An Academic Life Well Lived

By Stephen Gilliland

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Professor Keith Provan

We said goodbye to our colleague Keith Provan last week in a “Celebration of an Academic Life Well Lived.”  For the past year, Keith Provan struggled with brain cancer, undergoing multiple surgeries and treatments. On the morning of Sunday, February 16, at home and surrounded by his family, Keith died peacefully.

What does it mean to celebrate an academic life well lived?  For me, it meant recognizing and appreciating all the facets that made Keith the person he was.  Keith joined the department the same summer I started at the University of Arizona – August 1995.  I was an assistant professor and Keith was a full professor.  I looked up to him.  He treated me as an equal.

Keith was a gifted and dedicated organizational theorist. His research focused on inter-organizational and network relationships, including network structure, evolution, governance, and effectiveness, especially in the domain of health and human services. He published over 70 academic journal articles and scholarly book chapters, both in management and public policy journals.  In summers, Keith served as a Senior Research Fellow at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Throughout his career, Keith generously and enthusiastically mentored PhD students; he felt that the development of these relationships was his most meaningful professional legacy.

Clearly, Keith was a first rate academic and will be long recognized for his contributions.  The health care management division of the Academy of Management has named their outstanding scholarly achievement award in Keith’s honor.  His colleagues in public administration have named their visiting speaker series in Keith’s honor.  And an endowment has been establishing in his name to support doctoral students in the area of health care management and leadership.

But a life well lived is more than a collection of academic achievements and posthumous recognitions.  Keith’s children described a father who would turn into the “rapping dad” or the “incredible hulk wrestler” when they were kids.  His friends and colleagues describe a sense of humor that was quick and fun.  He spent summers in Europe and further escaped the Arizona heat with his wife Jill at their place in San Francisco.

Keith enjoyed everything about being an academic and would often say he never saw a reason to retire.  But he also enjoyed life beyond academia.  He blended academic and non-academic worlds harmoniously.  Loving what you do; balancing work and life; fostering meaningful relationships; and maintaining a sense of humor right up to the end.  That is a life well lived!  That is a model for all of us.

We will miss you Keith.



Stephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


Not Part of My Job Description, But…

By Stephen Gilliland


Photo of Helping Hands courtesy of Shutterstock

This week in my Ph.D. seminar we read an article on managers providing emotional support for employees. In the spring 2013 issue of Academy of Management Review, Ginka Toegel and her colleagues reported the results of a qualitative study in which they examined emotional helping from both the managers’ and employees’ perspectives. The results are both interesting and somewhat surprising.

We have all been in this role as managers. Sometimes it is the employee who is having trouble at home. Sometimes it is the employee who is having trouble getting along with co-workers. We lend an ear. We offer advice. We provide encouragement. Sometimes it is the most rewarding thing we will do all week. Sometimes it is not easy and leaves us feeling emotionally drained.

The thing is I bet none of us have “offer emotional support to direct reports” on our job description. This is something we just do because we are managers.  And so often, the timing is not great. I bet I am not the only one who has been trying to put the final touches on a long overdue report when an employee appears at the door with those fateful words, “do you have a minute?” You know the only answer is “sure.” An employee with real emotional needs take precedence over almost everything else.

So here is where the study by Toegel and her colleagues is interesting. When they asked managers of a mid-sized recruiting agency about emotional helping, the managers described this as “over and above” their normal managerial duties – these are extra-role behaviors. Employees, on the other hand, viewed the same emotional support as a part of a managers prescribed role – part of their job. While this might not be entirely surprising, it has important consequences. Since managers see it as discretionary, over and above behavior, there is an unspoken expectation of reciprocity. As the company CEO in this study noted: “It is human nature, isn’t it? When you do something for someone, you always kind of expect to be reciprocated. If we go to the pub and I buy you a drink, it will sort of be expected that the next time around, you buy me one.”

Employees don’t see it this way. Since they view emotional support as part of the manager’s job, they have no expectation of reciprocity. This can leave managers feeling disappointed with the lack of reciprocity. Have you ever provided extensive support to someone only to have them leave for another job? And you wonder “why did I bother? Why did I invest all that energy?” We have an expectation that our emotional support will be reciprocate with some degree of loyalty.

