Be True to Your Schooling

A former student and a team of educators share how The BB&T Leadership Institute’s programs elevated their leadership style.

Elisabeth Campbell-Wright

Recent graduate of Appalachian State University and The BB&T Leadership Institute’s Emerging Leaders program

One of the most important things I’ve gained from the Emerging Leaders program is increased self-awareness.

When I took the program while a graduate student at Appalachian State University, studying to complete my master’s degree in business administration, I didn’t understand my own leadership style. In fact, I had been asked, “What’s your leadership style?” during my graduate school interview. The question really stumped me. I just didn’t know.

At the Emerging Leaders program, I discovered I’m “a splitter,” which means my leadership styles fall into multiple categories. I scored equally in the director, coach and problem solver categories. I work well as a director because I focus on the project at hand and on getting it done, and I‘m data-driven (which explains my high problem-solver score). I’m a coach because I’m people oriented, and I love to help employees grow in their positions and reach their fullest potential.

I recently moved into my first formal leadership role, at Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge. I’m the manager of special projects and analytics and have direct reports for the first time. I think about what I learned in the Emerging Leaders program often, especially before meeting with direct reports. I have a deeper understanding of how each interaction with me impacts my team.

The Emerging Leader program has also made me very aware of the different ways I can approach meetings, such as whether a meeting calls for a strictly analytical approach or not. I am now more likely to go into a meeting with the data and an emotional story because the stakeholders need that combined approach. Because of The BB&T Leadership Institute, I not only understand the value of these two different approaches, I know when to use them.

I’m also more aware of how I lead and interact with my team. Thanks to the self-awareness and knowledge I gained through the program, my meetings are smoother and more productive.

One surprising outcome of the Emerging Leaders program was the result I received from the VIA Survey of Character Strengths. It helps you discover your leading attributes, and I was very surprised to discover my top attribute is love. At first, I didn’t understand how love could be a good leader attribute. Thanks to the program, though, I’ve discovered a lot of people in the military, for example, have love as their top attribute, because they care so much about the people they work with. This has made me realize it’s a strength that I care a lot about the people I work with while also being very focused on making sure the ship is running smoothly.

Jeff Wallace, Davie County Schools

North Carolina public school administrators and graduates of The Leadership Institute’s Mastering Leadership Dynamics, Leading Change with Purpose and other programs

Learning is a lifelong activity, especially for principals and school administrators. Fortunately, many of the principals and administrators of Davie County Schools, a PK–12 grade school district serving nearly 6,400 students in North Carolina, have participated in The Leadership Institute’s programs for educators and executives. Recently, we brought together a group of administrators, including Davie County Schools Superintendent Darrin Hartness, EdD; Associate Superintendent for Human Resources and Operations Jeff Wallace; Exceptional Students Director Jennifer Custer; and Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Jinda Haynes to discuss what they have learned from Mastering Leadership Dynamics, Leading Change with Purpose and other programs.

  • Team management: Sharing “a common language and mindset”
    The administrators and principals who have participated in The Leadership Institute’s programs now “share a common language and mindset,” Wallace says. “The Leadership Institute’s ideas always come back to us, such as ‘Beliefs drive behaviors, and behaviors drive results.’ We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘How can we shape the beliefs of our staff to realize the goals of our district?’”
  • Decision-making: Better decisions in real time
    Like other participants, Custer says The Leadership Institute programs have improved her decision-making ability. “As a teacher or principal, you don’t always have the desired amount of time before making a decision. A parent is standing at your door, and they want an answer right now. The Leadership Institute’s educators program gave me the tools to make better decisions in real time.”
  • Team optimization: Creating well-rounded teams
    Improved team-building is one of the advantages the Davie County administrators repeatedly remarked upon. “Before we approach a problem or when we have a new idea, we always think about building a complementary team,” Hartness says. “We now function more effectively as teams, and it’s helped us strategically approach problems and issues such as hiring.” Like every entity, Davie County Schools has made some hiring decisions that it regrets. “Now, we are better, as a team, at interviewing candidates, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, and understanding whether a particular person is a good fit with a team of teachers,” Custer says. “Consequently, we make better hiring decisions.”
  • Leading change: Transforming a school district
    Earlier this year, after a series of school shootings in other states, concerned parents besieged the Davie County administration and school board with phone calls about school safety. The lessons the administration learned from The Leadership Institute’s Leading Change with Purpose program were instrumental in helping them approach, assess and resolve this unprecedented situation.

Hartness and a team of stakeholders created a Safe Schools Task Force and established three top priorities for the district’s schools, such as securing every building entrance so a person would be screened before entering. Then came the really difficult task.

Hartness and the team recognized they needed to restructure the personnel in the front offices of each of the district’s 12 schools for their new safety procedures to work. The responsibilities of each school’s front office had changed dramatically, but the personnel had remained the same. A subsequent four-hour meeting between Hartness, his team and the 12 school principals led to a widespread restructuring of the front offices. It involved, among other things, 15 front-office employees being reassigned to different schools or new jobs. “Many of these employees had been at their job 5 years or longer,” Hartness says. “Some of them felt like they were being demoted, but that wasn’t so. We were addressing the safety of the students, and our decisions were made so we could accomplish what was in the best interests of the students.”

Today, the public-school entrances in Davie County are secured with new safety equipment and protocols. Only one of the 15 reassigned front-office employees has left their job. And the deluge of phone calls from parents has ended.

“The Leadership Institute programs are different,” Custer says. “It’s very seldom you have professional development experiences that stick with you, become part of your culture and change the way you work every day.”

Photography by Helen Cortez/EyeEm/Getty Images

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