Morela Hernandez & Michael S. Barr: Learning leadership?

July 28, 2021 1:15:34
Kaltura Video

Capable leadership is essential in the public and private sectors, but we don't always think of it as a skill that can be taught. Why not? And if it is a teachable skill, what practical steps can a leader take to be effective, especially in a crisis? And, especially across people with different identities, backgrounds, and beliefs? Join us for a discussion of these questions and more, featuring Professor Morela Hernandez and Dean Michael S. Barr



Michael Barr: Hello everyone, and welcome to today's Policy Talks at the Ford School. I'm Michael Barr, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. I'm thrilled to be able to be in conversation today with Professor Morela Hernandez. Professor Hernandez is a professor of Organizational Psychology. Her work operates at the intersection of leadership and diversity. She is an internationally recognized scholar of behavioral science, a deep expert in this area, and she also happens to be a new faculty member at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. So welcome Morela.

Morela Hernandez: Thanks Michael. It's wonderful to be here and to have joined the team.

MB: Morela is also, in addition to being an incoming faculty member, the incoming faculty director of the new leadership initiative at the Ford School. We're very thankful to the Meyer Family Foundation and to the Tulsi Foundation for offering support to get us launched in this work. The Ford School Leadership Initiative involves additional courses, coaching and assessments, professional development, extra-curricular, co-curricular activities. And all of these are designed to enhance our students ability to lead in this complicated world that we're in now. So I'm thrilled that Morela is joining us. I think Morela is gonna get us started with a couple of questions for me and I'm gonna ask few questions of her, and we'll see where it goes from here.

MH: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MB: I should also say, after we're done with this introductory conversation, there's gonna be plenty of time for questions and answers. Questions from the audience. So we've gotten some of those questions in advance, so thank you very much, and we're also gonna take a live question. So it's very easy to send in a question. You can live chat us through the YouTube channel that many of you are watching on, or you can tweet your question to #policytalks, and we're gonna mix those in as we go. So, thanks very much Morela, and why don't you get us started? 

MH: Sure, and I would add one more thing is that we have a number of incoming students watching as well as the general public. So Michael and I will talk a little bit about the leadership initiative in particular and what we're doing, the exciting plans that are coming. But we'll also talk about leadership in general, in terms of our mission, public policy. So yes, I have some questions for you, Michael, hopefully, you can help us set the stage. Basically, why did the leadership initiative come about at the Ford School? 

MB: Morela, that's a great question. I think if you look at the history of the Ford School, we have, I think a very well deserved reputation for offering excellent quantitative analytic training for our students. And that's kind of, for me at least, the foundation of being a good leader is knowing your stuff and we definitely, definitely teach our students that. Over time though, I think it became clear that we were not offering the full range of opportunities that we wanted to for our students in terms of developing their leadership skills. And so what we've been doing over the last four years is building systematically those additional steps into the curriculum, additional courses on leadership, leading diverse organizations, public management, non-profit management, courses in conflict resolution negotiation. So we began to build up that side of the curriculum, and as we were building up the curricular side, we also said, "Well, other things needed to come into play too. It's not just in the classroom." So part of that involves things like Capstone courses and strategic public policy consulting courses to give students real-world opportunities to experiment with their leadership skills. And then lastly, as we'll talk about a little bit down the road, we've added on co-curricular activities, leadership assessment, leadership coaching, professional development, that's really integral to the whole package of suite of skills that I think students need in this area.

MH: Well, and I couldn't agree more and for those of us... For those of you watching, Michael and I have been talking about this leadership initiative for a long time, and it was really a pleasure to get to know the Ford School in particular in terms of all the activities that are already ongoing. And so really, I feel like I'm coming into the most fortunate situation. Standing on the shoulder of giants, in that a number of faculty have already made great strides in revising the curriculum to do what exactly what Michael is talking about. Really, inculcate the type of skills and experiences that are beneficial for leadership development. From my perspective, I think part of my mission in stepping into this role is to bring it all together into a cohesive, transformative experience for the students. So that from the moment that students get here and they're able to take, for example, an assessment, a leadership assessment to deepen their self-understanding that leadership assessment is essentially a snapshot. And can we provide them different periods of time where individuals in their experience, at the Ford School can reflect, can understand how they're growing and set their aspirations in a very intentional way.

MB: I think that's a great way of putting it, Morela, and we're super excited to have you. As Morela said, we've been talking about this together for a long time going back to when I first reached out to Morela to try and recruit her to the school. And once Morela was hired back in January, in February, she started right in on working with us on these new initiatives. So, I'm super excited to have her now joining us officially now in Ann Arbor.

