The Higher Ed Workplace Blog

A 4-Step Model for Leadership Success

Editor’s note: You may have missed this article when we published it in 2017. It’s been updated here with additional resources and related content.

What does it take to be successful as a leader in higher education human resources? Mary Lucal and Ron Tredway from the University of Tennessee shared their formula with attendees at the 2017 CUPA-HR Annual Conference in San Diego.

By following a simple four-step process, Lucal and Tredway say, you can greatly increase your leadership capability and earn the trust and respect of those on your team as well as others on campus.

Step 1: LEAD with vision and direction.
In order to lead effectively, you must have a clear vision and direction. Your vision must be compelling (so that others will want to get on board), and your direction must be feasible and meaningful. When Lucal was interviewing for the associate vice chancellor for HR position at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK), she laid out her vision for the HR organization during the interview process. “I had no idea if that was the direction in which the university was looking for HR to go, but I felt I needed to be clear about what I was hoping to do and how I was hoping to lead,” she says.

Step 2: ENGAGE stakeholders.
After Lucal was hired at UTK, her first order of business was to hold one-on-one meetings with all the deans, vice chancellors, academic department heads, budget officers and various employee groups across campus. She posed the same set of questions to every individual with which she met to get a sense of how the HR organization was viewed by others, where it could deliver at a higher level, what it was doing right and what it could do better.

After these meetings, Lucal engaged her senior HR leadership team, asking them the same questions and sharing the feedback she had received from her campus-wide meetings. Then she did the same with the remainder of the HR staff. “By engaging all of these stakeholders, I was able to get a clear picture of where we needed to make changes and how we needed to recalibrate,” she says.

Step 3: AFFIRM strengths and opportunities.
By taking the time to engage stakeholders and her team to understand what challenges the HR organization was facing, Lucal was able to affirm what was going right and what opportunities there were to improve. She then created a strategic plan to get HR “from there to here.” Cross-functional teams were created within the department (staff self-selected which teams they wanted to join) to focus on the new priorities, which also helped to break down silos within the department and facilitate collaboration.

Step 4: DEVELOP the talent.
Once Lucal developed the strategy for HR moving forward, she needed to identify team member strengths that would enable optimal solutions and develop that talent where appropriate. In looking at talent, she discovered that it was necessary to restructure the HR organization in order to accomplish its goals. Says Tredway, “Developing your talent can be enhanced by having a clear vision of your overarching goals and strategy.”

By following this four-step process, says Lucal, she was able to hone her leadership skills, make an impact, lead with confidence and get others on board.

Read more about how University of Tennessee is developing an internal talent pipeline to fill leadership and other roles on campus.

To learn more about leadership development and other timely HR topics, plan to attend this year’s CUPA-HR Annual Conference, to be held October 20-22 in Denver, Colorado. Register by July 12 and save!


The CUPA-HR office will be closed Fridays through August 20.