Leadership interview: Jean Choy
Associate Dean, Executive Education & International Initiatives, Michael G. Foster School of Business

Leadership hallmarks: > Importance of communication skills > Being fair and consistent > Calm approach

Jean joined the UW in 1992 as a program coordinator funded by a USAID grant, and when she took SLP in 2001, she had already worked her way up to director of Executive Education at the Foster School of Business.

Thinking back to your SLP experience, are there any learnings or insights that have stayed with you?

One of the key learnings from SLP is the importance of building a team, communicating clear expectations and holding each other accountable. After SLP, I remember creating an internal logo and sharing it with my team to illustrate this value of accountability, customer service and teamwork, all encased within a big “quality.”

What principles guide you as a leader?

There are many principles that I value but among the top are putting time and care into communications and being fair, consistent and calm.

How are you managing the pressures, stresses, and challenges of the COVID-19 crisis for yourself and your team?

I rely on my team to share their ideas, thoughts, concerns and solutions. My job is to try and have open communication, provide assurance to the extent possible and trust that together, as a team, we will do what it takes to get us over these challenging times.

In the current environment, what new innovations or strategies have emerged? What have you learned about yourself as a leader or about your team?

Operation-wise, like many others across the University, we have been able to accelerate our virtual teaching methodology and also launch new online programs. With many in-person executive education programs being postponed or cancelled, adding a new format of delivering programs online is having a positive effect. On a personal level, ironically, I feel I am more “chill.” There are things out of our control and it’s okay to not have all the answers. This is also a great opportunity to delegate and encourage flexibility and creativity to flow among team members.

Wow – how is it possible to be more chill in the current environment?

Sometimes when things get challenging, I like to think through what’s the worst that could happen. This helps to put things into perspective and in most cases, the situation does not appear as dire and it helps me to focus on what I can do. Right now, so much is out of our control and nobody knows what’s going to happen. Worrying about things beyond our control is not helpful so I just try to make sure I do my part to do the best that I can every day.

Working at home, I think that the environment allows for me to be more chill. You walk around, go to the kitchen, make something to eat; it’s not so go-go-go. On the other hand, I find myself constantly “on” and find it more difficult to turn things off. Working on campus, in a physical office, helps to delineate work life from home life.

What advice might you have for less-experienced leaders at the UW?

It is a top spot and you’re going to be seen for how you respond to these difficult situations. As a leader, it’s a great opportunity for you to rally your team. You want to be the agent that’s going to help others stay calm, but also be realistic. My approach is balancing that fine line. I want to be realistic as possible, but I don’t want to sugarcoat things; people should know what’s happening.

Eventually this current situation will end, so it’s more of a mental positioning. Focus on what you can do now and on the areas where you have control. You can pull people together and brainstorm on this. How can we leverage this time and situation? What are some projects that we can focus on that we weren’t able to before? What new ideas can we develop?

As a leader, it’s okay to be scared, it’s okay to not know all the answers, and I think it’s okay to show vulnerability to your team and take advice from others. In this situation, as in others, you want to be open and honest.

Spring 2020 | Return to Issue Home