MB: Morela, I might start in by asking you to reflect a bit on what we describe as leadership at the Ford School. So at the Ford School, we describe leadership as the behavioral process of having a positive impact on individuals, organizations and communities. And I'd say in our context, we're focused on that definition in advancing the public good, core to our mission. How does that resonate with you? Does that factor with what you think of as the core components of what leadership might mean? 

MH: Well, it resonates on several different levels, I would say. If it didn't resonate, personally, I wouldn't be here. And for those colleagues who are watching and know that much of my research is in stewardship when it relates to leadership. So really, how can we behave as caretaker of the resources that have been entrusted to us and think through the long-term implications of our decisions? To me, that's very close and dear to my heart. I find that the responsibility of leaders is so great in developing others and understanding how future generations will be impacted by the decisions that they make today, so on a personal level, it resonates completely.

MH: On a scholarly level, I would say, first of all I was impressed when I started talking to you Michael and others of the faculty, that the Ford School has a defined way of looking at leadership. Working with so many different organizations over the past 20 years, I can tell you that it is very rare for an organization to codify exactly what is leadership in this context and then put it into a definition that is used widely, and there's a consensus around it. So to me that signals that the values of the Ford School are strong, that they are consistent with how the school is run and that it's forward-looking and external-looking to the impact our students will have on society.

MH: So let me say, because in the scholarly work, I've done a lot of research and can tell you over the past 100 years, there's been very little consensus in how scholars approach leadership. Now over the past 20-30 years, there's been much more overlapping understanding that leadership is a process, and that very much is reflected in this definition. Leadership is a process of self-discovery and self-development, that is really a way of developing others, influencing others toward a common goal. And so it absolutely resonates with how we conceptualize leadership, and certainly on a personal level it's something that I admire.

MB: Thanks, Morela. Maybe we could take a step back. Sometimes when I'm talking to people about leadership, there's kind of a perception, "Well, you're either a leader or you're not. You can't really learn how to be a leader, you can't really teach how to be a leader." Obviously, that's not the approach we're taking in the Ford School. Your career is dedicated to the idea that maybe it's possible to teach leadership. So I wonder if you could reflect on why people have that perception and then maybe what does the research tell us about the question? 

MH: Yeah. And you know Michael, I get this question all the time. Can you teach leadership? Obviously, this is the name of this particular segment, is learning leadership. Because? [laughter]

MB: Question mark.

MH: Right. Because...

MB: Can you learn leadership? 

MH: Well, yeah, I can tell you yes. Not that it's easy but all worthy aims are challenging. And they take not only effort but consistent effort and discipline in developing the type of skills that we hope will get us where we wanna go. And so in terms of leadership, what we know from research is that, let's say, specifically, 30% of what we perceive as leadership are the stable traits and characteristics of our personality. And my original training is in psychology, and I can tell you that after our early 20s, our personalities are kind of set and so we're kinda stuck with what we've got for the large part, in large part but that's 30%. 70% of what leadership is perceived to be is what we choose to do with that 30%.

MH: How do we choose to understand our tendencies, for example, our propensity to act a certain way, and can we develop the choice to behave, perhaps, in a slightly different way? Because the role of leadership, which is one that is public and one that others are counting on us for, demands certain behaviors and certain responsibilities to be fulfilled. So that's what I mean by choice. So you can certainly, as many academics who are total introverts but majority of their job involves stepping into a classroom with 100 people, they can tell you that it might be a hard choice, but it is certainly a doable choice over time.

MB: A step up.

MH: Right, right. This is something you can practice. And so that's the core of how I view teaching leadership is that, it is a combination but ultimately it is a behavioral choice that we make in displaying specific leadership behaviors.

MB: Thanks Morela. We'll dive into some of the ways that you teach those skills in just a bit. How do you think about coming to the Ford School? The Ford School is a public policy school. You have recently been a distinguished professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. How do you think the transition will go? What are the reasons that attract you to be in the Ford School? What are the similarities and differences in how you think about leadership? Just a small little question.


MH: And it's one I've been thinking about quite a bit, in that it has been a big move. But I will tell you that at the University of Virginia, and the Darden School in particular, Darden School sets the standard for world class teaching in MBA programs. And not to give any sort of competition to our Business School at Ross, but I think many of my colleagues at Ross will tell you that some of the best teachers in the world are at the Darden School. And I benefited tremendously from mentorship and really being able to learn as much from my colleagues at Darden as possible regarding student-centered learning. This idea that what we're bringing into the classroom, it's not that I'm walking in with a set of slides and here you go, this is what we show students every single year. But the philosophy behind it, is that I'm gonna meet you where you are, and I'm gonna take you where you didn't even know you wanted to go. I'm gonna take you to that next level of understanding, of analytical development, of self-discovery, and self-inquiry, and do it in a way that is true to our values.