There is a silver lining for leaders in these discrepant expectations. You see, because employees view emotional supporting as part of a managers’ job, they also give “leadership credit” to managers who offer support. Emotionally supportive managers are seen as good leaders and are praised by subordinated for their human touch.

Maybe this is an area where employees have it right. In business we focus so much on results that the human element is often downplayed or ignored – it is not part of a manager’s job description. Yet, results can be a function of a favorable business climate or market leading products and services. Leaders get credit regardless of how much they actually drive the results. Is it possible that the core of true leadership is the ability to offer the human touch?

Note: The reference for the cited article on emotional helping is Toegel, G., Kilduff, M., Anand, N. (2013). Emotion Helping by Managers: an Emergent Understanding of Discrepant Role Expectations and Outcomes. Academy of Management, 56:2:334-357.



Stephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


Does it Pay to Offer Health Benefits?

By Stephen Gilliland


Photo of healthcare courtesy of Shutterstock

Over the years, I have had a number of mid-sized business leaders ask me if it “pays” to provide employees with health insurance. This has always been a complex question, with an answer that inevitably includes the words “it depends.” With the Affordable Care Act, this has become a far more complicated question. The costs associated with not providing health insurance are increasing. And, as more companies and individuals opt for health insurance, the costs of providing insurance should decrease – at least this is the theory.

Yet even with these changes, the fundamental reason for my response “it depends” remains the same. It comes down to the value you place on employees and retaining good employees. Beyond non-monetary compensation, health insurance provides a “stickiness” factor that helps retain employees who don’t want to lose their insurance or primary care physician. When retention is important to your business strategy, health insurance can be a tool to boost retention. Starbucks’ business strategy rests on customers being greeted daily by the same smiling faces of baristas who remember your order, where you work, and so much more. Retention is obviously critical to customers seeing familiar faces.


Patient Care courtesy of Shutterstock

But what about a mid-sized business that is competing in an industry where the competitors don’t offer any benefits, pay minimum wages, and often use temporary labor? One company I work with exists in this space and has continued to offer health insurance (and vision and dental) for decades. Their margins are thin and their costs are higher than their competitors. So why do they do it and how do they compete? The brief answer to “why” is because they feel it is the right thing to do. Employees deserve benefits from their employer. The more complete answer is that they reduce turnover, which reduces training costs, and increases production quality. Although this is low skilled work, experienced workers are faster, more accurate, and present lower safety risks. If their industry should face a major recall, they have much tighter controls than their competition, and will weather the storm better.

These factors play into their strategy and help address the question of “how” they are able to compete. Because of their tight controls and use of experienced labor, they have the highest quality in their industry. Although quality is not typically rewarded in price, they are able to compete for the best B2B customers, who pay invoices on time and maintain commitments to orders.

The culture that is created when your fundamental philosophy is to invest in people means that you often get greater innovation from those people. Through their strategic planning processes with their experienced managers, they have been able to align divisions more efficiently and execute their strategy better than their competitors. The bottom line is they have higher costs and yet higher profits in an industry that doesn’t tend to reward quality through price differentials.

Do you see why it is a complex question? When asking about the costs and benefits of employer sponsored health insurance, people are looking for a spreadsheet answer to a question that involves culture, strategy, and execution. Although there are certainly exceptions, I believe that many companies could successfully compete and win by investing in people. Research backs my beliefs by demonstrating that investments in human capital (the knowledge, skills, and abilities embodied in people) are positively associated with financial measures of firm performance. Investing in people pays off, but you have to capitalize on those investments by drawing innovation, experience, and commitment from your people.

This is a simple answer to a complex question. The processes of aligning interests and capitalizing on the investments in people are not as simple. But these investments can provide the basis for sustained competitive advantage.



Stephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


One Month into a New Year…What’s New?

