Curiosity as a catalyst for leadership advancement with the UF Academy

J. Crayton Pruitt Family Department of Biomedical Engineering Professor Kevin Otto’s, Ph.D., professional journey at the University of Florida began in 2014 as part of the UF Preeminence program. With research interests in neural engineering, device-tissue interface and neurostimulation, Otto brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to UF. Curious about UF’s administrative workings, Otto joined the UF Academy in 2019, a choice he describes as the most powerful experience of his career.

Read on to learn how the UF Academy has significantly impacted Otto’s professional growth and leadership approach.

What motivated you to participate in the UF Academy?

Curiosity is one of my core values. Consequently, I was naturally curious about how decisions were made at the university and what my role should be therein. So, I guess you could say I was “administratively curious.” When the announcement of the UF Academy circulated in the spring of 2019, I applied at the urging of my Department Chair, Christine Schmidt, who thought I could have department leadership roles in the future. Following my curious nature, I explored the program and the alumni list. The overall balance of the program appealed to me, and I recognized my aspirational peers on the list. I was hooked and applied in May 2019.

How has the UF Academy impacted you at a professional and, if applicable, personal level?

The UF Academy impacted nearly every aspect of my approach to academe. I embraced the coursework offered through the Training and Organizational Development unit in the office of Human Resources. Not only did I complete the five required courses for the UF Academy program, I followed up to complete 19 total courses offered as part of the Supervisory Challenge program. Learning everything from Brene Brown to Steven Covey to Simon Sinek, I fully embraced this opportunity to earn my version of an MBA. I was captivated by the UF Leadership Model and how it was leveraged to build the curriculum of these courses as well as the base of the UF Academy.

Perhaps my most significant knowledge came with the understanding of servant leadership. Nearly every UF leader that we interviewed reiterated that “leadership is service.” This quote from Jack Welsh captures the shift in my mindset to a servant leadership model — “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.” As a dad, husband, mentor, teacher and organizational leader, I work to develop others, knowing that individual success is shared success.

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

The opportunity to engage and learn from the UFHR Training and Organizational Development team drove my development during the UF Academy. Working with Tricia Bachus and Irma Alvarez was a masterclass in guiding a driven, opinionated and busy team of future leaders to self-organize into a cohort of explorers. Taking classes from Bob Parks, Rebecca Younglove, Courtney Moon and others was inspiring, not only due to the coursework but also due to the phenomenal approach and passion to teaching that they each bring.

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

The biggest change that I have made to my leadership approach is to be values driven and unwavering in my commitment and approach to my team. Through clear and kind boundaries and feedback, I seek to help everyone develop along their interests and aspirational goals.

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

The UF Academy is a serious commitment that will return far greater return than the investment. For self-growth and truly understanding academic administration, I found it to be the most powerful experience of my faculty career.

Applications for the UF Academy are being accepted now through May 6.
Visit the UF Academy website to learn more and apply.