MH: And so that's what I hope I'm bringing here as a result of benefiting from those relationships. I think the other part that will allow me to contribute to the Ford School, and again, to contribute to efforts that are already ongoing, is that at Darden, I was... Course had essentially developed. The person in charge of developing the leadership curriculum for all incoming MBA students, both at what we would say are our MPPs, that's the Master's level, and the executive format, which is our MPAs. And what I can tell you is that I was fortunate to be with a group of scholars who were also experts in diversity, equity, and inclusion matters.

MH: And to my mind, not just because of my research, but I think probably also informed by my own personal identity and my own both personal and professional experiences as a Hispanic woman, is that leadership and issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion are absolutely intertwined. This idea of self-discovery has to involve understanding our personal biases, perhaps our blind spots. How is it that our experiences have evolved to create a lens through which we interpret the world? And most importantly to leadership, what are we missing, right? Can we have the vulnerability and the openness to understand that we all have blind spots and the learning orientation to approach and develop those skills that perhaps are hardest to develop for us personally. So I think this issue of integrating, issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the training and development of future leaders, and to do so in a learning perspective that is true to our students, their experiences, their aspirations, are things that I'm bringing with me to the Ford School. Now...

MB: Morela, that's great.

MH: Yeah. Sure.

MB: You can have... Go ahead. Did you wanna jump in? 

MH: Well, the only thing I would say is that... So the reason that I came... So it's a question I've gotten before. So if Darden was a wonderful place, why did you leave, right? Which would be the next question. And I would say, it's really hard to leave a place that... There's nothing wrong with it, right? It was wonderful. And back to this issue of stewardship, I feel a deep sense of calling to apply my skills and my perspective, and however I can help our students develop, in a way that will maximize the public good. And I think you can do that in private industry to a great extent. But given the state of our country, I could not think of a better place to apply everything that I can bring in, everything that I can learn from the faculty, the staff, and the students here at the Ford School, to improve the state of the world and the US in particular.

MB: Thanks Morela. There's a lot to unpack in what you've said. I'm gonna... No, it's very rich and deep and so I'm gonna pick a few things out, and maybe we'll have a little bit of a conversation around that. One of the really interesting things you said was about vulnerability.

MH: Yeah.

MB: I found in my own experience in leadership, this is an area that confuses people. A lot of leaders who are... A lot of leaders make mistakes because they think that they have to project an image of infallibility and all-knowing-ness, and they're not able to be vulnerable or to be open to other people's ideas or to admit when they've messed up. So I really resonate with that. I think it's absolutely essential trade of leadership. How do you help people understand that and develop the skills that are required to act on it? 

MH: Yeah. Well, so let me first say that, Michael, I've only seen you in person very little, but I've seen you in enough Zoom meetings where I've seen you display vulnerability with faculty, with staff. And I think that if we were to ask your faculty and staff, this idea of relatability and vulnerability are very much tied. And I... You might see me in Zoom meetings where I'm smiling, and it's because I'm like, "He's doing it!"


MH: So good on you. It is the most... I would say vulnerability, for top-level leaders, is one of the most powerful tools in their toolkit. It changes the dynamic, of not just the conversation but how you relate and interact with others, and I think that the more experienced, and the more seasoned you become, the easier it actually is to use the tool of vulnerability, in that successful people have made a lot of mistakes, and they're successful because they've learned from those mistakes, and they're successful because they haven't denied the fact that they've made those mistake, but rather they've embraced the fact that that was a learning opportunity. And so with age and experience and greater sensitivity to those times where we may not know everything, we're able to use that vulnerability. Now, for... So the other side of the spectrum, in my consulting and teaching experiences, I teach individuals who are in undergrad, and they're 17, 18 years old to individuals who on their fourth retirement or third company, and they're in their 70s and 80s, and they're still going at it.

MH: So I get to see the life cycle of a leader. And what I've noticed is that the younger we are, the harder time we have with showing vulnerability, and that makes sense in terms of where we are developmentally and in our career. What happens with our really bright students, both in undergrad and then transferring into a master's program, is that the world is really set up to reward our achievements. Right? I mean, even just... How do you apply to college? How do you apply to a master's program? We tell people what we have done, how we have performed, and you're an individual contributor in that way and that makes sense right? Because that's... You haven't been in charge of other people, necessarily. Now, what I find to be most interesting is that when we see individuals in particular, the master's level, so be our MPA and our MPP students, that there typically is a paradigm shift in how they are... And they not only approach, but really it's imposed upon and this paradigm shift that they no longer are individual contributors because that's not good enough when you're evaluated not on your individual performance, but in the performance of others. So when you're put in charge of others, it's not what you do, it's how do you facilitate the learning and the skills of others. So you can no longer be an individual contributor.

MH: That paradigm shift has to occur so that you're able to develop the future leaders of your unit or your organization or whatever it may be. So that vulnerability I think is hardest at that younger stage in our careers, but with greater sensitivity to leadership as a process and one that requires us to make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, it gets easier through those experiences.