By Stephen Gilliland

By now it has been long enough that the New Year’s resolutions about frequenting the Gym, cutting back on snack food, and drinking more wine and less beer are becoming distant memories.  Good intentions, but with the Super Bowl and some great Wildcats basketball to watch, reality is somehow not quite reflecting the aspirations set a month ago.  How about your leadership goals?  Have they also been forgotten… or were they never established?  I am not talking about the formal goals you outlined in your PEP process, but rather those personal leadership goals that you developed in your head and maybe discussed with a mentor or coach.

As I set my leadership goals this year, I tried to focus more on what I won’t do rather than adding more to my plate.  You see, I have trouble saying “no.”  Part of the problem is that I feel responsible.  But the other part is that I like new challenges.  Challenges call me like a siren into uncharted waters.  And then my resolve to spend fewer Sunday mornings doing work emails and journal reviewing ends up as a shipwreck on a rocky coast.

This year, I resolve to do less – to focus on quality over quantity.  And rather than a general statement, I have a structured way to do this.  It starts with a list of everything I do in a typical week, with some rough approximation of time spent.  I also add those things that I want to be doing more of but haven’t figured out how.  And finally, I add in the “special projects” that are always waiting on the corner of my desk.  You know those things you really should get to but never seem to have time to actually finish (or even start!).  Alongside this list, I add three columns: Start, Sustain, Stop.  And then I go through the list sorting items into the three categories, looking at the total package of what remains and seeing it if is reasonable.

Because of my inability to say no, I focus most attention on the “stop” category.  In reality, most of the items on my list (and probably yours) are there for a reason.  I can’t simply stop writing my annual report because it is less interesting to me.  But, I can come up with strategies for shifting this responsibility to others.  Do you have someone who appears to have leadership potential that needs to be developed?  Maybe a burden from your list becomes a wanted new challenge for them.  That becomes a win-win.  Maybe the weekly review meetings could be cut back to every other week or from one hour to 30 minutes.  That becomes a win for everyone involved.

Most leaders I know are incredibly busy.  And most will freely admit that they do it to themselves.  But if we don’t want to burn ourselves out, and want to treat our time in leadership positions as a marathon rather than a sprint, I think it is worth taking the time to set some goals around doing less.  And then we can spend our freed up time watching more amazing Arizona basketball!



Stephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


Your Leadership Shadow

By Stephen Gilliland

The asset president of the mine we are working with in Australia shared with her superintendents the concept of the shadow you cast as a leader. Leaders have an indirect influence on those around them – often without even realizing the extent of this impact. The leadership shadow is a way to think about these indirect influences.

Consider the direct and indirect message a CEO I know sent to her direct reports – she told them to be sure to take time off on the weekends, to make time to focus energy and attention on their non-work lives. She directly said they do not have to be checking emails on weekends. Yet weekends are when she catches up on her emails. Therefore, her direct reports are receiving emails all weekend long. Naturally, they feel they must also read and respond to these emails. Contrary to the direct message, the leadership shadow signaled that people at the top spend time doing emails on weekends.

I am not criticizing this CEO. I have done the same thing myself. If there is not time during work hours for emails, early mornings, evenings and weekends are the only times to clear the inbox. And I am not looking for people to respond to me in evenings and on weekends; indeed I hope they don’t as I am trying to catch up on emails, not generate more. But at the same time I am casting a shadow about the norm of after-hours emails. Sometimes we try to counteract this with an assertion of “do as I say, not as I do” – but that doesn’t really work does it?


Saguaro shadow photo by Rudi Shumpert

Much like the concept of yin-yang, shadows cannot exist without light. The two are complementary. We tend to simplify light as good and dark as bad, but it is not always that simple. In the desert, we know that shadows are good. Shade can support life. The majestic saguaro cactus needs a nurse plant to provide shade during the initial growing period.

So what if we as leaders look at our shadows as a way to nurture and grow our people? What if we try to consciously use our indirect influences as a mechanism for communicating important values? The asset president who shared the concept of leader shadows here in Australia said she actively resisted being cast as a diversity role model. But after understanding the concept of leadership shadows, she realized part of her shadow is being a female president in a male dominated industry. Like it or not, that shadow is there. So now she tries to embrace this shadow and use it for the betterment of her company and its leaders.

