, which ends in December, features coursework on topics such as managing remote teams and building accountability in a virtual work environment.

“We wanted to make the content relevant to the challenges our leaders are facing in this environment,” said Keisha Williams, assistant vice president for L&OD. “We cover a lot of standard leadership content, but we’ve also got to make sure we’re realistic about what leaders are grappling with in today’s environment.”

A year ago, as the threat posed by COVID-19 came into focus, organizers and participants of the Duke Leadership Academy agreed that temporarily halting the program was the right call. Virtual education was something somewhat new to both sides and, with work challenges shifting in radical ways, it was simply too chaotic a time to continue.

But the work of fulfilling Duke’s missions of teaching, research and patient care hasn’t stopped. So bringing back the program to help Duke’s emerging leaders hone the abilities they need to navigate current challenges seemed like an equally easy choice.

“Leadership isn’t just about what you do during the good times when everything’s nice, it’s also about when things are difficult,” Graham said. “The people that are participating in this particular season, we’re going to come out brighter and better than we ever imagined.”

Members of the 2020 Duke Leadership Class are:

Alyssa Perz, Trinity College of Arts & Sciences

Amy Orange, Duke University School of Medicine

Andrea Doughty, Duke Human Resources

Andrew Park, Duke Law School

Anna Li, Duke University School of Nursing

Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Duke Graduate Liberal Studies

Beverly Harris, Office of University Development

Carmen Rawls, Pratt School of Engineering

Christina Holder, University Development

Crystal Arthur, Duke University School of Nursing

Crystal Chapman, Pratt School of Engineering

Debra Taylor, Medical Center Development

Edward De La Garza Jr., Campus Mail Services

Heather Hughes, Duke Human Resources

Jeannine Sato, Office of Durham & Community Affairs

John Haws, Duke OIT

Katie Kilroy, Duke OIT

Keith Hurka-Owen, Office of Research

Lauren Chisholm, Duke University Hospital

Laurianne Torres, Duke University School of Medicine

Lydia Olander, Nicholas Institute

Michelle Maynard, Medical Center Development

Michelle Rigsbee, Office of Research

Rebecca Brouwer, Office of Research

Regina Graham, Duke Divinity School

Regina Nowicki De Guerra, Duke Graduate School

Sarah Fish, University Development

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