MB: That makes a lot of sense to me. I'm sorry, I'm getting a little bit of echo. Let's see if we can get it out of the system.

MH: Yeah, so Michael, I'm gonna ask you a question, since we're talking about learning, what's been your biggest leadership challenge? 

MB: Morela, there's... Life has given me many opportunities to learn humility. [laughter] But I would say leading the school during this pandemic has been really, really challenging. I'm so proud of how the Ford School has done in the pandemic. It's been really, really difficult, though. It was difficult to work our way through it, to make good decisions to operate in the constrained environment we're in, and to keep everybody together, and I think one of the things that Ford School did exceedingly well is stay together as a strong community and I think I attribute a lot of that to our shared mission. We are really... Are dedicated to the public good and so our faculty pivoted quickly, our students and staff pivoted quickly to focus on how we all could help others, and I think that brought us together in a really important way, and it also gave us something to work on that wasn't worrying about ourselves all the time. And so I think we came through this really well. The other thing I'd say about it is, I tried to stay in really close communication with the community during the pandemic, and I do think that our communication helped. And back to our other conversation, I wasn't scared to be vulnerable, or I should say I was scared to be vulnerable, but I did it... I did it anyway. I did it anyway.

MH: Give us an example of the type of communication that you thought helped.

MB: Well, I decided when we pivoted... When COVID hit, and we pivoted to remote teaching and learning and work, for the rest of that semester to write an email every day to the community. Just checking in. A lot of it was not, do this, don't do that. Most of it was not that. Most of it was just checking in, and I try to let people know that it was okay to be scared or down about the situation that we were in but to provide maybe some strategies that people could use to cope with that, whether that's personal strategies, exercise, meditation, checking in with friends, or whether that's the kind of work we're talking about in terms of finding things outside ourselves to focus on. I think that helped, and it was very much a school-wide effort, so Associate Dean Paula Lantz was regularly communicating. Marcy Brighton, our chief administrative officer was regularly communicating with the staff. Susan Guindi, who runs our Student Services Division. And then others along the way, we had some kind of guest communicators who joined in too, and I think that level of communication was helpful in binding us together, keeping us together.

MH: Which is so hard to do when there's such a high level of uncertainty.

MB: Yeah, I think...

MH: You're dealing with a whole bunch of stuff, but then you're also communicating out as best you can.

MB: I think the important thing to do there, Morela, is to be honest and transparent about the uncertainty. Again, I think sometimes leaders make mistakes because they feel that the way that they make people feel better about the uncertain environment is to claim that it's not uncertain, that everything's clear. And that just... People really can't respond to that because they know it's not true. So you have to be really honest with people about the uncertainty and give them tools to cope with the uncertainty.

MH: Absolutely, and I...

MB: And I think that's pretty critical.

MH: Well, In psychology and organizational behavior, we always talk about this cognitive overload. And I think many of us, if not all, experienced some cognitive overload in the past year. And I love what you're saying in terms of being able to be honest about it. The extent to which we can understand everything that's going on, when our emotions are heightened. Typically, we turn into this sort of tunnel vision state. And you're...

MB: Which could be helpful in focusing us on problem-solving, so it's adaptive.

MH: Absolutely.

MB: But it creates other issues.

MH: But if you're stuck in that state and you're not able to make decisions because you don't have all the information, then that drives you into decision-making paralysis.

MB: Morela, we try at the Ford School, as you know, to focus on these three elements of managing oneself, managing others, and then managing organizations. And I think it's imparted, it recognizes that we lead from where we are. Not everybody is the CEO of a company or the head of a non-profit or the secretary of a department in the federal government. We lead from where we are. I wonder if you could say a little bit about how to think about leading from where one is, as opposed to this... Some people have this idea of leadership as, you're not a leader unless you are the head of the organization. And anyway, so I'd love to hear your thoughts about that.

MH: Well, I think this gets to the heart of leadership in that we... Leadership isn't about formal authority and formal powers. Not about title, it's not about position. What leadership is about is influence, and that's a very different thing, because you have the ability to influence others from wherever you are. And so in developing these leadership skills, what I often talk about is, you lead down to... If you have direct reports or you're mentoring others in a different and earlier developmental stage, you lead laterally to your peers. And I think the part that often gets ignored is, you also lead up. We often forget that our own supervisors or bosses or leaders are actually people that are figuring things out. Of course, we hope they have some level of expertise and background that makes them better positioned to make those big decisions. But if we approach them as individuals who are essentially there to tell us what to do, or there to constrain our behavior, or there to just be at a distance, we're missing out from the type of mutual influence that can emerge when we think about leadership as an influence rather than just a directive process.

