How to get ahead at UAB: Improve others, improve yourself

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rep thumb lamarca aldridgeAnthony LaMarca and Ashleigh Aldridge are two of the 29 inaugural graduates of the Leadership Edge for New Managers program. "The Leadership Edge program has given us a support system that looks like us and sounds like us and is experiencing the same challenges,” Aldridge said. Each year, roughly 200 employees move into “people leader” roles at UAB — taking on the responsibility of managing others, whether or not they have the word “manager” in their official titles. And no matter where they work across UAB’s vast enterprise, this can be a daunting transition. Even if you already have a working knowledge of ways to handle team conflicts, motivate others and write performance reviews, learning to manage the UAB way is a specialized skill of its own.

That’s where the UAB Leadership Edge for New Managers program comes in. Launched in January with a pilot cohort of 30 employees, Leadership Edge was created “to help new supervisors and managers — from inside and outside the institution — acclimate faster” to UAB, said Gerriann Fagan, organizational development manager for Organizational Learning & Development. In a series of in-person meetings and webinars during a five-month period, the group learned UAB’s leadership philosophy. They got hands-on practice with people-development strategies, team dynamics and communicating as a leader and learned to access resources for guidance on policies, procedures and tools for managers and leaders.

They also got to know each other. Leadership Edge is open to employees of UAB and the UAB Health System, which participants said made the program particularly valuable.

‘Intense focus on collaboration and personal development’

“There were many opportunities to work in teams that cut across the entire enterprise,” said Ashleigh Aldridge, communications director for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. “I learned a lot more about what happens outside my office and how other teams manage each other, from the hospital to academic units.”

“I definitely took away specific skills and management strategies, but I also took away a sense of interdisciplinary camaraderie,” said Bronwyn McInturff, who manages a team of fellow counselors in the UAB Addiction Recovery Program. “There was all this energy in the room.”

The Leadership Edge for New Managers certificate program includes 18.5 hours of in-person and pre- and post-program work. Manager approval is required to join the program. Register and see event dates and times online. To learn more, contact William Edwards at 934–6272 or

“There was an intense focus on collaboration and personal development,” added Shannon Harney, who recently joined UAB as a scientist in the Department of Nutrition Sciences from the Tennessee Department of Health. “You hear a lot about collaboration at UAB, and we really do it. It’s wonderful that UAB would invest in this — I haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else.” (Collaboration is indeed one of UAB’s seven Shared Values.)

Feedback like that has spurred Organizational Learning and Development to expand the program. There already are more than 35 people on the waiting list for the fall sessions, which will begin in August, said Organizational Development Specialist William Edwards. “More participants will likely be accepted in the fall cohort due to increased interest in the program,” Edwards said.

Making change

Leadership Edge participants say they were empowered to work toward solutions that reach beyond their individual units. On the program’s final day, the 29 graduating participants were put to the test. Working against the clock before their own managers arrived for a luncheon, they brainstormed responses to the issues most critical to their fellow employees: areas that scored lowest on the recent UAB Campus Engagement Survey.

Read more: 5 ways the campus engagement survey told us more is better

“You are where the rubber meets the road,” Fagan told the cohort at that graduation event May 16. “Managers are in the best place to make organizational change.”

Leadership Edge participants clearly internalized this message. Here are six of the top lessons they took away from the program.

1. Do your rounds

At UAB Hospital, doctors and nurses “round” on patients every morning. Every week, nurse managers do the same with their staffs (see an example of a rounding form below). They ask:

  • What’s working well for you?
  • Do you have the tools and equipment you need?
  • What systems are working or not working?
  • Do you have any ideas to address these issues?
  • Are there peers or departments that should be recognized?

Managers document the action steps they and their teams will take to follow up on concerns and obstacles and revisit them during their next meeting.

