Published on February 27, 2019
Confident. Committed. Compassionate.
These are just some of the words staff used to describe Denise MacIver, interim dean of the School of Health and Life Sciences, when nominating her for the Ernest Manning Leadership Medallion.
"Denise leads from the heart,” says Terry Schlitter, acting associate dean academic and 1 of 3 nominators from the school. “She has been the most inspiring and influential person in my career."
In her 17 years at NAIT, Denise has held many leadership roles, including:
- provincial practicum coordinator with the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program
- chair of the Diagnostic Imaging programs
- associate dean academic
- interim dean
Denise has positively influenced health care education and practice in Alberta and has continued to display outstanding leadership.
"She is always looking for the best in everyone she meets, and she will light up the room instantly with her passion for people," adds James Cox, chair, Emergency Medical Technician program.
Ernest Manning Leadership Medallion’s 5 leadership practices
Nominees of the Ernest Manning Leadership Medallion are evaluated against 5 leadership practices. Here’s how Denise lives each of the 5 practices according to her team.
1. Models the way
Denise lives NAIT’s 5 values and challenges others to do the same. She leads from the heart, invests the time to develop strong working relationships with staff and stakeholders and creates an environment where the team can work together to achieve NAIT and school priorities.
She was one of the first leaders in the school to complete the Respect at NAIT training (NAIT’s respect in the workplace online training program) and challenged everyone to not only complete it, but to share and apply what they learned every day.
"Denise frequently sets examples for us to follow as leaders and as contributing members of the NAIT community," says her nominators.
2. Inspires a shared vision
Denise inspires a shared vision of the future of the school and of Alberta by focusing on the needs of our students, industry and staff. She has championed initiatives that improve patient care and enhance student learning, including the implementation of simulation and collaborative learning between programs within the school.
3. Challenges the process
Within the last year, Denise has brought about significant change within the school by creating space for new ideas and opportunities. This was accomplished, in part, by seeking out, renewing, refreshing and strengthening new and old partnerships, internally and externally.
Without her leadership and willingness to take risks, her team says it would not have benefitted from many of the opportunities emerging internationally and in the new Centre for Applied Disaster and Emergency Management.
As a strong advocate for students, Denise challenges staff to support student learning in creative ways—including non-traditional pathways and remediation plans.
4. Enables others to act
"She empowers me and has confidence in my abilities, which encourages me to try new techniques and challenge myself,” adds Terry. “I’m motivated to create that same environment and opportunities for my team."
Through her distributed leadership philosophy—which emphasizes leadership by expertise, not by role or years of experience—Denise enables others to act by providing clear direction and removing barriers so staff can turn ideas into reality. She supports educational opportunities and coaches leaders and staff through difficult situations.
"I've never felt fear over making mistakes before, but I've also never felt the freedom I feel with her to take risks," adds Lisa Selvey, associate dean industry engagement. "That's a really powerful place for an employee to be."
5. Encourages the heart
“No one encourages the heart more than Denise.”
This statement from the nomination submission says it all.
Denise is the first to recognize and thank staff for their commitment and dedication. She understands that recognition comes in many forms and knows that people feel most valued when you take the time to understand how to best recognize them.
“Denise is a great representative of NAIT’s values,” says Ruvimbo Sakutukw, team lead, administration. “Her people-first approach ensures that the contributions of those around her are always acknowledged and respected.”
Reflections from Denise
As a previous Ernest Manning nominator, Denise knows first-hand the time and effort that goes into writing a nomination.
“Receiving the award is wonderful,” she says. “But the huge honour begins with the nomination and the recognition from your teammates. When you hear, in their own words, the perception your team has of your leadership, it’s very authentic and powerful.”
Not surprisingly, Denise took a moment to recognize fellow nominee Don Boomer, associate dean administration, School of Skilled Trades.
“I’ve worked with Don for many years,” she says. “I know that he’s very deserving of the nomination.”
What it takes to be a great leader
When asked what it takes to be a great leader, Denise paused before answering.
“Connection to people—meaningful connection,” she said. “A belief in teamwork as a best practice. And, a servant leadership style, one that is inclusive and distributed, not hierarchical.”
When asked how her style aligns with servant leadership, she smiles and says,
“I really care about the people I work with. I care that they’re well, that they’re productive. I really believe there is no problem that can’t be solved together.”