S3: I can totally agree.

MH: So that starts yeah, that's how we begin to think about it.

MB: When you think about leading up in that way, as you said, there's leading yourself, there's leading your peers, but there's also this leading up. Can you tell us a little bit about how to learn from a good leader who you're working for, and how to help a leader who has management challenges? 


MB: Because you need to do both, right? 

MH: You do. You do.

MB: So how do you learn from a good leader, how do you help a leader who's not all that they could be yet? 

MH: Right. Well, I would say the first question is probably a more straightforward one, and I would also shine a light on the fact that right now, this summer, we've launched this coaching program. And it's been through Career Services... Jennifer Niggemeier was the mastermind behind it. And you said I started working earlier in the winter. I partnered with Jennifer to hire a suite of coaches so that our MPP students this summer could have individual personal coaching. So why am I telling you this? This is at the key of many of our coaching conversations this summer, is how do you learn from the individuals around you? And...

MH: And what it... What we know is that, really, development happens with three factors. One is you have to seek out challenges, and certainly at the Ford School, we offer our students a whole suite of challenges that they can take on. And the internship for the MPPs, that's a cornerstone of the program, and that is a challenge. They are stretching their capabilities so that they can further their ability to contribute the way that they want to contribute, post-graduation. And so to seek out challenges, they're doing it. Yeah, there is an approach with a learning orientation, so you have to approach these challenges as circumstances that allow us to adapt, to learn about ourselves. And the coaching component is so central to really facilitating the reflection that has to happen for students and others to learn.

MH: We have to be able to get away from the day-to-day of our job. And even if it's just a 20-minute conversation or a 30-minute conversation, be able to think about, what did I do really well? What I'm I proud of? What are the things that I'm still working on and am I making progress for that? Do I need to shift my focus or my strategies? That's... The learning is happening and it... Quite honestly to my great surprise, because these coaching programs are coaching programs that are typically very exclusive to private industry and top-level managers. But because of the generous support of our donors, our students have this gift of having the support they need to learn from the challenges that they're undertaking. And then, finally, I'd say feedback. Feedback is such an important part of learning from others, learning from our experiences, and as we near the end of the summer, part of this process is really taking off. I'm gonna talk to half of the group next week and then the other half the following week. And the process is really taking the summer experience, processing it, and being able to receive feedback from career services, from others, from their peers, so that it solidifies the learning going forward.

MH: So just putting a structure behind it, seeking out challenges, approaching those challenges with the learning orientation and getting feedback on that learning, are the components of development. And that's how our students and others can really get the most out of the interactions they have.

MB: That sounds really helpful Morela when things are going well. You have a good environment, and you can learn from it. That's super helpful. What happens if things are a little awry? How does a... How should a young person going out in the world think about what happens when the management they're getting is causing problems? 

MH: Yes.

MB: Is there a way for them to speak to their boss that can help their boss learn too? 

MH: Well, and so the second question you asked me is, if a leader isn't doing well, how can they improve. But let's take that...

MB: How can the young person help the leader improve? Yeah.

MH: Exactly. So, you actually can't change other people, the person has to make a choice to change. We only change our behaviors if we choose to focus on altering our actions, our attitudes, our interactions and so forth. From one of our students perspectives, you're dealing with a boss that is perhaps not a good leader. And I do, in speaking to students and clients, there is a difference between what makes a really good leader and a really good manager. Often times people are both. Those are roles we're both managers and leaders. Managers execute on a pre-determined set of tasks, typically on some sort of timeline or schedule. You're there to execute. With leadership, you're not there to just carry out a pre-determined plan. You're there to create, to generate. And so that generative activity is very different. Now, some of our students might have really good managers, supervisors that are managers, but terrible leaders. [laughter] Or vice versa, where an individual is all about creating, but they never actually execute. And so I would argue both are important. The short answer which many social psychologists and social scientist in general use often is, it depends, in terms of how do you approach that situation.

MB: That's a lawyer's answer, Morela, we use that too.


MH: Well, I am married to a lawyer, so maybe it's rubbing off on me.

MB: Right.

MH: So I think part of the coaching process is to individualize the type of advice and counsel to the student's experience. And so I think, again, it's such a amazing resource for students. If I would provide a blanket recommendation. This is going back to the fact that your leader is a fallible human being, your manager is a fallible human being, and they may not be doing what is irking you the most in an intentional way.

MH: And so part of my life philosophy and one that I transmit to the classroom is, you always assume positive intent, and if you are able to have a conversation with your boss, not as between intern and boss, but as human and human with respect and learn from that individual, what are they struggling with? It might be that they're not paying attention to you because their personal life is blowing up. Or they're dealing with 101 crises and those crises are confidential and they can't tell you about it. And so being able to give people the benefit of the doubt and approach situations like that is just, again, a blanket recommendation, that is good for life in general. One caveat to all of this, and I think this is an important caveat, is that there is a difference between a boss that's a bad manager or a bad leader and a boss that is abusive.

