Dill-Macky Case Study

Ruth Dill-Macky, professor, Department of Plant Pathology

Ruth Dill-Macky is a professor in the Department of Plant Pathology in the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources. She began working at the University of Minnesota in 1992 and spends 70% of her time on research and 30% in the classroom. Her research is focused on the economically important diseases of small-grained cereals in Minnesota. She is also a co-chair of the United States Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative.

When Ruth Dill-Macky started the LEADS program, she did so with the intent to develop her leadership capacity and to take time to reflect on her skills.

“It seems like our jobs are so busy that often you feel like you’re just firefighting and reacting to what's going on,” Dr. Dill-Macky said. “I recognize that the leadership program would enable me the time to take a step back to actually reflect on things and think things through and hopefully take those things to be more deliberate as I move forward.”

Leadership Challenges

Faculty leaders nowadays are faced with increasing demands decreasing resources and support. For example, Dr. Dill-Macky spends much of her time applying for grants to support her research efforts, where she used to rely on government funding for similar research.

“I think it's harder to find money than it used to be and so I think a lot of the expectations are clearly there that you need to bring the money in to support the people, to do the research, to publish, and so its like this chain of things.” She said. “It feels like I have less time now than I ever did, and I think partly that reflects the fact that we have less support.”

And while, finding support and resources is challenging, she emphasized that dealing with people is by far the biggest challenge. Graduate school helps University faculty leaders to become experts in their field, but Dr. Dill-Macky believes that it doesn’t prepare faculty to deal with conflict and build productive relationships.

“That’s the hardest part of the job. I never lie awake at night thinking, how am I going to do this analysis,” Dr. Dill-Macky recalls. “It’s always like, what am I going to do with this graduate student, or what am I going to do with this employee, or how am I going to tell somebody something, how are they going to react. It’s far and away the hardest part of this job is the people. The plants behave themselves pretty predictably, the people not so much.”

Leadership Insights

Dr. Dill-Macky said that the LEADS program helped to affirm some of the things that she believed about herself and it also made her aware of how she differs from her colleagues.

“I think the thing that I learned was that I am probably not the norm and therefore I need to consider how other people behave and maybe cut some people some slack for not thinking things through.”

She said she found the sessions where University senior leaders spoke about their experiences to be insightful because it helped her to understand the reasoning behind their decisions as well as their priorities.

“I think that was really beneficial because often we see actions that they take and either you kind of duck your head and let the wave of whatever it is wash over you, or you try to stop it, which is often futile,” Dr. Dill-Macky said.

Influence is also a skill that Dr. Dill-Macky said she developed. She said she realized that influencing people by being able to reflect and think about their motivations and what might be needed to present a well reasoned argument to gain their support is an important part of leadership.

Insight in Action

Dr. Dill-Macky recalled a situation not long after she finished the program when she encountered a conflict with a colleague and was able to draw on the experience of the LEADS program to consider a different approach.

“I had someone on my executive committee kind of come out of left field and do something I wasn’t anticipating that I wasn’t very happy about. It was clear that what he was doing was just trying to be obstructionist and it was like, ‘Okay, how do I deal with this?’” Dill-Macky said. “It was good because I didn’t get caught up in it. I felt like I had much better control of the situation right from the get-go because I couldn't control the way that he was behaving, but I could control the way I responded.”

“I'm not sure I would have responded exactly the same way had I not so recently have thought about how to actually de-escalate the situation effectively and so it was like, ‘Yes! I can do this.` and put that in place and I'm sure this sort of thing will happen from time to time again. It kind of always does, but I did feel better prepared for it than I imagined I would.”

The College LEADS program helps faculty to build their leadership skills around the University’s six unique leadership challenges. Faculty members participate in assessments, personal coaching, classroom sessions, online activities, and simulations.