Over 50 UI leaders met with athletics leadership to discuss building culture, fostering community, and finding common ground.
Monday, November 6, 2023

Often, time is the enemy of innovation for leaders. Busy schedules, situations requiring immediate attention, and looming deadlines fill calendars.  This can lead to a driven focus that doesn’t always lend itself to peer collaboration.  It is not every day that leaders from across our large organization come together as equals, learning from each other, sharing ideas on improving our institution, and working to find strategic solutions to the most significant challenges.

At the University of Iowa, continual learning is expected, especially from individuals in leadership roles.  This was proven on October 26, 2023, when top decision-makers from academics and athletics gathered at the College of Pharmacy for a 90-minute candid conversation on inclusive leadership. 

Led by executive officer and associate vice president Dr. Liz Tovar and associate provost for faculty Dr. Lois Geist, approximately 50 deans, associate deans, department executive officers, and campus leaders sat down with P. Sue Beckwith, MD head women's basketball coach Lisa Bluder, head women's gymnastics coach Larissa Libby, head women's rowing coach Jeff Garbutt, Will and Renee Moon head football coach Kirk Ferentz, and interim director of athletics Beth Goetz to discuss the three Cs of the UI campus experience: CultureCommunity, and finding Common Ground.

Opening comments by athletics leadership focused on how the three Cs are rooted in open communication, no matter how difficult the situation or topic.  This transparency sets the tone for organizational culture based on practicing their core values daily in every decision and situation.   Each panel member gave an example of how they have fostered a strong team culture but also gave insight into the difficulties a leader faces when having these challenging conversations.

Most of the time together was focused on small, candid, authentic discussions.  Each athletics leader was paired with ten academic leaders in five roundtable discussions.  Groups shared how they manage change, benefit from making uncomfortable conversations comfortable, and effectively manage up, down, and across peers in their organizations.

Key takeaways:

  • Leadership in academics and athletics are more alike than they are different.  While our teams and organizations can vary in size, the challenges each faces are very similar, and we can learn much from each other.
  • Being authentic is critical to gaining and holding trust in our organizations.
  • Communicating regularly and actively practicing our values builds a culture requiring less management because it maintains itself in practice.
  • Showing compassion and empathy as a leader is OK, and it authentically shows how much leaders care about their teams.
  • It is crucial to develop a culture that respects every individual in the organization; this allows everyone to do their best work as part of the team.
  • Taking the time to listen is more important than being the one to talk. 

The success of this time together led to the idea of holding similar events between athletics and academic leaders in the future. Discussing critical topics and sharing best practices builds a more robust culture, develops a warm and welcoming community, and embraces common ground across our campus.

What people are saying:

“I thought the Hawkeye Inclusive Leadership Conversation was perfect for our athletic and academic department leaders. The interaction was useful as it brought both of these areas together, and we all learned more about the challenges that each other faces.  It is plain to see that we are much more similar in our trials and goals than we thought.  It is obvious that The University of Iowa is very proactive in working on leadership styles and amiability across the campus.”

Lisa Bluder, P. Sue Beckwith, MD Head Women’s Basketball Coach 

"The collaboration between athletics and academic leaders was an excellent opportunity to share ideas and best practices for building a positive and inclusive culture. I appreciated the shared successes, challenges, and open dialogue about working together to make IOWA more inclusive and supportive for our whole community. I hope we can strengthen these collaborations with athletics.

Dan Clay, Dean, College of Education

"The Inclusive Leadership Conversation meeting was a great way to highlight that the principles of inclusive leadership are shared across disciplines, whether sports, medicine, or many other areas.  I loved hearing from and having the chance to interact with world-class athletic coaches on their tips and tricks for leading effectively and inclusively.  I hope this will begin more structured opportunities to interact and share best practices and innovative ideas."

Denise Jamieson, Vice President for Medical Affairs & the Tyrone D. Artz Dean, Carver College of Medicine

"The energy in the room was exceptional. The conversations highlighted common concerns and presented shared solutions. There was mutual respect and admiration across disciplines, and a willingness to listen and learn."

Dr. Lois Geist, Associate Provost for Faculty

“It is rare on a college campus our size to have these leaders all together finding common ground. Some difficult discussions led to transformational ideas on how our university can move forward together.  I cannot wait to see what we do next.”

Dr. Liz Tovar, Executive Officer for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Associate Vice President and Senior Associate Athletics Director, Student-Athlete Academic Services