MH: In my field, you would call it abusive supervision. There's a line there where if it's impacting our students mental health, or if it gets to a point where it's beyond the scope of what we would expect, Jennifer, who leads Career Services here, is in touch with every single one of our students. And what I love, love, love, love about her and her office is that they're looking out for any potential red flags, so beyond sort of the normal scope of development, she is... She and her team are there to ensure that our students are being taken care of well. And so... So that's my caveat is, there's work struggles...

MB: There's a line.

MH: Yeah, but we certainly wouldn't want it to get to a point where our students are having a really terrible experience and from everything that I'm learning and have heard, those are exceptional circumstances and to my mind, they have not happened. But it's... As someone who worked in the late '90s at Enron as my first job... [laughter]

MB: So you saw the other way.

MH: I saw what happens after you cross that line and that was not a good situation, so it's always something I'm aware of and very vigilant to prevent.

MB: Morela, we have quite a lot of audience questions coming in...

MH: Yes, I'm seeing them.

MB: So I'm gonna weave those into the conversation. The first one is, how can we leverage leadership skills to foster a more welcoming and diverse environment that prioritizes the needs of marginalized people? 

MH: Yeah, such an important question. So as we think about environment, a context, part of the reason that teaching leadership and learning how to be a leader is important, because it... Is because what it allows you to do is to shape the environment. So we can talk about our own behaviors and how we interact with others and how do we see differences, understand differences, understand ourselves, understand how our own identities create different lenses. We can see that at sort of the individual and group level. Where leadership is such an important tool to my mind, is when you are operating within a system, an organization is a system, our environment is a system where you have inputs. And let's just say in any organization, you're being hired, you're being trained, you're being evaluated, that's what I mean by a system.

MH: Leaders have the ability to change the type of design elements. The elements of factors that allow people certain boundaries to interact. It sort of gives us guardrails on, "How is it that we do things around here, and how is it that we don't do things around here?" So codes of conduct is a really, really, I think, perhaps common and sometimes overused go to. Most importantly, it's processes that allow us to understand how to serve those that are not in the majority. And I'll give you a really specific example but it's an academic example. A personal example, so before I was at University of Virginia I was at a different university, University of Washington, and I had my daughter who is now 12 years old, and I remember asking HR, "What is the process for maternity leave?" And it turns out that because they had not had any women faculty of childbearing age...

MB: Wow. [laughter]

MH: They didn't have one and not for faculty. So I said, "Okay. Well, let's look at the staff policy, which is fair, with the exception that as faculty, we teach and we teach on an academic calendar and somehow pregnancy doesn't listen to this academic calendar." And so that was a process, and that was a spark to a conversation that led to some policy changes. And again, assuming positive intent, it's not that the university didn't want or wanted to exclude women faculty, but rather they were in such the minority that policies and procedures had not been developed for them. And from the minority under-represented category perspective, we think, "They don't want me here. I don't belong."

MB: Right.

MH: But from a leadership perspective it's, "How should I be more proactive? Not just with this issue, but with other under-represented groups where unwittingly and again, a benefit of the doubt, unwittingly, we are creating an environment that does not attend to some of the most basic needs and responsibilities that we have in this institution."

MB: Yeah, Morela, that's a great point. And sometimes it's policies and procedures and sometimes it's the lived environment.

MH: Mm-hmm.

MB: Yeah, we just went through the process of last year adding a gender-neutral bathroom and we're right now building a space for a... A lactation space and these are things that totally makes sense to have in the building but the building was not built with the range of people in mind that it should have.

MH: That's well... And again, it's a process. Evolution of our workplace. It's good to be making these adjustments and I think the responsibility of leaders lies in not sitting back and wait until these adjustments are sort of demanded legally or otherwise but really being proactive and future-oriented and thinking about, "If this is the type of workforce that I want to create. If this is the type of environment that I want to reflect."

MB: Yeah. What do we need? 

MH: What is my building [0:48:32.8] ____? Yeah.

MB: What do we need it to do? Yeah.

MH: Policies, procedures, the building looks like. All of that is super important.

MB: Let's grab another question here.

MH: Yeah, yeah.

MB: This one is actually near and dear to my heart because I am married to an introvert and have a couple... Two of my three kids have some introverted qualities about them. The question is... And you can tell I'm not an introvert. Here's the question. Extroverted traits are often associated with leadership, being outgoing, comfortable with crowds, etcetera but what do introverts bring to the table as leaders? 

MH: Yeah. Yeah, I actually think it's a misconception that...

MB: Me too.