What sort of leader shadows are you casting? Are you sending mixed messages or using shadows to positively influence others? There is a lot of leadership power in looking at the shadow you cast and leading with both direct and indirect messages.



Stephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


No Worries

By Stephen Gilliland

Maggie (compressed) (2)

Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia

I am currently on Magnetic Island (“Maggie”) in northern Queensland Australia teaching leadership to mining supervisors and superintendents. The location is idyllic with lush green hills, beautiful blue water, more than 300 days of sunshine each year, and the air filled with the sounds of native birds. In every way, it epitomizes the Australian expression “no worries!”

The Australians I have met exhibit a genuine friendly optimism that seems to perfectly reflect their cheerful response “no worries.” I say thank you. They say no worries. I apologize for something. They say no worries. I wonder if we will miss our ferry connection. The cab driver says no worries. It could be very easy to see this easy going optimism as a natural response to the beautiful setting of Maggie.

Yet at the same time I can clearly see a very different dimension of island life. You can’t go into the water during the summer months (this time of year) because of jelly fish. Two types are lethal – one of which is the size of a finger nail. Those who venture into the water use “stinger suits” that cover the entire body and head, leaving only space for a snorkel mask. If you avoid the ocean and stick with fresh water, you have to avoid crocodiles, which are particularly aggressive in north Queensland. Stick to land and you need to worry about encountering a few of the world’s most venomous snakes. No worries? Really?

Maggie beach (compressed) (2)

Maggie Beach, Magnetic Island, Queensland, Australia

As I ran along the ocean in the morning I got thinking about this duality – the beauty and the danger – and the culture of no worries. In many ways we interpret our own reality. We can focus on the beauty or focus on the danger. We can see in life the opportunities or see the threats. And as leaders, the way we interpret the world sends a powerful message to our followers. This message shapes the culture of our organization. It influences hiring and retention. Wouldn’t you prefer to work in a culture where optimism and opportunities are the norm?

In my department, I am known for my unbounded optimism. I tend to see beauty and opportunities. The no worries culture resonates clearly for me. Of course, there are drawbacks too. Sometimes we should worry. The downside of my optimism is that I tend to take longer to see problems and react to them. Sometimes, small problems have turned into large problems because I haven’t drilled down deep enough or soon enough in response to warning signs. These are leadership blind spots that I am trying to work on. But on balance, I feel the benefits of optimism outweigh the limitations. It is possible to look out for the stingers and still maintain an attitude of no worries. Especially here on Maggie!



Stephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


A Chef’s Tongue

By Stephen Gilliland


Photo of Thanksgiving courtesy of Shutterstock

As we get ready for Thanksgiving my mind naturally turns to food. I love cooking and Thanksgiving is the Super Bowl of cooking days. It starts days ahead with menu planning and trying out different flavor combinations in my head. Yet, no matter how much planning I do, on Thanksgiving Day it comes down to tasting, adjusting, and tasting again. What if I couldn’t taste? Would I be lost in the kitchen? Most of us would – but not Grant Achatz.

I recently read the book Life, on the Line, an autobiography of one of America’s truly great chefs. Grant Achatz started young and by his early thirties had one of the top restaurants in America, Alinea. He was named Outstanding Chef in America by the James Beard Foundation. Yet Grant almost didn’t make it to the award ceremony… he almost didn’t make it period. Shortly after Alinea was named best restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine, Grant was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma – tongue cancer. All the experts recommended removing his tongue. For a chef, this was unthinkable. Finally, he found a doctor who proposed an alternate treatment of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.  If successful, it would save most or all of his tongue. The treatment killed the cancer, but it also knocked out his sense of taste.

How many of us could successfully continue to lead if we lost the primary sense or talent that distinguishes us as an expert? How many of us would even want to try? Grant continued to go to work each day, developing new dishes by intuition and understanding. You see, Alinea is a restaurant that offers tasting menus with dozens of dishes. And these dishes change constantly. Unlike many restaurants that may have been able to survive by turning out the same great dishes night after night, the concept Grant perfected relied on constant innovation.

