L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs

L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs



Virginia Executive Institute: Building Leaders

The Spring 2017 Class of VEI
The Spring 2017 Class of VEI

By Pamela Stallsmith

Betty Burrell, director of finance for Albemarle County, was researching leadership development programs online when she came across the Wilder School’s Virginia Executive Institute.

Burrell was familiar with the Wilder School’s Performance Management Group—which runs the VEI—through her previous government job. She decided to apply, and she’s glad she did.

“I had been thinking about what I needed to do next in my career, and this program was absolutely the perfect choice for me.  It was a wonderful experience,” said Burrell, who went through the VEI this spring. “The self-assessments were revealing and helped me identify how I can strengthen my leadership skills. The speakers were fascinating. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program.”

The VEI is the premier leadership development program for leaders in Virginia government from all branches and regions—executive, judicial and legislative, as well as universities, independent state agencies and local government from across the commonwealth.

The list of alumni reads like a Who’s Who of Virginia government, including cabinet secretaries, agency heads, managers, directors and other decision makers. More than 1,200 leaders have gone through the program since VCU assumed responsibility for the program from the state in 1997.

“It’s a unique executive education program for state leaders and a transformative experience,” said James Burke, Ph.D., director of the Wilder School’s Performance Management Group and who leads the VEI program with Linda Pierce, an expert in organizational development.

“It’s a unique executive education program for state leaders and a transformative experience,” said James Burke, Ph.D., director of the Wilder School’s Performance Management Group.

“The Virginia Executive Institute is not just about a participant’s leadership development, but also engaging with others in the program and networking,” Burke said. “People form lasting relationships, both personal and professional. The program gives people the opportunity to reflect upon where they are in their leadership effectiveness and where they want to be."

Wilder School Dean John Accordino, Ph.D., FAICP, said the program is an important part of the school’s mission. 

“One of the key tasks of the Wilder School is to use our expertise in state and local government to serve elected and appointed officials as they work to improve public policy and administration,” he said. ‘The program’s structure gives participants the spark they need to create collaboratively projects of practical value to state and local agencies.”

The VEI, offered in the spring and fall, typically enrolls between 30 and 36 participants. The rigorous program includes self-assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and 360 Feedback, a robust reading list, media training, sessions on conflict resolution and ethical decision making, and coaching. 

Each class is divided into six groups and assigned a “leadership challenge” to research and present to a panel of state government leaders at a graduation held at the state Capitol, which this year featured remarks by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The class meets over several months, starting with an afternoon orientation session, a week in Charlottesville the next month and then a final week in Virginia Beach the following month, capped off by the group presentations and graduation in Richmond.

This spring’s leadership challenges examined redistricting, the best way for state and local leaders to work together, how to involve state workers in the “American Evolution” celebration in 2019, increasing minority representation in state government, minimizing disruption in juvenile education, and space activity at Wallops Island.

“I just can’t tell you how important this is for the commonwealth,” McAuliffe told the graduates at their May 5 event. “As we’re working to build workforce in the new Virginia economy, it all comes back to our state employees. We need your new, forward-thinking ideas.”

Amanda Monaco, mediation and workplace conflict consultation program director in the Office of Equal Employment and Dispute Resolution at the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management, said the VEI exceeded her expectations.

“Not only is it a high-impact program that inspired me to be a better leader in the workplace, but it also challenged me to be a more genuine and authentic individual at home and in my community,” she said. “The personal assessments coupled with the motivational speakers, the challenging group project, and the amazing opportunity to network and create special bonds with my fellow VEI colleagues will be life altering for me.”

For Jason Brown, assistant commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles, the networking opportunities were exceptional. “Through the friendships I made, I can call anyone in the program and ask for advice, counsel or a favor. It promotes cross-agency collaboration.”

The VEI has an active alumni association that sponsors a reception at every program to forge relationships, which helps break down siloes across state and local government.

“This program provides an opportunity for people to rethink their role in government and to think about what public services means,” said Karen Doty, president of the VEI Alumni Association and a 2006 graduate who’s director of human resources and learning at the Virginia Department of Taxation. “People are sharing their knowledge and experience, and that improves government. I’m very passionate about the program and believe in its purpose.”

The two weeks away from the office allow participants to focus on the program. Participants are encouraged to put away their mobile devices, disengage from work and engage with each other.

“I learn as much at VEI as the participants, not only from the speakers but from the participants with their extensive knowledge and experience in state and local government, as well as their leadership abilities,” Pierce said.


Professional Development at the Wilder School 

VEI is among several professional development programs offered by the Wilder School:

  • Fundamentals for Supervisors is a three-day program that provides essential skills required by those new to supervising the work of others, leading project teams or who have not received prior supervisory training. The goal of this class is to increase an individual’s performance as a supervisor and to provide practical tools to enhance staff performance.
  • The Experienced Supervisor's Institute is a three-day program for forward-thinking supervisors, managers and project leaders. This class helps build the necessary competencies that will move you beyond the role of a managing supervisor to becoming an influential leader. This workshop focuses on advanced supervision tools/tips and an introspective look at what it takes for you and your team to succeed in good and challenging climates.
  • The Commonwealth Management Institute is a five-day program that focuses on professional development for experienced managers in state government. The institute promotes the exchange of information, the development of creative ideas, and cooperation and future collaboration among program participants.

Learn more 

For more information about these programs, contact:

  • James Burke, Ph.D.,  (804) 828-1191 or jmburke@vcu.edu
  • Linda Pierce, (804) 827-0482 or llpierce@vcu.edu