MH: That Leaders are extroverted and introverts can't be leaders. So to be clear, let's think about introversion and extraversion in terms of where do you get your energy? Typically, that's how... In psychology, we start thinking about introversion and extraversion. How do you approach life in terms of where are you going to for your energy? And extroverts get their energy from other people. It's like solar cells and they're sort of receiving and absorbing all of this energy and introverts... And by the way, Michael, I'm much more of an introvert than I am an extrovert.

MB: I'll keep that in mind.

MH: I know, it's just... And people look at me and they're like, "No, you're not." It's like, "Yeah." My ideal Sunday is being in my garden not talking to people. [laughter] My kids who are 12 and 15, they often find me on the couch and they're like, "What are you doing?" It's just, "I'm just quiet. I'm just thinking." [laughter] So this idea that only extroverts bring things to the table in leadership, I think is a misconception when especially when we start to look at what are the foundational skills to be a leader and I can talk a lot about this. Let me just put three out there that are sort of anchors. They're building blocks. One is the thing that you started out with today, Michael, there's this idea of competence and expertise, and the fact that at the Ford School, we are so good at developing that expertise and competence, analytical minds. And that is not an extraversion-introversion type of thing. That is, do you know your stuff? 

MB: Right.

MH: The other, I would say...

MB: We used to have an expression, by the way, when I worked at Treasury. We have this expression, "What's your ratio of views to facts?" And if your ratio is out of whack people really just didn't wanna hear from you anymore. [chuckle]

MH: How does that hold up in academia, Michael? [laughter]

MB: We insist on it at the Ford School. That's the whole point of what you were just saying. You gotta know what you're talking about.

MH: Yeah, yes, for the students. Sometimes I tease my faculty colleagues about that. So I think with this anchor, that's part of what we have at the Ford School, and introverts are certainly no less likely to develop it than extroverts. I think that's a non-issue. A second anchor is, how do we develop relationships? And I think this is where the misconception comes in, in that extroverts will seek out relationships, but that... The number of relationships is not what leadership is about. It's... I always describe it as information gathering. When you develop relations like, "What do you learn about this person? What makes them tick? What do they love about their job?" A question I always ask people when I'm getting to know them is like, "Do you like your job?" Which for a lot of people are like, "I haven't been asked that." But it gets to... Yes, this idea of what makes someone tick. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? Can you deeply immerse yourself in who this person is and extraversion and introversion has nothing to do with it.

MH: An introvert with a careful approach to that information gathering is just as likely to learn about a person than an extrovert. So again, it's its depth, not breadth and then a third anchor that I would say is one that we are going to focus on with these curricular developments, even more so now at the Ford School is this ability to understand the context. Again, this system, because it's not only enough to know your stuff, to be personally capable. It's not enough to develop these strong relationships and really learn about other people, but as a leader, you need to take both of those components and put them into action. So as a leader, how do you put the right person in the right role? How do you develop the right process, given all of the dynamics that naturally emerge, especially within a political context? 

MH: Those nuances of how the moving parts are arranged and the levers that you have to move them. That's the contextual piece. And again, introversion extraversion... I think extroverts might go at it differently than introverts. Extroverts might go at it by learning from a whole suite of individuals, again, seeking out people, whereas introverts might think much more about different sources of information that are not necessarily interpersonally-based. But both get to the same place, those are skills that anyone can develop.

MB: That's great. Really helpful. Let's take one more question from the audience and then I got a final one for you.

MH: Okay.

MB: This question is, what leadership lessons are we learning from Simone Biles and others who are putting a personal mental health above their performance imperatives? And a further implication, are we gonna hear more about how to balance these issues in the wake of the pandemic? 

MH: Well, I think that's a question that's really relevant for you, Michael, in how you're considering re-entry of our students, because I've heard you speak already a number of different times in the past few months, as that being one of your primary concerns. The fact that there's a lot that's happened in the past year, and our students have experienced all different types of trauma. How do we attend to that? Do you wanna speak a little bit about how you're thinking... Through the tangible re-entry of our students in the fall? 

MB: Thanks Morela, yeah... Mental health issues, I think are... Have been an issue in the past, and I'm concerned about the mental health experiences that our students, faculty and staff have had during the pandemic. I know people have struggled, many people have struggled quite a bit during the pandemic. And there have been differential impacts on different communities. If you are an African-American person living in Detroit, your chances of getting COVID or knowing somebody who got COVID or knowing somebody who died from COVID are much higher, and your personal experiences would've been much different than they were for me living in Ann Arbor with my experiences. And so trying to recognize that there's been this differential impact of the pandemic on people, trying to be attentive to what people call a trauma-informed approach to support. So really, paying attention to people where they are, understanding the differential impact, focusing on issues of equity...

MH: Mm-hmm.