The way Grant was able to continue to develop new dishes and advance his culinary concept was because he had developed a strong kitchen team. Not only did they know their job (and each other’s), but they also knew Grant’s tongue. When Grant could no longer taste the food he was creating, they became his sense of taste. As a result, the dishes didn’t falter and the innovation continued.

What a powerful leadership lesson! So many people think they need to hold special powers to be a leader. But true leadership involves developing a team and sharing your vision so that the team can execute successfully. A strong team can keep things going even when the leader is not present. Grant’s story is one of an individual’s strive for perfection, commitment to excellence, and courage to challenge adversity. But it is also a story of building an amazing team. It is a story of leadership.

Every Thanksgiving we voice our appreciation for our abundance, our family, our health, and other blessing in our lives. This year, I want to make sure I also take the time to thank my team for all they do to make me a successful leader. Happy Thanksgiving!


Stephen GillilandStephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


Walking Meetings for Happiness and Health

By Stephen Gilliland

The other night, my wife Cindi and I attended a lecture in downtown Tucson, as part of the UA Downtown lecture series, on the links between exercise and happiness by Professor David Raichlen of the UA School of Anthropology. He presented really interesting evidence to demonstrate that not only is moderate exercise associated with elevated mood, but there might actually be an evolutionary basis for this association. Before early humans had projectile weapons, they had to chase their next meal until the animal dropped from heat exhaustion. Endurance was the key to adaptability and elevated mood provided the immediate reinforcement for this exercise.

Our bodies are still at that stage of evolution and yet our sedentary jobs have us spending most of our time at our desks and computers. As leaders it seems were are either in meetings or responding to emails. I try to compensate for this by running and hitting the gym regularly. But it does strike me as completely disconnected. I get up an hour early in the morning (often depriving myself of sleep) to go for a run or lift weights. Then I go into the office where I sit at my computer or in meetings for the rest of the day. Can’t there by a better way?


Walking meeting courtesy of Shutterstock

I recently learned about “walking meeting.” Just as it sounds, instead of sitting in your office to meet, you stretch your legs and get out of the building. Most of my meetings seem to last 30-45 minutes, which is a perfect for a walk. But can you focus on the issues at hand while walking? Often, but it does depend on the nature of the meeting and the pace of the walk. In his book, Thinking fast and slow, Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman suggests that there is a tradeoff – if either the walking is too fast or the mental work too heavy, it can be difficult to do both. However, with a moderate pace, typical meetings are fairly easy to balance with walking. In his lecture, Professor Raichlen suggested that the optimal pace for generating positive mood from exercise is when you can carry on a conversation easily, but not sing. If you can sing you are walking too slowly. Interesting, right?

As I write this, I reflect on the fact that I don’t do walking meetings. Ironically, the only time I can remember doing a walking meeting is when I was in hospital recovering from surgery and my boss came to visit me. I was under instructions to walk frequently, so I asked my boss to walk with me. It was a slow pace, but it was a much better way to talk than with me lying in a hospital bed. And wouldn’t one or two walking meetings each day be better than sitting in a chair all day? Let’s see, the benefits of this would be: 1) increased health and fitness, 2) elevated mood, 3) role modeling and signaling for others the importance of healthy lifestyles, and 4) integrating leadership with healthy living. Sounds like a clear win-win-win to me.

So, how about it? Instead of sitting in chairs, why not take one of your meetings for a walk this week? It’s a step toward reclaiming our active ancestry without having to chase down our meal.


Stephen GillilandStephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


Health Inspiration from Students

By Stephen Gilliland


Healthcare program photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Last week our Center for Leadership Ethics hosted the 11th annual Collegiate Ethics Case Competition. Students and faculty from 32 universities across North America came to Tucson to present their ethical analysis of a contemporary leadership challenge. Each year our Center founder, Dr. Paul Melendez, writes a case specifically for this competition. The cases are always timely and address issues that are in the forefront of national attention. The focus of this year’s case was healthcare.