Depending on the size of the staff, the weekly timeframe might not be feasible, participants noted. The important thing is to do it regularly and honor commitments. “Rounding is a wonderful tool,” McInturff said. “It invites people to share and tell me things that are helpful to me as a manager and also points out threats I might not be aware of. I have several different responsibilities with the Addiction Recovery Program, but my biggest role is to support my staff so they have the tools they need.”

rounding image

2. Everyone needs to be accountable *

“I meet weekly with my direct reports to talk about what their main focuses for the week are and if there’s anything holding them back,” said Victoria Smith, associate director for the Office of First Year Experience and Students in Transition. “Then I say, ‘Here’s what you said last week, how did that go?’”

“One of the weaknesses I’ve observed in previous settings was in the ability of a manager to achieve follow-through with employees,” Harney said. “One of our homework assignments was to watch leadership videos for that same issue. One of the presenters focused on how to get a commitment from an employee — with a deadline — to ensure the person is now intellectually and emotionally tied to completing the task.”

“Accountability was an important theme for me throughout the program,” agreed Anthony LaMarca, assistant manager in the Financial Accounting General Ledger group. That can mean consciously shifting responsibility to others rather than doing everything yourself, he said. “In our area, we previously only had staff meetings monthly. I broke those up into two meetings that we have more often. I used to feel that I needed to do all the talking, but now I ask my team to bring items to the agenda and start the conversation. That has helped tremendously over the past eight months.”

*That means you, too 

It’s not just “holding your staff accountable, but holding yourself accountable as well,” LaMarca added. “You’re not going to gain the respect of your team unless you lead by example. Dive in to what your employees are having to do and don’t ask them to do anything you aren’t willing to do.”

One of LaMarca’s groupmates, Trina Walker, a monitor tech lead in Cardiovascular Services, put it in a memorable way: “There should be no big I-s and little U-s. No exclusions, all included.”

3. Get to know your team

“I learned a lot by sitting with people from around campus and discussing ideas and different ways to change things, particularly how to deal with different types of conflict and how to delegate,” said Rodney Harris, who manages employees in charge of telemetry in Cardiovascular Services. Harris leads or trains as many as 42 people at a time across three daily shifts, so getting to know each one wasn’t easy. But “by handing off pieces of what I used to do to others I was able to carve out more time to learn about my people,” he said. “It helped me particularly to focus on how I can make my employees know I’m thinking about them and make them feel better about coming to work.”

These daily check-ins let him learn when is the best time to interact with each staff member. “For some people, their attention or ability to give feedback is best in the morning, for others it’s the end of the day or end of their shift,” Harris said. If he has had a conversation with an employee about a particular issue, he stays to the end of their shift to make sure he closes out the conversation.

Read more: Here’s a guide to finding your passion at UAB

He also encourages his employees to think about the future and the present. “Many of them are getting ready to attend school here at UAB, and some of them are right out of school,” Harris said. “I tell them that wherever they are in their schooling, they should never stop learning. I’ve been doing this for close to 22 years, and I’m still learning something new every day.”

In her weekly check-ins, Victoria Smith makes sure the conversation is free to shift to topics outside UAB. “We discuss both work and non-work issues, because those things going on outside work can have a big impact on what happens on the job,” she said.

4. Keep the ideas flowing

“For me, the biggest takeaway was learning to manage up and not just down and across,” Aldridge said. “Knowing that, at UAB, my voice matters and I’m encouraged to use my voice. We often talk ourselves out of opportunities for fear of hearing ‘no.’ That’s something to remind our teams and ourselves.”

leadership edge gradsLeadership Edge graduates Kendra Thompson (left) and Laquita Graham (right) with their supervisor, Kathy Litzinger, executive director of UAB IT Business Operations, at the graduation event in May.“As a manager in this first cohort, it was clear that one thing we all have experienced is that diversity is a strength at UAB — and it doesn’t have to be limited to ethnicity or sexuality or gender: it can be ideas,” McInturff said. We need to make employees feel safe to be diverse in who they are and what they think.”

Several Leadership Edge groups mentioned the importance of “psychological safe spaces.” Collat School of Business faculty member Anthony Hood, Ph.D., introduced the concept in a workshop on conflict resolution in the workplace, which was based on his research. “That really resonated with many of us,” McInturff said. “We have all experienced psychologically safe and psychologically unsafe meetings. In meetings, I’ll tell my team, ‘I’m going to take off my manager hat now, what you tell me isn’t going on any report.’ Encouraging our teams to speak up and share opinions without repercussions, to lead with a sense of curiosity, can lead to increased communication, better development and improve retention.”

