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LEAP – Leadership Effectiveness and Advancement Program

By Katrina Phillips
Knauss Fellow, OAR Communications
June 2011

Why subject yourself to a year-long leadership program? Because it’s fun. And you just might learn something.

The Leadership Effectiveness and Advancement Program – or LEAP – was conceived after the latest OAR ‘Vital Signs’ assessment revealed a need for leadership and management training. Enter Walt Childress. Walt has run over twenty leadership programs for federal agencies and corporations, and he finds that experiential learning and physical activity are the most effective tools for teaching. “There’s no learning in the comfort zone and no comfort in the learning zone,” he says.

OAR tapped Walt to create a pilot leadership program for OAR employees. This LEAP pilot kicked off in March 2010 and ended this past May. Five 3-day training sessions were supplemented by weekly meetings of smaller Peer Assisted Coaching Teams (PACTs) assigned to work on a project together and offer feedback to other team members. The unique format of the program included participants from labs and upper management to a couple stow-aways from NMFS and general counsel. The goal of the LEAP pilot was to build communities of leaders across offices and levels. Was this achieved?

Steve Mayle (GFDL) participated in this year’s LEAP. He said of the program, “The interactions with other members of the LEAP program are what I view as having the greatest potential for long-term organizational value. Through Walt's program of study, we knocked down all of the organization's and our own personal barriers to communication and built a level of trust that runs throughout our class. I now know people throughout our organization that I know I can count on if I need help.”

 In addition to blindfolded walks and ropes course team-building exercises, the program tackled some uncomfortable realities of the workplace. Renee Womack (PMEL) explains, “Part of the LEAP program is being able to provide your team, as well as other LEAP members, with constant feedback. The feedback comes in the form of the, ‘good, bad and useful’.  Providing the good is very easy, providing the useful is still easy, but providing the ‘bad’ often times can be very difficult. But through LEAP we are better equipped to address things such as the ‘bad’ in a way that is not threatening, but constructive, resulting in a much more positive outcome versus negative.”

 With the success of this year’s pilot program, plans are in the works to begin a second LEAP this Fall. If you think you may be interested in participating, just ask one of the ‘graduates’: would you recommend LEAP to your colleagues?

 “Absolutely!”, answers Diane Stanitski of CPO, “This was one of the best opportunities to go beyond an inner circle and expand your network to those within OAR and beyond.  It strengthens your ability to give and accept feedback and learn about yourself.” Her LEAP classmate Walt Shalk (ARL-SORD) agrees, with one condition, “If you are going to do it, you have to play all the way, or else you are cheating yourself and the others on your team.”

Some LEAP Statistics:

  • Participants:  44 started, 40 completed (2 dropped out at end of first week, 1took new job outside of NOAA, 1 took new non-leadership job in NOAA)
  • Each participant conducted a 360 degree leadership assessment at beginning of program and again at end of program measuring 9 major elements of leadership, with the following results:
    • 9 elements X 40 participants (360 total) = 89% Improvement, 4% Decline, 7% No Change
    • 37 of 40 (93%) showed improvement as follows:
      • 18 of 40 (45%) demonstrated improvement in all 9 elements
      • 16 of 40 (40%) demonstrated improvement in 6 elements
      • 3 of 40 (7.5%) showed improvement in 2 elements
    • 2 of 40 (5%) had all ratings stay the same (although the initial ratings were so high that there was little room for improvement)
    • 1 of 40 (2.5%) actually declined in every area

Impact of Team Leadership Growth on Organization 

The LEAP class was divided into six PACTs (Peer Assistance and Coaching Teams), each initiating a project that would benefit the organization (NOAA & OAR).  Completed projects produced the following:




Headshed Transition PACT

OAR Transition

  • OAR NEXT Strategic Plan
  • Approved institutionalization of LEAP

Pilot Project PACT

Develop LEAP Program

  • Developed and coordinated LEAP Pilot
  • Committed to implementing next LEAP session

Dynamics PACT

Improve Work/Life balance in OAR

  • Creating a Rewarding NOAA Environment: A Handbook
  • Toward an Effective Tele-work Policy and Practices

Intergenerational PACT

Research, educate, and develop strategies for dealing with Intergenerational dynamics within OAR

  • Intergenerational Profile of OAR
  • Intergenerational Mentoring Program (Fedship)
  • Created a Right Space room in HQ

Connectivity PACT

Develop mechanisms for better connecting HQ and Labs

  • Meet the Office Presentations (prototype, video History of GFDL)
  • Informal research reports (e.g., monthly Lab Science series)
  • Projected development of Lab Liaisons

Wellbeing PACT

Increase Well Being practices with OAR

  • Survey of OAR Well Being Practices
  • Well Being activities at LEAP training sessions
  • Development of Individual Well Being Initiative for future LEAP sessions
  • OAR Well Being Newsletter


LEAP Requirements
c Highlights from LEAP I
c LEAP Presentation (.ppt)
c LEAP Flyer & Brochure (.pdf)
c LEAP Article



Applications Due:
September 9, 2011

four photos of LEAP program participants, (1) LEAP students measuring and calculating the results of an indoor LEAP activity; (2) leap aprticipants being led through an outdoor activity blindfolded, (3) members of the LEAP Pilot PACT (team); and (4) Members of the LEAP Connectivity PACT presenting to the class
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September 8, 2011

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