Tara Blythe

Tara Blythe
Associate Vice President for Talent Management and Chief Strategy Officer for University of Florida Advancement

Please describe your role as Associate Vice President for Talent Management and Chief Strategy Officer for University of Florida Advancement and adjunct faculty member for Executive Education at the University of Florida.

I describe my career and industry of talent management normally by stating that I help organizations create sustainable advantage. My principal role at UF is leading organizational strategy and overseeing the teams responsible for creating an engaged community of talent, sustainable pipeline and integration model, innovative and flexible work environments and a workplace of choice characterized by a performance culture to advance the University. In short, I oversee organizational strategy, talent management/human resources and facilities for UF Advancement.

What do you look for when you’re acquiring talent?

When it comes to acquiring talent my lens starts with competency and capability and ends with cultural fit. Of course this means you always look for experience that aligns with core qualifications and responsibilities identified as organizational needs, but I prescribe a competency (knowledge, skills and abilities characterized by values) based approach when identifying, sourcing and selecting talent. The competencies of an organization need to be unique to its culture, grounded in its values and characterized by behaviors. In short, I look not just at the “what” but also the “how”. This competency-based approach applies not just to the acquisition of talent but also to retention, development and performance accountability.  

At UF Advancement the values that characterize our organization are Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Stewardship and Excellence (what we call RAISE – as our Talent is constantly Raising the bar). Our core competencies are grounded in these and describe clusters of knowledge, skills and abilities. These are competencies like Engaging Communication – not just that you know how to speak and write, but that I after I have spoken to you or read what you have written, I remember you – for the right reasons: strategic thinking; relationship mastery; managing execution; or mission driven. At UF Advancement we exist to advance the University of Florida. As such, we look for talent that fundamentally identifies with our core mission and centers its efforts to create awareness, build relationships and generate support understanding the power of philanthropy and creating advocates for our University.  

Describe your leadership style. How do you lead and how do you tackle challenges?

I am often described as a servant leader by others, but I would be described best as a “Situational Leader”. Situational leadership is formally defined as adjusting your style to fit the development needs of those you are trying to influence. I would define it a little more broadly. I center my focus on people. I understand, and I preach that an organization never forgets its most important asset, its talent, and that talent is fundamentally people. People with diverse experiences and strengths, specific perspective and unique aspirations. As such, as a leader, my style changes to adapt to the people I have been lucky enough to lead.  I am constantly reminded not what I can teach them, but what they teach me every day.

For the last six years at UF Advancement, I have been surrounded by the most amazing people I have ever had the pleasure to know. I get much credit for recognizing their talent, providing them tools or simply ensuring they are heard, but it is really me who should be thanking them. They were my mentors, colleagues and friends and I am better to have known them and been able to work by their sides to build something special. If they’re reading this, I hope they know how grateful I am for each and every one of them.

How do you set and attain goals for yourself?

I have always been a self-driven, goal-oriented person, motivated fundamentally by ensuring that I never let anyone down and building a reputation where when I am choosing to engage with any given person, they know that at that moment there is nothing more important to me. I can’t say I am always successful in this, but I can say that I always try.  This was instilled in me as a child by my hero, my father. As such, it is less of a process or prescription for success and more of a core to who I am.

What do you think your strengths are and how did you identify them?

This has always been a tough question for me – not that I am falsely modest – just that the majority of my strengths fall into a few buckets and play out in multiple ways. I am highly empathetic and emotionally intelligent, and I recognize this as a strength even when it can sometimes present itself as a weakness. This means I am very self-aware and socially aware and adaptable to situations and people accordingly. I enjoy utilizing my creative abilities and employing strategic thought and have always been strong in my ability to facilitate conversation.  I have spent much of my career facilitating strategic thinking and planning and my strength in this area is less about the ideas I generate and more about interpreting and repeating what someone else has said at the right time when individuals are ready to hear it. In fact, I think my greatest strength is often recognizing strengths in others and providing a platform for them to be heard.  

How have your setbacks and weaknesses made you stronger?

I have a lot of lessons learned, and most fall into the category of “no good deed goes unpunished,” which I actually appall as a proverb for this reason.  I can be described as an optimistic idealist, and at times, people have disappointed me.  I am inherently trusting and pride myself in seeing the good in most situations, and for that matter, every person. There are times where this trait has allowed me to be taken advantage of. This being said, my optimism, idealism and belief in people and the amazing things people can do will certainly remain.

How do you define what it means to be a fierce woman?

I have always liked this term, but to be honest to answer this one I felt the need to look it up. The definition that resonates with me was showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity. Anything I do, I do with all I am! I am a natural presenter, but when I joined the business world and became a trainer in 2004, I started Toastmasters to hone my skills. Your opening assignment in Toastmasters is a three-minute talk and who you are. Here is some of what I said:  

Who am I? It is hard to comprehend what exactly makes up any given person. Who am I in my perspective, or more importantly who am I in the eyes of others? Am I special? I am someone who would climb a mountain again because I left something insignificant to most but important to someone upon it. I am someone who holds life sacred, yet would trade it to save someone I loved.  Who constantly strives towards her goals and is never satisfied until I succeed.  Someone who loves to sit alone and “ponder,” but whose true being needs people to survive. Someone who knows what my talents are and where my limits lie, yet is constantly trying to exceed them. Someone who feels that nothing in life comes before a person in need. I am never afraid to cry, whether happy, sad, frustrated or angry, my emotions are clearly seen, and I am not ashamed of them. It is not something I will try to change, and it does not make me weak, it is simply who I am. I appreciate feedback and criticism but I also know that I am sensitive, and nothing hurts me more than a harsh word towards me or the thought that something I have done or said has hurt another. I am someone who is trusting to a fault – to me people are truly good and beautiful. I am proud of my love for the human race and my belief in what they can do. I am someone who could forgive anything, but forgets nothing. I am someone who will let nothing stand in my way, but will leave no one in the wake of my success. If I should fall, I will fall alone, but if I should rise, I will bring as many with me as I can. I am a listener, with whom to turn to with the most joyous news or terrible tragedy, and no matter the words, I will promise to truly care. I am a shoulder to cry on, an ear to be heard, a dreamer, a daughter, a teacher, a student, a boss, a sister, a wife and a friend. That is who I am.