Earlier this week, President Neeli Bendapudi hosted a virtual fireside chat with special guest Simon Sinek to celebrate the opening of UofL’s new Employee Success Center.

Sinek is a renowned motivational speaker, author and TED Talk presenter. He is best known for his TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” which has amassed over 53 million views worldwide. Sinek and Bendapudi discussed how leadership, employee engagement and initiatives through the ESC can contribute to making the University of Louisville a  great place to work, one of the goals of the 2019-2022 strategic plan.

The center, currently located in suite 202 of Grawemeyer Hall, provides UofL employees with professional development opportunities, onboarding, mentoring, workshops and other engaging initiatives and programs.

Bendapudi and Sinek’s discussion was facilitated by Brian Buford, executive director of university culture and employee success. Although this event officially signified the opening of the ESC, Buford and his teammates, Laura McDaniels and Meagan West, have been working tirelessly since last fall to get the ESC off the ground. Throughout the past few months, the team has provided over 20 Learning Cafes and other virtual workshops to university employees, for example. 

Bendapudi and Sinek started the virtual event by discussing the role of leadership within the university community. Sinek said true leadership is the responsibility to see those around us rise. The ESC serves to embody this type of leadership by encouraging and supporting university employee development. Bendapudi expressed that the goal of the center is to nurture the leadership potential of university employees while guiding them on their journey to becoming better, effective leaders. Sinek further highlighted the importance of this employee-centered initiative from university leadership.

“I love the fact that [the University of Louisville] is focusing on its own people.” Sinek said. “So many universities don’t understand the role of leadership. At other universities if you ask senior leadership ‘what’s your priority?’ they will always say the same thing – the student, which it’s not. The role of senior leadership is to take care of the people who take care of the students.”

The two speakers also touched on the importance of employee engagement and empathy in the workplace, a main pillar of the ESC.

The center will strive to make the university a great place to work by providing various employee-centered resources and opportunities for personal and professional growth. It serves as a safe space for employees to have honest conversations with other members of the university community. Coaching circles allow employees to gather and collaborate on significant topics, such as anti-racism initiatives. Well-being retreats and mindfulness initiatives are also offered to cultivate a strong community of care. All of these efforts complement that “great place to work goal” and, ideally, will lead to happier, more productive employees.

“When people in an organization feel like the organization sees them, hears them and recognizes them as human beings – that they have ambitions and stresses… [when the university] looks to take care of them as human beings – then they can invest all of their energy into the work that they’re supposed to be doing,” Sinek said. 

This emphasis on care was echoed by the ESC staff. According to Buford, the success of the university hinges upon the ability to care for each and every member of the community. The center aims to provide a necessary source of care for employees by ensuring that their voices are heard and their personal and professional development is prioritized. To the ESC staff, success goes beyond the easily measurable metrics such as retention or productivity. Creating a great place to work requires a commitment to caring for the employees.

“To be a great place to work, we have to create an experience where employees feel connected to UofL and have a sense of belonging, hope and trust; where they are growing and learning new things they can put to use in their lives or future jobs; and where they are part of a community that cares about them,” Buford said. 

Buford also announced that as part of the ESC opening celebration, the new Cardinal Leadership Institute will also launch in early March. Among the audience for the virtual event were several instructors for the institute, as well as 23 university leaders that will comprise the inaugural cohort.

Current measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19 are in effect and all events with the ESC are currently held virtually on Microsoft Teams. A Virtual Library of past meetings and workshops can be found on the ESC’s website, as well as the video recording of the Employee Success Center Celebration with Simon Sinek and Neeli Bendapudi.