At a time when millions of Americans are struggling to access the online insurance marketplace, and employers are unsure of the impact of employer mandates, the case asked students to assume the role of a health care consultant and design an employer-sponsored wellness program for a hypothetical Arizona manufacturing firm. Some programs are voluntary; others are mandatory. Some use carrots to induce participation; others use sticks to punish lack of involvement. And the evidence is not clear what works best, or even what ‘best’ means. A program that encourages regular physician check-ups can result in healthier employees, but also higher doctor and prescription costs for the employer. The students had to consider financial, legal, ethical, and stakeholder implications of their programs.

The ideas the students came up with were good… some very creative. The interaction between students and the executive judges was even better. As I got to be an observer of this event, I wondered why we can have more of these discussions. We had 64 business students and 30+ judges engaged in meaningful discussions of innovative and creative solutions to our healthcare crisis. Business has an important role in this healthcare debate. Yet on the national stage, politicians are dominating the dialog with their back-and-forth fighting.

I think as business leaders we need to own healthcare reform. Politics and policies are only going to provide partial solutions at best. So much of our healthcare crisis is tied to misaligned incentives (for patients, providers, and payers) and individual behavior. As business leaders, these are the types of issues we can address. Through our programs, policies, and cultural messaging, we can shape the health culture of employees and even their families.

If 64 bright young undergraduates can come up with creative and innovative ideas with only two weeks to study the situations, why can’t we as business leaders who are living these challenges every day apply our innovation and creativity in the same way? Why can’t we have dialogs like the students had with the judges, volleying ideas back and forth? If we do, if we really engage in this issue, I think we will start to see true healthcare reform.

With every competition there is a winner. I would be remiss if I failed to point out that my Mom’s graduate alma mater, Simon Fraser University from Burnaby, British Columbia took first place (and the $1000 per student prize). Queens University from Ontario, Canada took second place. Is it ironic or telling that two Canadian schools took the top two positions in a competition about U.S. healthcare challenges? Maybe there is more we can learn from our neighbors. Let’s all start to engage in creative dialog the way these students did in trying to find real solutions to our healthcare crisis.


Stephen GillilandStephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education


It’s Always the People!

By Stephen Gilliland


Last week we co-hosted the Energize Your Enterprise luncheon in Tucson with BeachFleishman PC. We had three successful entrepreneurs tell their stories and then Bruce Beach joined them on stage for a panel discussion. The panelists couldn’t have been more varied. Harry George from Solstice Capital discussed the challenges of launching tech oriented businesses. Kerstin Block from Buffalo Exchange shared her story of starting a used clothing store in the 1970s with no business experience. Robert Sarver discussed banking and the challenges of growth-oriented businesses accessing capital. Great stories by all!

Energize your Enterprise

Photo of Energize Your Enterprise event courtesy of Chris Mooney

As I thought about themes that came from these successful entrepreneurs in completely different industries, the common message was the importance of your people. For Kerstin Block, launching a new store is all about a) finding the right market and b) having the right people who want to move to that market to staff the store. Since inventory is all locally acquired, stores must rely on their staff to buy the right type of clothes that will sell. Success comes down the judgments people make.

In the panel discussion, Bruce Beach talked about the challenges of hiring college accounting graduates to start their careers in Tucson – the big accounting firms can offer locations that are much more attractive to young people. This is a problem because the heart of a successful accounting firm is having the right people.

All talked about the importance of investing in your people and promoting from within. When Robert Sarver launches or acquires a new bank, he wants to move people up from within his organization who knows his standards, practices, and culture. He accommodates spouse and family needs to make these relocations happen.

What a powerful message that was reinforced by this panel for the 300 people in attendance. Whether your industry is high technology, used clothing retail, banking, or accounting – success comes down to the people. Hire the right people and invest in them. There is a lot of emphasis on strategy these days… and clearly strategy is important. But when it comes down to implementation and generating results, success comes from your people.


Stephen GillilandStephen Gilliland
Associate Dean, Executive Education