New Class Graduates from Harris Leadership Academy

Read an interview below featuring an Academy instructor and recent graduate

California Nevada Washington Company

Concord, CA -

On November 20, Harris & Associates hosted a graduation ceremony for the 2015 class of the firm's annual Leadership Academy. Each year, the executive leadership of Harris selects 12-15 candidates from all over the firm to participate in the program. The candidates span across all of Harris' practices, markets, corporate departments, geographic locations and different levels of management.

Below is an interview of Chris Dunne, Vice President of Construction Management and Ashley Houk, Marketing Communications Manager reflecting on their different experiences in the Academy.

Tell me a bit about your history/participation in Harris' Leadership Academy. What were your first thoughts when hearing about the program vs. how you feel about it now?

CD: I was a member of the first Harris Leadership Academy in 2013, and have been a teacher and advisor in the subsequent years. When I was first selected to participate, I was serving as the Program Director for Los Angeles City College. I was so busy in my role, I honestly couldn’t conceive of finding the time to participate in this program. However, going through the program, you realize how applicable and tangible the material is to the job. The curriculum of the Harris Leadership Academy does a great job of mixing up the trust-building and some of the softer sides of the program with real-world simulations, readings and information you can apply immediately.

AH: In December of 2014, I was notified that I would be a participant in the upcoming 2015 Leadership Academy class and I was absolutely terrified (laughs). No, I was honored, but I was surprised that a company would want to invest so much in a manager at my level and in a millennial to boot! Going through the Academy though, it helped me gain the confidence and skills I needed to take my career to the next level. I saw that I do have a voice, and can make a significant impact at Harris and beyond if I continue to work on my development. If I learned anything: Leadership is a lifetime pursuit. 

How has your perspective on leadership changed through your participation in the Academy?

CD: The Academy opened my eyes to the different needs and perspectives of people. Before, I thought of approaching work challenges or business issues strictly in the way I thought would be best. The Academy showed me there are many different types of people based on the assessments we took (Strength Finders ™, True Colors ™, Motivators ™, etc.). You know inherently people are all different, but on a job site you tend to lose sight of that and think your equivalents are similar to you. Through the Academy, I learned how to work with all types of people who all think differently, have different motivations and different perspectives.

AH: I used to think of leadership as a summit you “reached” in the later part of your career. Leadership occurs at all levels and is really a lifelong pursuit. CEO Lisa Larrabee shared a popular quote (Simon Sinek I believe) with our class—“Leadership is not a place of arrival, it’s a place of departure” and I think that sums it up perfectly.

Do you think CM/engineering professionals and the greater A/E/C industry at large would benefit from participation in Harris’ Leadership Academy? Why or why not?

CD: I do think the Academy would benefit all types of professionals. I do think it may depend on the position of the participant and I think the Academy is most beneficial to the participant if they’re in a place in their career where they have to manage a team (whether on a project or internally). A lot of what we are learning in the Academy, we are beginning to share with clients and project teaming partners. We even found out one of our clients used the True Colors ™exercise with their staff and we were able to have a whole discussion with them around that and apply it to our future work with them.

AH: Everyone would benefit from this program. The leaders that emerge from the program are assuming leadership roles everywhere—not just at Harris, but also on projects and in industry professional associations. I have a feeling the Academy's contributions will eventually extend beyond Harris. 

What do you think clients/owners should know about Harris’ Leadership Academy (if anything at all)? Do you think anything about our program would stand out for them?

CD: I think clients should know we have a serious commitment to the continuous development of our staff. It’s one of our shared values: investing in our people. We want to develop future leaders for their projects and programs and for our industry. It’s one of the largest impacts we can make as a company.

AH: Clients should know that the Harris Leadership Academy is pretty unique—it differs from other leadership programs in how comprehensive it is and its emphasis on the interpersonal and soft skills. As Chris mentioned earlier, a lot of the material can be applied directly to solving issues on projects and jobs. Our Leadership Academy participants learn how to work with all different types of people and learn new approaches and perspectives to solving problems.  

Right now there are multiple generations participating all at once in our workforce. Does the Academy help with these generational differences? How so?

CD: One of the best parts of Harris’ Leadership Academy is that it does bring together such diverse groups of people from different generations, backgrounds, genders, etc. The Academy has helped me and other participants that come from some of the older generations learn more about the younger generations. I was able to see them in a different light—away from the job site—and understand more about their point of view on certain issues. I also think the Academy has really helped with cross-training our employee-owners about our various services and markets.

AH: As Chris says, the Leadership Academy definitely makes you aware of the many different points of views, managerial styles, communication preferences, etc. that are out there. In our discussions we also touched on other types of diversity, including generational gaps and differences, which is a pretty hot topic these days! The Academy helps you re-evaluate the unconscious biases or judgments you may have made about generations. We especially focused on “possibility thinking” which helps you reframe problems or challenges into opportunities. I think there are a lot of critical ways different generations can actually help one another—through the transfer of historical knowledge, training on new technology, etc. The Academy helped me to reframe a lot of my frustrations with generational gaps into exciting opportunities to learn something new or teach someone something new.

The Harris Leadership Academy was launched in 2013 and is a comprehensive leadership and development program. The program focuses on growing current and future leaders within Harris, but also current and future leaders of complex projects and programs and of the A/E/C industry at large.

The Leadership Academy is a year-long program and includes several components:

  • Multiple individual assessments (including 360-degree feedback)
  • Personal coaching from a trained consultant
  • In-class sessions with assigned reading
  • Live company simulations and leadership challenge exercises
  • A group or individual action learning project

The 2015 class graduation included candidate presentations to the executive leadership on the action learning projects, which Academy participants develop throughout the year. Candidates are interviewed and reflect on their experience in the Academy and give advice to future participants.


About Harris

Harris is a 100% employee-owned company focused on solving today's complex challenges in planning, construction and design. Our offices and project sites span the West Coast in California, Nevada and Washington with a staff of nearly 200 employee-owners. We focus on serving clients in the municipal, water, transportation, and education markets.

For More Information

Nathan M. Couch / Director, Marketing + Communications

925.827.4900, ext. 1125

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Harris Leadership Academy 2015 Graduating Class

2015 Harris Leadership Academy Graduating Class