We talked with Whole U Ambassador Gene Woodard, director of Building Services, about his thoughts on leadership and physical activity. Gene has been at the UW for 30 years.
I’ve heard that you like seeing people improve themselves not just in the workplace, but also outside of the workplace — to make sure they have good lives in general.
The majority of people who work in our department immigrated to the U.S., and they work very hard to support their families. Many are devoted to supporting education of all children, whether in their families or communities. The work that they do for UW provides an income and support for them, but we have always wanted to offer more. One way that we done that is to offer English in the Workplace classes, which we have done since 2001. We’ve had around 140 custodians who have taken three or more classes. Another way we have done this is to offer computer skills classes, which we will be doing again this year.
We also have what’s called the Stepping Stones for Success program. This is a nine-month program that has classroom skills training on leadership and communication, skill application though real work scenarios, and attending the Facilities Services Practical Leadership Series. Completing this course will substitute for supervisory experience and will allow people to compete for supervisory positions if they choose. In any event, graduates have felt the program was a great self-development experience. Even if participants don’t choose to pursue supervision, they feel appreciative that Stepping Stones has helped them in other aspects of their lives.
Why is it important for your department to invest in leaders?
Everyone is a leader, regardless of position. I think that investing in our people helps develop a common language, a common way to work toward common goals. At the same time that we’re doing this, our department is embarking on building a culture of engagement through lean process improvement teams. We are investing in the growth of our own staff. We’ve always had a tradition of promoting from within, but now I think we’ll have people who are ready to hit the ground running a lot faster.
Have you always believed that everyone is a leader?
I always have. Regardless of what you’re doing, you have the opportunity to lead others by taking the initiative when something needs to be done, or helping someone without being asked. There are all sorts of opportunities to demonstrate leadership.
Why did you choose to get involved with The Whole U?
I was approached. I didn’t have the slightest clue to what this Whole U thing was about. As I learned more about what the intentions were, what the goals were, it resonated with me. This University has so much to offer. There are so many things going on here. Facility workers, we’re kind of behind the scenes. We don’t want to be noticed necessarily, so we’re not always connected to the opportunities that exist. I thought it was a way for me to help connect Facilities to the rest of the University.
What have been your favorite Whole U events?
I really love the Free Photo Day. The picture on my screensaver was taken there. I just love that. The umbrella dance was a spectacle — a once-in-a-lifetime event. I was out there trying to do my “Shake It Off” thing. And just a few weeks ago UW Recycling — which is a part of Building Services, my department — partnered with The Whole U and Housing & Food Services to host a screening of the food documentary Just Eat It. I really enjoyed that and the post-movie discussion. I really felt proud that our department had something to do with it.
What is a Whole U event you wish you could see?
Building Services has such a diverse group of people and I love learning about their customs, so some kind of traditional performances from people from other cultures, other countries, in their national attire. For them to be able to tell their story about themselves and where they came from. I would connect that with a potluck, because we have the best potlucks in the world. It would be awesome to have that during the day, maybe at the lawn by the Fountain. Just a day of celebrating diversity.
You ride your bike to work each day?
Yes, I do.
How far is your commute?
A little over 12 miles one way.
How long does that take on bike.
During the spring and summer, when I’m on my faster bike and it’s lighter out, 45 to 50 minutes depending on traffic lights. Going home, maybe 50 minutes to an hour.
Why do you like doing it?
There are all kinds of things to like about riding a bike. This is something I did as a kid for fun. I’m commuting to work while getting my daily exercise. On the commute home I can shed the work day before I get home; I get home energized, instead of tired from sitting in this horrible Seattle traffic. I like everything about riding a bike.
And you do it year-round?
I’ve done it year-round the last two years. I had to work my way up to knowing and acquiring the gear and what to wear for all the weather conditions. I’ve been biking to work for the last eight years, but I used to take most of the winter months off.
Do you think about anything when you’re on your bike?
My leadership team is accustomed to me saying, “I came up with this idea while riding my bike.” One thing about exercising is that you can kind of empty your mind, since you have to focus on what you’re doing, and then thoughts can freely come back in. I tend to solve problems or come up with creative ideas when I’m outside riding my bicycle. I don’t set out to do it, but it just happens.
When I was young, my family didn’t have a car. My mom would give me bus fare — 15 cents one way; I’m giving my age away. If she gave me 30 cents to go to the barbershop, or trumpet lessons, or to see my grandmother, then I would run. I would put that 30 cents in my pocket. If I did that a couple times a week, by the end of the week I had enough money to go see a movie. I wouldn’t have to ask my mother.
That sounds like a metaphor — running instead of taking the bus, and pocketing the change. Because you really do get something back every time you exercise. It’s an investment. Maybe the money trained you from a young age to realize the value of exercise.
I hadn’t thought of it exactly in that way, but you’re right. So I’ve always run. And I played college football, and played sports right out of college. When my older children were young, I stopped all that physical activity and I gained about 60 pounds over the course of a couple years. My blood pressure started going up; I’d get out of breath walking up flights of stairs.
I started running, and for 25 years I ran at lunchtime. I’ve run two marathons and I took up some weightlifting. So being active is ingrained in me and I consider bicycling as natural, fun, and healthful. I’ll hopefully be active for the rest of my life. I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin if I go two or three days without sweating.
Anything else you’d like to add about exercising?
I heard somebody say that the human body is one of the only machines that gets better the more you use it. I believe that.
Thank you to Gene for serving as an Ambassador. Find your Whole U Ambassador here.