The Lasting Impact of the Advanced Leadership Program

 “. . . an important piece of ALP was “the ability it gave me to stop and think about what I wanted to do in the future–to consider my own goals and therefore be ready to pursue new opportunities.” –Judy Lawson


“It was very inspirational–the sense that you can expand your horizons and pursue your goals.”

Looking back seven years, Judy Lawson reflects on her experience as a participant in CEW’s Advanced Leadership Program (ALP). CEW has been offering ALP, a leadership development program for campus staff in middle management positions, since 2001 (when it was called the New Millennium Series). From this program has emerged a University-wide network of women leaders. We interviewed Judy Lawson, who serves as the Assistant Dean for Academic and Student Affairs at U-M’s School of Information (UMSI), about her experiences with ALP. Lawson participated in the program in 2005 and subsequently nominated two of her staff members as ALP participants. Additional staff members from UMSI have participated over the years as well. “UMSI’s support for this program has been phenomenal,” Lawson remarked.

Developing Leadership Skills

Through ALP participation, University staff have a unique opportunity to further develop their leadership skills.
The program, for which participants must be nominated and selected, begins with weekly meetings that include presentations by executive and senior-level University administrators and focused discussions on organizational development, supplemented by assigned readings and small group discussion. During the winter semester, each participant is responsible for creating an independent project that must engage the principles of leadership and systems change management. During the independent project phase, participants also receive individual and group consultation and support.

Planning a Career Path

What, we wondered, is the lasting impact of the Advanced Leadership Program? When asked about her personal experience, Lawson focused on two aspects of the program: the ongoing programmatic sessions and the individual project that she conducted. Through her participation in ALP, Lawson explained, she was able to find the time and space in the midst of a very busy job to reflect on her goals and priorities and to think “beyond her current responsibilities.” For many of those in administrative positions, the day-to-day demands of the job leave little or no time for career development or planning.

Although these managers are poised to move into positions of increased responsibility, they are not actively developing a career path at U-M. As Lawson noted, an important piece of ALP was “the ability it gave me to stop and think about what I wanted to do in the future–to consider my own goals and therefore be ready to pursue new opportunities.” In Lawson’s case, ALP had a direct connection to her decision, a year later, to enter the Ph.D. program in the School of Education’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

Lawson’s individual project focused on enhancing faculty-staff collaboration in master’s student advising in the School of Information. The project was successful not only in the short term, but in shifting the culture around academic advising in the School. For Lawson, it provided the opportunity to show leadership in a different way and to connect to the faculty with more facility. More than five years later, she continues to see more faculty referrals to both academic and career counseling services provided in the School and more consultation between faculty and student affairs staff regarding student issues and concerns.

Supporting Other Women

In the years since her own participation, Lawson has nominated other staff members for the program and has encouraged other supervisors in UMSI to submit nominations. Lawson recognized her staff as strong and capable women who were balancing work and family, addressing competing demands, yet clearly ready to develop their leadership skills. She supports having more women “gain awareness of the different roles and leaders around campus” the way she did through the program. Lawson noted that one of her staff members, Joanna Kroll, developed an ALP project that has now become a self-sustaining network of career services professionals from across the campus. Pointing to the difficulties that women in particular may face in finding the time to build themselves as leaders, she described ALP as “filling a real need for women on campus to get support and to discuss issues.” In addition, she noted that the network developed by ALP participation reaches across campus and occasionally beyond.

Networking, inspiration, dedicated time to consider career paths and goals, and intentional study of organizational leadership and change–all of these aspects of the Advanced Leadership Program make it a program with lasting influence on individuals and on the future leaders and best of the University of Michigan.