MB: Making sure that we are empowering people, to make choices that will be helpful for them in their path. Being very transparent about what we're doing. Making sure we're focused on trusted relationships. These are all elements of a trauma-informed approach that I think will serve us well in the fall. And so we're building that kind of scaffolding. We have been able to secure... Having a CAPS embedded counselor for the Ford School, who we share with the school of education. And that's been really helpful during the pandemic. That was something that was missing before. And we'll continue to have access to in the future. So those are some of the things where we're thinking about at Ford. And I do think this example of Simone Biles, who's just such a phenomenal athlete, the top... Easily the top gymnast... Certainly of her time, and who's performed at a level that no one has seen before. The feats that she's been able to do...

MH: Amazing.

MB: Nobody else has been willing to even try. But to be for her to able to understand where she is in her own space, and what she needs to be healthy, seems to me a really quite remarkable example, and I wonder whether you might offer some lessons from that, that others could build on? 

MH: Well, I think it goes back to a central tenet that we've been mentioning over and over this idea of self-knowledge...

MB: Mm-hmm.

MH: And what I have heard... Teaching hundreds, of hundreds of students over the past year, and the pandemic is that, it's been a really odd experience where in particularly in American culture, we go, go, go. And we're typically over-scheduled, and there's very little time for reflection. And there's even less time to understand how our experiences over years, change and shift our priorities. So for many people, the pandemic has offered this welcome or unwelcome opportunity, to be with themselves and think about. Am I good with where I am, right now? Or what are the things that are helping me? What are the things that are detracting from where I wanna be? And so this issue of mental health is really complex. Because trauma is a big part of it, but this idea of self-understanding is another part of it. I think if you are a student, and at the Ford School in particular, there's a scaffolding of support to help, I think in the broader public.

MH: There hasn't been the benefit of what an academic environment offers, which is solidarity, which is community, which is support, which is resources, and so that's been a really big problem. And in the workforce, we're seeing that people are not going back to work. There's a labor shortage. And it's not just that people don't wanna go back to work, I mean, they're collecting unemployments. That's a myth, that, that's gonna drive everybody to never find a job again, but rather, people are very contemplative about their lives at this moment and really thinking before I dive into something else, what is it that I wanna do? And I would put that in the mental health category and to the extent that we can self-discover, self-understand and take the steps to allow us to realize our potential. Those are all amazingly positive things.

MB: That's great, Morela. So, I think we have time for just for one last question, and we've talked a little bit about where we've been in the past, so we have dramatically expanded our course offerings in this area. We now have our Masters of Public Policy students taking the opportunity to have leadership coaching, anybody who wants it, with their internship. We have leadership assessments for our incoming students. I hope everybody who's listening either has taken it or we'll take the leadership assessment 'cause, really critical tool. Our undergraduate students are getting leadership assessment in their... One of their introductory courses is a core part of that. Where do you see the leadership initiative going? What are you excited about? I don't expect you to have mapped out the next five years, but can you share with our listeners some things you're excited about over the next year? 

MH: Yeah. I think there are a couple of, sort of buckets, one being that, what you're talking about are the offerings, the pieces of the puzzle that allow us to really formulate a comprehensive suite of skills or skill building opportunities. And I think that with now, every MPP student being able to have executive leadership coaching. That's amazing. The next step, which will be this upcoming year, and thank you, Michael, and thank you to our donors for making it possible, the MPA students will also have that opportunity. Career services is also doing a number of different... They're focusing on different initiatives to serve our undergrad students to provide the same type of feedback and support. And so the one bucket is like, we're gonna keep ramping up what's already in place and we gonna keep doing that so that we truly build toward a comprehensive suite of resources.

MH: And so that's one thing I think is so positive. That's great momentum that we'll capitalize on. A second bucket is the curriculum. And I think that this is just starting out, in terms of some of the major changes that we've made have taken effect during the pandemic. And as faculty come back, and we're able to actually see each other and interact informally, I've witnessed just how... The intellectual horsepower of our faculty. It's a pleasure. [chuckle] Every talk, every conversation, they're pretty amazing. And so as we come back into the office, the opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas, applying that to course development and really focusing on how do we take an interdisciplinary perspective to improving our influence over making this a more equitable world. How do we... Very much equip our students to become change agents toward that end. The faculty, I think, have so much to offer in that arena, and because we're just starting this, and we haven't been seeing each other, the potential upside is just amazing. So, that's a different...

MB: That's really...

MH: So, that's a different bucket, right? 

MB: Yeah. No, that's really exciting. I'm looking forward to having you in-person on campus and seeing what you do with the Leadership Initiative. It's really exciting for the school, and thank you so much for joining us today for this conversation, which has been a lot of fun.

MH: So much fun. Thank you, Michael. Thank you to everybody out there that's been listening and tuning in.

MB: Thanks, everybody. Take care.