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Developing Future Leaders

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Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

DU Leadership Academy offers professional development for staff and faculty


Developing the leader from within — that’s the goal for the University of Denver’s Leadership Academy. The six-month program is now in its second year of working with staff and faculty to provide professional and personal development.

“Authentic leadership is the essence from where leadership skills and abilities come from,” says Greg Giesen, manager of people development at DU and architect of the Leadership Academy. “It represents the foundation of every person and is a necessary skill set for leading our own lives and the lives of others.”

The Leadership Academy is limited to 15 participants and consists of half-day learning modules every three weeks, as well as discussions and practical application of leadership principles with an emphasis on self-awareness. The program includes presentations from leadership experts across the country, powerful activities that feature open discussion, one-on-one coaching and a group project.

“I realized that leadership is a process that involves continual self-reflection and the courage to step into the unknown, including the willingness to fail,” says Carolyn Sommers, assistant director of career and professional development at DU and a participant in the inaugural Leadership Academy. “I realized that I was capable of more than I thought, that we all learn and grow from our mistakes, and that as a campus, there’s nothing we can’t tackle when we get beyond our silos, put our minds together and mobilize actions toward the issues and ideas that matter to us.”

Sommers’ Leadership Academy team project produced the “Fish Out of Water” event. It has become an opportunity for campus community members to share experiences that left them feeling out of their element, like an outsider, or in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation.

“Had it not been for the coaching with Greg and the leadership principles I had learned, I don’t think I would have had the courage to bring this idea to my group and get their buy-in,” Sommers says. “It was empowering to realize we had brought to reality our vision and that our lessons in leadership had found a meaningful outlet.”

The Leadership Academy currently is seeking submissions for the storytelling event. The deadline is Friday, March 31, and would-be participants can RSVP now to attend “Fish Out of Water” on April 26.

Participating in the Leadership Academy also pushed Sommers to take on a new challenge. She decided to take a break from her day-to-day life and hiked the Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile trail across Spain that draws pilgrims from all over the world in search of something that can’t be found elsewhere.

“I had reached a personal and professional crossroads, and the signs kept indicating it was time for change and a recharge,” Sommers says. “It demanded a major leap of faith and energy to initiate the change and to let go of the security and safety that comes from familiarity and routine.”

Now back at DU, Sommers is using her experiences from the academy and her time hiking the Camino to help others. She recently had the opportunity to work with staff and faculty participating in the current academy.

“My experience was transformative because it ignited a deeper self-awareness around my strengths, challenges and personality and how those dimensions impact the person I want to be,” Sommers says. “I am honored to have the chance to use these reflections and insights to support the newest members.”