As the COVID-19 pandemic created a sudden shift to teleworking and virtual learning for people of all ages, the J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development at UGA saw an opportunity to reach new audiences.

“With people at home and on electronic devices like cell phones and computers more than before, we wanted to find ways to continue to provide leadership training and move people beyond the traditional classroom experience,” said Matt Bishop, director of the UGA Fanning Institute.

With that in mind, Fanning Institute faculty and staff got to work creating online resource guides, video webinars and podcasts to both provide new educational content for those who had already been through leadership training, and create an avenue to connect with people who had not been through a Fanning program.

To guide the effort, the institute developed a virtual leadership task force.

“Our goal was to really embrace a wide range of ideas, try different things and see what people responded to,” said Brendan Leahy, public service faculty and task force co-chair.

First, the institute created a webinar focused on leading with care in response to COVID-19. Hosted by Bishop, the four-part series featured guests from the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences and Georgia Center for OCD and Anxiety and focused on topics like self-care and supporting others around you.

“I watched each of the four sessions of the Leading with Care series,” said Craven Hudson, extension specialist with Georgia 4-H. “The format and instruction was excellent.”

Fanning Institute faculty and staff also hosted town halls, meeting with community and youth leadership coordinators across Georgia and elsewhere to discuss next steps for their programs and to provide support during the pandemic.

The institute then moved into podcasting, creating “Thriving Through Adaptive Leadership,” which focuses on how individuals can become a stronger adaptive leader.

“It is a very well done podcast,” said Rita Momah, STD/HIV education coordinator at the Mississippi State Department of Health and graduate of the Fanning institute’s inaugural Public Health Leadership Institute. “I like how it started with an explanation of adaptive leadership, then brought guests in to explain it in more detail and provide examples of adaptive leadership challenges.”

Listening to the podcast has reinforced what she learned through the Public Health Leadership Institute, Momah said.

“I think a lot of people, including myself, have a tendency to focus on technical leadership and solving specific problems,” she said. “These podcasts help reinforce the skills we all need to address more complex, unpredictable challenges.”

Momah has applied lessons from the podcast in her professional life and outside of work.

“I help lead a ladies’ group here in Mississippi,” she explained. “I have come to realize that the best and most exciting things are the ones that we have come together as a larger group to think about outside the box.”

In addition, the Fanning Institute has created webinars guiding how different types of leaders might respond in times like these, leading difficult conversations, engaging youth and adults online and advising nonprofits on finances and funding.

“Our initial goal was to provide timely content that related to what people were dealing with during the pandemic,” said Nina Johnson, Fanning public service faculty and task force co-chair. “We are excited about the feedback we’ve gotten and what we can continue to create in this space to address other topics.”

Moving forward, the institute plans to continue creating additional virtual content around all of its programmatic areas.

“Creating podcasts, videos and more that leaders of all ages and from all walks of life can use to grow and apply in their communities is another part of our commitment to building stronger leaders and communities throughout Georgia,” Bishop said. “I’m proud of the work our faculty, staff and students have done in this arena so far and excited to see what comes next.”

Most recently, the Fanning Institute has started a new podcast called “Leadership Matters” in conjunction with the UGA Small Business Development Center. To listen, click here.

To access all of Fanning’s virtual leadership resources, click here.

Writer:            Charlie Bauder;; 706-542-7039
Contacts:        Nina Johnson;; 706-542-4243
Brendan Leahy;; 706-542-0792