While seniors eagerly await their May graduation, an eclectic group of 26 Duke employees were able to swing their tassels to the left side of their caps this winter when they graduated from the Duke Leadership Academy.

Participants in the program attended intensive, day-long sessions once a month in which they learned leadership techniques and management skills. At the training sessions, they heard from guest speakers and participated in interactive activities.

"It was great to work with people from across Duke, people I'd never really meet otherwise," said Carl Weisner, senior director of the Duke Clergy Health Initiative, who was one of the participants. 

To enroll in the Duke Leadership Academy, which is organized by Duke Learning & Organization Development, Duke employees must be nominated by a vice president or a dean before undergoing a traditional application process. Weisner said he had been interested in the program for three or four years before finally being nominated in 2016.

The 26 graduates hold staff positions in departments across the university, including the Medical School, the Law School and the Alumni Association.

Tony Sales, an assistant director of athletics for the football team, noted that he benefitted greatly from sessions focusing on characteristics of a leader.

He said he also enjoyed the more reflective aspects of the program. For example, participants took a Myers-Briggs personality test and then used the results to better understand how their personality might inform their interactions with colleagues. They also kept a journal to document the program.

"The program for me was a great tool for self-reflection," Sales said. "What are my strengths and weakness? How can I maximize my strengths, and how can I work on my weakness?" 

At the end of the year, participants implemented the skills they learned by breaking into teams to craft solutions to complicated case studies. For example, some groups came up with solutions to improve mentorship resources at Duke, while others focused on challenges like improving the Duke transportation system.

Eventually the program, which kicked off with a warm address from President Richard Brodhead a year ago, drew to a close with a graduation ceremony at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life Dec. 6.

Sales said that he thinks the Duke Leadership Academy was a success. 

"Everything about the program was very beneficial and useful," he said.