Building a community of practice with the ALAP program

When UF/IFAS Associate Vice President of Finance and Administration Meena Thiyagarajah joined the Advanced Leadership for Academics and Professionals, or ALAP, program, she not only gained the skills and tools to strengthen her leadership skills, but also a community of practice comprised of cross-campus leaders.

Find out how the ALAP program helped Thiyagarajah become a more effective leader at the University of Florida.

What motivated you to participate in the Advanced Leadership for Academics and Professionals program?

My supervisors were very supportive and felt this would be a good step forward for professional development. After speaking to alumni on the curriculum and breadth the program covered, I felt this was a good step to build a network with cross-campus leaders and to get to know what effective tools each leader should consider as part of their “toolbox.”

How has the ALAP program impacted you at a professional and, if applicable, personal level?

Several points covered during the year nudged us to experience things or view situations through a different lens, which challenges us to evaluate areas for improvement. The tenets in two lower quadrants of the Leadership Model on generating alignment, and creating and communicating vision, were exceptionally valuable as we shifted to remote work following the University shut down due to the pandemic. I frequently employed several tools and suggestions to engage with employees and peers to stay connected. ALAP provided me with the necessary tools and skills to engage my team to align with the organizational goals and objectives.

ALAP also embodied several of the University of Florida’s core values throughout the program, but one key aspect that was well entrenched was the community of practice that this program develops and sustains.

Are there specific resources or connections you made during the program that you found most valuable and why?

I have collaborated regularly with a couple of my peers in the cohort on several initiatives. ALAP afforded me the opportunity to get to know them better as well. The networking and connected community that ALAP creates was precious as I could reach out and engage my peers for solutions that have helped streamline business operations in my units.

Another resource of ALAP that I continue to leverage is the leadership development learning agenda. Several components, such as the personal balance sheet and goal-setting exercise undertaken throughout the program, help align one’s identities with your skillset and ultimately aid with visualizing the specific goal you are committing yourself to.

How have you applied what you learned in this program in your role as a leader?

Human capital is our biggest asset. The pandemic has made us revisit how to invest, cultivate talent, create a sense of belonging and community, and build trust to retain a thriving workforce. Engaging regularly with our employees strengthens this connection and buy-in to the shared vision of the Gator Nation.

The other tenet I embraced was creating a climate that embraces psychological safety and mental wellness. People perform at their best when they feel comfortable, maintain positive mental health, remain agile to the dynamic needs at the workplace, and sense support from the administration. Organizations that provide an open environment for their employees to thrive and flourish are more likely to retain employees. Applying empathy and emotional intelligence to understand the circumstances of our employees, rewarding and recognizing them for who they are and what they do validates and acknowledges their contribution and role in the organization to promote a sense of belonging.

What would you tell a colleague who is considering applying to this program?

I would encourage my colleagues to add this to their career plans. Embarking on the program opens several learning opportunities and connects you with a like-minded community of practice. I would also urge them to contact ALAP alums who can share their perspectives on the program.

Applications for the 2023-24 Advanced Leadership for Academic and Professionals program are being accepted now through May 5. Visit the ALAP website to learn more and apply.

Visit the Leadership at UF website to explore more programs and resources.