Positive Leadership: The Staff Series “A Larger Vision”

June 24, 2016

By: , Alison Davis-Blake

Although “Energizing the Positive Leader in You” was attended by staff at the Ross School of Business, where did the idea originate? Why did Dean Alison Davis-Blake endorse it? What outcome was hoped for? What follows are her answers to these questions, as well as her insights and reflections. I want to personally thank the Dean for the time she gave me to interview her but also for supporting an initiative that was different, definitely novel, and an amazing opportunity for staff at the Ross School of Business.

Alison Davis-Blake
Edward J. Frey Dean
Stephen M. Ross School of Business
Years at Ross: 5

1. Where did this idea of offering positive leadership classes for Ross staff originate?

This was not a stand-alone idea—it was part of a larger vision to create a positive work community. The leadership team discussed various options for how to develop an environment where staff at Ross are truly thriving at work. The Staff Involvement Group (organized more than four years ago) became part of this vision and has initiated several successful programs such as shaping the agenda for our All Staff meetings; launching the Classroom Observation Program; and sponsoring the Crucial Conversations training program.

As to who precisely came up with the idea, I honestly don’t remember, as I had numerous conversations with Amy Byron-Oilar, Chief People Officer here at Ross, and with the Staff Involvement Group. However, once the idea surfaced and was endorsed by Amy and the Staff Involvement Group, I knew that it could be a way to enhance the vision we were aspiring to achieve.

2. Why did you support these sessions? What outcome were you hoping for?

One of the four strategic pillars that identify Ross is “POSITIVE.” “At Ross, we develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world.” “Positive business energizes people and firms. It maximizes your potential and enables you to achieve your highest aspirations.” This philosophy is a broadly held belief and a vision that applies to the staff, faculty, and students. In order to live this mission, we recognize that leadership exists at all levels.

Our hope was that participants attending this series would understand what it means to be a positive leader. The individual specifics of a person’s position may vary, but we all possess the ability to be a leader even if we don’t have a formal leadership title.

3. Did you have any preconceived ideas about how this would be received or about the number of people who would sign up for the classes?

I had no pre-conceived ideas about the outcome; however, I did wonder if anyone would come. Sometimes “training programs” are not very well attended, so I just wasn’t sure how this particular opportunity would be received.

4. What surprised you the most about the staff’s response to offering these sessions?

I attended the final capstone session where the attendees presented their Integrated Maps—a visual depiction of the material they learned during the program that demonstrated their understanding of the material. The level of desire, engagement, and commitment to the workplace was remarkable. This was definitely not a series of training sessions; this was a series of conversations and learning experiences that were transformational for staff in the way they thought about their life!

5. What does a positive work culture look like to you?

A positive work culture is one in which everyone finds the positive leader in themselves. Having a leadership role is not a hierarchical position. It is a role where a person deeply cares about what they do and deeply cares about others. This person wants to be part of a high-performing team, and takes ownership for their work. They see how their role fits into the mission of the School and of the University as a whole.


These sessions provided an educational opportunity for staff at Ross to unlock power within that is latent—an opportunity to be engaged, contribute to the community, to do more and to do it well. This series is a living example of a positive result when people have the keys to unlock the potential in themselves and others.

If you would like to discover how to be a more effective and positive leader, we highly recommend that you read the book How to Be a Positive Leader: Small Actions, Big Impact, edited by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Spreitzer.

Positive Leadership: The Staff Series is a group of interviews capturing staff reflections after participating in the Positive Leadership Workshops.