David W. Martel is the vice president for communications and chief marketing officer of the University of Virginia. He recently earned a noncredit Certificate in Leadership & Management from Darden Executive Education & Lifelong Learning and shares how his experience made him a better, more compassionate leader.

What prompted you to pursue the Certificate in Leadership & Management?

If you look at the books on my shelves, they are all about becoming a better leader. I realized that my leadership journey had largely been self-taught. I wanted to test my thoughts and ideas and be in an environment where I could learn from some of the brightest minds. That is what drew me to Darden.

What did you find most meaningful about the experience?

The case study method resonated with me. I liked diving in, considering the complexity, and reaching a point in the case where I wasn’t sure how it would end.

I had lot of wonderful professors. Martin Davidson stood out because he was willing to share some insights about himself that made him vulnerable to the class. It allowed him to connect on the most human level. Also, Servant Leadership should be a mandatory class for any executive because it’s just so good and so powerful.

Classes had high engagement and participation. Everyone was committed to getting something out of the course and made substantive contributions to the discussions. It made for a great experience with rich and insightful takeaways.

What was your biggest takeaway?

Why it matters to be a more compassionate leader. I learned the value of pausing more often to truly listen and to understand the life experience of the person sitting across from me. Now, I spend more time learning the personal stories of the people I work with instead of just focusing on work, outcomes and deliverables. Something as simple as asking, “How was your weekend?” is powerful when it’s genuinely asked and your intention is to learn more about your employees’ lives.

This program helped teach me that good leaders become great leaders when they have an openness to appreciate the breadth and depth of their employees’ lived experiences.

What would you share with someone considering Executive Education at Darden?

The author Stephen Covey talks about the idea of “sharpening the saw,” where you deliberately care for and maintain your managerial skills and acumen. In this instance, it’s organizational leadership. Executive Education at Darden represents the opportunity to “sharpen your saw” and pursue excellence in your leadership through a process of continuous improvement.

Interested in pursuing your noncredit Certificate in Leadership & Management? Connect with our Lifelong Learning team to discuss your career goals and start planning your journey today.