Carlson School of Management News

MMI Alum Profile: Luann LaValley

Friday, September 23, 2011

Putting it All Together

Luann LaValleyBack when she was a secretary at Minnesota Power, Luann LaValley saw her bosses turn to the Minnesota Management Institute (MMI) to improve their skills. Now 32 years later she's still at the company, but has risen to become a leader herself. As director of Customer Service, MMI recently came to the forefront again, but this time, it was LaValley's turn to improve.

LaValley moved into her new director role at the Duluth, Minn.-based residential, commercial, and industrial power supply company in January 2011. She had accumulated solid experience within the company, but with 60 people comprising seven departments now under her supervision, an overall business refresher was in order.

"My boss actually offered to send me to MMI," says LaValley. "It was a little daunting taking on so much in my new position and then considering being gone a week a month at MMI. But I thought I really could use the experience, especially in finance and leadership, before I got too immersed in my role, so I pursued it."

An attendee of the spring 2011 MMI class, LaValley, like many MMI attendees, took the Pre-Finance course (offered prior to the full MMI curriculum) which she believes anyone could use. "Like every ten years," she says. "I didn't do a lot of finance in my previous position, so the course was a great refresher. I thought it was well presented and provided an excellent overview on the basics of finance." She adds that the course helped her focus more strategically on the value and the cost of customer service to her company's bottom line.

A leadership 'awakening'
One of the more impactful modules for LaValley was on coaching and mentoring; two areas that sound similar, but to her surprise, have very different meanings entirely.

"That was an awakening," she says of the module. "All these years I thought I was coaching and I really had just been mentoring. I've now changed to more of a coaching mode as opposed to giving my own opinion (mentoring), which is very difficult because you always have your own thought of where things should go, and that's not always what people need. Coaching is putting trust in them and letting them guide the outcome."

As part of the leadership aspect of the program, learning natural management tendencies and becoming more self-aware helped LaValley gain more confidence in her approach with her employees.

"It's not about 'This is me and you need to mold yourself to what I want,' it's more about 'I'm the leader and I'm here to support you to where you need to be,' " she says of the module's mantra. "I already had that supporting style, so that was just an affirmation that I should continue to lead that way.

"Then learning self-awareness helped me to start to consider people's perception. Because you might think you're acting or saying something in certain way, but it really depends on where that other person is coming from and what they are hearing. It's having that 'What would it be like to work for me?' mentality."

Stepping out of the routine
After attending numerous industry conferences over the years and just the daily immersion in her work, LaValley found one of the best parts of the MMI experience was being able to step out of her industry's atmosphere, meet new professionals, and open up to new ideas.

"Anytime you're working with other people from other industries, they're obviously looking at things a little differently than you are," she says "In MMI you really get a lot of different viewpoints. People gave me ideas that I would have never thought of on my own, and in some cases I was able to implement those ideas in my job. Plus, you really get close to your peers, which was the best part of all."

Now months removed from completing MMI, LaValley says that "MMI helped me put everything together at a time that was really optimal for me."

Like her bosses 32 years ago, LaValley sees the value in attending MMI and says she already has a few of her staff members in line to attend over the next few years.

Visit the MMI website to learn more about the program.

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