Brandman News

Making culture contagious Anese Cavanaugh

July 06, 2017 by Brandman University
Anese Cavanaugh

Anese Cavanaugh

Imagine a newly landscaped yard.

And then, a flock of sheep invading that manicured lawn.

It wasn’t just a metaphor Anese Cavanaugh used in her keynote address to Brandman University’s gathering of Doctorate of Education (Ed.D.) in Organizational Leadership students, It happened, and she has the pictures to prove it.

About Anese Cavanaugh

  • Has a background in kinesiology and worked with athletes.
  • Noticed how working on well-being and presence led to results and also translated to organizations.
  • Fine-tuned her approach with data about leadership, noticing that some leaders have great skills but burn out from lack of self-care; some take care of themselves but can’t seem to influence others; and some get their results at the expense of others, producing drama and high turnover in the process.
  • Developed the IEP to train leaders on their awareness of “intent, energy and presence” first before working on traditional leadership skills such as communication and teamwork.
  • More information at


The sheep incident gave Cavanaugh a chance to show how she follows, and sometimes forgets, her own advice from her book “Contagious Culture.”

 “My first thought (upon seeing the sheep in her yard) was panic, total frustration and anger,” she said. It took her about five minutes to shift from those muscle tension-producing emotions to realizing that her teenage kids were having a great time. She started to think about what could be created from the sheep invasion (an incredible family story) and what was important at that moment (not the landscaping but getting the sheep to calm down so they could be herded back through the fence).

“You can choose your experience in every moment,” she said.

Joneane Davis, an Ed.D. student, wasn’t expecting a story about sheep when she saw “Contagious Culture” as the keynote topic. In fact, she didn’t know what to expect. Neither did her classmate, Nou Vang.

But after listening to Cavanaugh’s 90-minute interactive presentation, they both agreed: It was just what they needed.

“Contagious Culture” is Cavanaugh’s way of talking about how leaders (including those in Brandman’s Ed.D. program) help shape an organization as much by how they present themselves (“show up” in Cavanaugh’s words) as they do by expertise and strong communication, team-building and leadership skills.

Every leader, she said, should be asking themselves four questions:

  • Am I having the impact I want to have?
  • Do I feel the way I want to feel?
  • Do people follow me because they have to or because they want to?
  • What is the culture I am creating?
Anese Cavanaugh high fives a Brandman University Ed.D. student who thanked her for her keynote presentation.

Anese Cavanaugh high fives a Brandman University Ed.D. student who thanked her for her keynote presentation.

Cavanaugh, who usually works with large organizations to help them solve their leadership issues, jumped at the chance to talk to a room full of doctoral students offered to her by Marilou Ryder, an associate professor in the School of Education, who plays a key role in organizing the program’s multi-day immersions.

In the process of moving toward training others to teach her IEP method (Intentional Energetic Presence), Cavanaugh saw the keynote address as a way to connect with people in schools and other organizations interested in training their employees.

That resonated with both Davis and Vang, who agreed that they could see ways to put what they learned to work at their schools by first managing how they “show up,” including when faced with a roomful of unhappy summer school students.

Cavanaugh’s approach also meshes with how School of Education Dean Christine Zeppos views the doctoral program. “We want our leaders to not just have the skills to do great work but also to inspire the people who work with them and build cohesive teams,” said Zeppos. Cavanaugh’s emphasis on awareness and presence are what Zeppos expects from her program’s transformational leaders.

“Notice what works for you,” Cavanaugh told the group. “Hard stuff happens. You have a choice to curl up and contract or take a deep breath and decide how you can make a positive contribution in the world. That’s what I believe.”


Keys to contagious culture

  • Be responsible for your energy and presence.
  • Be present and intentional.
  • Be “impeccable.” Be your word.
  • Be the creator of your own experience and a contribution to theirs.
  • Be the culture you want to create.

Source: Anese Cavanaugh

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