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Celebrating 10 Years of NEAL: In Conversation with Shelley Craig, NEAL Coach

We had a conversation recently with Shelley L. Craig, PhD, RSW, LCSW. Shelley is a NEAL alumni from 2017 and an active contributor to the CFD and NEAL program as a Coach.

 Q: Thank you for your continued connection to the CFD as a Coach within the NEAL program!  What have you valued the most about your involvement in the NEAL program?

NEAL is truly a place of connection and growth for me. I really value the opportunity to learn about cutting edge and evidence-based approaches to leadership and applying them to my own work. I have so appreciated NEAL’s holistic approach – both as a learner whose own leadership skills grew though my participation as well as a mentor. I have learned so much from the mentees own leadership experiences and been grateful to witness their growth through NEAL. I also glean so much from the enthusiasm of the mentees, the energy they bring to their own organizations is so inspiring and helps me feel more connected to my own work.

 Q:  In 2017 you completed the NEAL program.  NEAL celebrates its 10th year.  What do you think you are doing as a leader currently that you feel NEAL helped shape? What about NEAL made a difference for you?

NEAL made a significant difference in the way I approach leadership and the way I make decisions. As a leader now I feel like I am more conscious of my own options. I know now I have the ability to more thoroughly analyze some of my leadership decisions before jumping in headfirst – I need to consider the impact of my leadership on my own wellbeing instead of always prioritizing the wellbeing of others. I have also integrated different approaches to interrogate my own decisions and recognize the importance of changing course when needed. I have also learned that there are times that it’s okay to say no and that I am not required to do everything perfectly just because I am a leader. Now, all of this learning does not always manifest in my daily leadership practice as I will still often try to do the most, but at least now I recognize that I am able to give myself some breathing room. Finally, it has been a revelation to really understand the importance of timing – there are times that it makes sense to take on a leadership role and other times it does not. I am grateful to NEAL for many things, but I think becoming a more conscious leader that is more self-compassionate is one of my most valuable lessons.  

Q: Is there anything that you learned from NEAL that you only understand now, several years later?

Although the issues related to mediating conflict, having challenging conversations and dealing with a lack of professionalism in the academic workplace certainly resonated for me at the time, over the years as I have used some of the specific strategies in my various leadership interactions, I have really seen a significant shift in my relationships and communication and ability to get to the “core” or “root” of the issues.

Q: You continue to give back to the CFD and the NEAL program through your involvement as a Coach. How have you seen the program shift and evolve, now having insider perspective on the curriculum through your coaching role?

I am impressed by the constant evolution of the NEAL curriculum. The depth of research that is conducted by the Faculty, Cate and Susan and connection to the emerging leadership issues that today’s leaders are encountering is remarkable and quite current. The speakers and trainers are exceptionally plugged in to the landscape of leadership in Canada. For example within the curriculum there has always been attention to issues of equity, diversity and inclusion but EDI is more thoroughly integrated throughout the program. There are also a much more diverse group of participants that are enrolling in NEAL, with an impressive range of leadership experiences and social locations. We are better understanding how issues of marginalization and power impact the way leadership is experienced and even conceptualized. The way that a more diverse group of leaders will shape our academic health sciences and ultimately our organizations in the present and the future will ensure our institutions are more culturally responsive and effective.  

Q: What have you learned about your own leadership from coaching others in the program?

I have learned so much from working with NEAL participants. I better understand the similar struggles that many of the participants, as well as myself, have faced in our leadership experiences (e.g. imposter syndrome, marginalized voices, creating a coalition of support, repairing divisions in a unit, communicating effectively, reflecting on and engaging my power). I have also learned that many of these issues require concentrated effort and new perspectives to tackle and are not changed during the course of a week but are often patterns of behavior that we need to “chip away” at in order to have sustained change. I have also learned about the different types of organizations that may of our participants are working in and the similarity and differences of their leadership challenges within them – which has allowed me (hopefully) to provide more targeted support.

Q: What might you have with someone contemplating enrolling in the NEAL program for next year?

Do it! Seriously, I would say that if you can ensure that you make time for it and that you are ready to fully integrate the lessons and try them out in your own leadership then you should go for it! It is an incredible opportunity and there is no time like the present to focus on your developing your leadership capacity. You will join a class of folks that have a range of leadership experience but are all dynamic learners. And it can be fun!

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