5. Help others grow

Throughout the Leadership Edge program, it was clear that as managers at UAB, “we should be focused on the growth of our direct reports, our programs and ourselves,” Harney said. “It’s the ‘servant leadership’ model, where instead of a top-down philosophy the leader’s focus is on taking full advantage of each employee’s personal strengths and goals. That was a heavy emphasis of the Leadership Edge program, and I think that’s unique to UAB. This approach really emphasizes the value of having a diverse team, from skills to knowledge, perspectives and backgrounds.”

“Every time I entered a new job, I looked at the requirements and expectations of the next job and created my own personal to-do list.”

Learn from UAB success stories in 3 habits of effective leaders, and 5 practices for career advancement.

How can a manager build that kind of team? One exercise that several participants mentioned was the 9-Box Model (see example below and download a PDF version here). “We considered each of our direct reports and team members and where each person fell on a combined continuum of performance and potential,” Harney said. “Going through the process highlighted opportunities for building skills in some employees, while recognizing the best fit for others. We came to understand that some employees enjoy the positions they are in and will be content to remain stable. Others will strive to build skills and either grow within the position or look to expand beyond the position.”

9box sheet

6. Engage your support network

“The Leadership Edge program has given us a support system that looks like us and sounds like us and is experiencing the same challenges,” Aldridge said. “Now I have a resource and have their phone numbers and can give them a call to say, I’m having an issue — how are you handling it? Can you walk me through how you streamlined this process?”

Are you looking to build your peer network? Registration is now open for the fall cohorts of Leadership Edge. But this isn’t the only opportunity to connect with others from across campus.

Leading at All Levels, a three-part, cohort-style program, is open to any UAB employee. It focuses on improving self-awareness, living out the UAB leadership expectations and applying communication skills for leaders. Cohort 3 begins July 9; Cohort 4 begins Oct. 8. See session dates and register now.

Management Fundamentals combines three in-person workshops with online learning to help managers hone their skills and become more effective leaders. Participants who attend all three workshops — Motivating through Performance Management, Giving and Receiving Feedback and Developing Others through Coaching — earn a certificate. The next Motivating through Performance Management workshop will be held 9 a.m.  Aug. 6. Register now.

Another offering from Organizational Learning and Development is the Innovation Network series. These are two-hour panel discussions in which UAB and UAB Health System innovators share what’s working in their areas and enable like-minded people to connect. The next event June 26 will focus on Service Excellence.

Leadership Edge inaugural cohort graduates

Ashleigh Allgood, School of Health Professions

Ashleigh Aldridge, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

J.P. Berthold, Advancement

Suzanne Choquette, Center for Clinical and Translational Science

Rhonda Corvalan, Center for Clinical and Translational Science

Pamela Cunningham, School of Medicine

Courtney Felton, E-Learning and Professional Studies

Chris Fisher, Health System Information Services

Antonio Goodman, College of Arts and Sciences

Laquita Graham, Information Technology

Shae Hall, Cardiovascular Services

Shannon Harney, School of Health Professions

Rodney Harris, Cardiovascular Services

Staci Johnson, Office of the Provost

Thomas Kaplan, Center for Psychiatric Medicine

Kathy King, School of Medicine

Anthony LaMarca, Financial Accounting

Bronwyn McInturff, Center for Psychiatric Medicine

Jennifer Newsome, Center for Psychiatric Medicine

Rachel Purser, Center for Psychiatric Medicine

LaShan Robinson, Financial Affairs

Kay Simon, University Events

Victoria Smith, Enrollment Management

Kendra Thompson, Information Technology

Shannon Turner, Alumni Affairs

Trina Walker, Cardiovascular Services

Morgan Webb, Transplant & General Surgical Services

Erin White, School of Medicine

Dawn Zink, School of Health Professions