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Shaping leaders: Director redefines her comfort zone

Robin Chenoweth
July 17, 2018

Staff member hones leadership, supports university goal

Alisa Tate stood against a current of shoppers in a post-work rush outside a trendy Columbus market in the Short North neighborhood. Though conspicuous in her neon blue wig and wild miscellany of floral patterns, she was having trouble getting people to make eye contact.

“I’d like to tell you about Maryhaven.” She reached forward with a pamphlet. “It’s a treatment center that focuses on addiction recovery and mental illness awareness.”

A few responded, but some people looked the other way. Others said they had the leaflet already. (They probably didn’t.)

Not to be beat down, Tate flashed a genuine smile and pressed on. Her professional development had poised her to persist in moments like this.

Enhancing her 8-to-5 skills

The shoppers might not recognize the buttoned-up, 8-to-5 version of Tate. She works as director of student services and graduate studies in the Department of Educational Studies. She began her new role in October, having gone from entry-level student advisor to a director in five short years.

Her take-charge attitude helped her along the way. Colleagues call her tenacious, upbeat, personable. So, when she thought about professional development to grow as a leader, she decided to tackle something as big as her enthusiasm: an emotional intelligence leadership program.  

The three-month program involves goal setting, team building and forging community relationships through experiential exercises. Tate's Department of Educational Studies paid for a portion of the training. But because it’s offered outside the university, the program took her into the community and gave her a more well-rounded perspective.

In the final phase, trainees selected and supported a local charity. Tate and her teammates chose the teen division at Maryhaven, which is also supported by Bucks for Charity, Ohio State's fundraising campaign that benefits nonprofit organizations in the community. The center’s work with teenagers, families and mental wellness aligns beautifully with the mission of the College of Education and Human Ecology, Tate said.

It also fulfills a core goal of the university for outreach and engagement. So, Tate worked at “advancing a culture of engagement and collaboration” with teammates in their quest to raise more than $165,000 for the treatment center. Her portion: $3,000, a goal she met three weeks into the challenge. (She rasied $5,043 total.)

Alisa Tate in her "nerd" outfit
Tate, getting vulnerable in her "nerd" outfit after she met a weekly fundraising goal.

The group also made blankets, painted and decorated spaces for teens, sourced donations of furniture and organized a community dance.

“These teens need a safe space to recoup, to grow and understand addictive behavior,” Tate said.

When she met a daily fundraising goal, Tate performed an “act of kindness.” She bought groceries for a dad at the store and purchased a cold brew coffee for someone in the drive-thru behind her. She also purchased a tank of gas for a stranger.

“I told her about Maryhaven and she donated on the spot,” Tate said. “I didn’t even ask her for an exchange. She just did it, which was really cool.”

When she reached her weekly goal of $800, Tate broke out the crazy wigs, nerdy suspenders and eye-popping outfits. She wore these get-ups — even to work — using them as a platform to talk about Maryhaven.

On blue-wig day, a sales rep showed up at Tate's office for an appointment she had forgotten. Tate explained the purpose of the outfit, and the woman learned about Maryhaven programs for teens.

“It’s okay to get silly and get messy,” she later said. “When you are putting yourself out there, it is scary. But once you get out there and you get that ‘yes,’ you get momentum.”

Taking calculated risks, understanding behavior

“When it comes to life or your job or fundraising, if you are going for something new, you’re going to get a no,” she said. “And it’s ok to get noes. I sort of play this game: How many noes can I get today? Because the yes is going to be that much greater.”

Making herself vulnerable has changed her. “It has made me a better leader, a better friend, a better manager. Vulnerability is what I was missing in my leadership to build authentic connections with people.”

She’s learned to give more honest and directed feedback because she can recognize vulnerability in others, too. She’s no longer allowing limiting beliefs about herself to keep her from speaking up when she should. Confidence begets authenticity, and people respond to that.

“The trainings have supported me in saying, ‘Alisa, you are an amazing, incredible, courageous, beautiful, authentic woman. You have these tools. Use them. Unlock them.’”

For more information about her training and goal to support Maryhaven, contact Alisa Tate.