Shafer Leadership Academy to Serve Up Largest Training in 14-year History

2nd shift teamwork. Photo provided2nd shift teamwork. Photo provided

By Kate Elliott—

Muncie, IN — Muncie non-profit Shafer Leadership Academy is providing 144 hours — or 45 hours per employee — of leadership training for supervisors and front-line leads at Tyson Foods in Portland, Indiana. Fueling this virtual partnership is a workforce grant facilitated through Eastern Indiana Works, which provides employers and job seekers a range of resources and services.

Mitch Isaacs, executive director of Shafer Leadership Academy, said investment in leaders matters most when times are tough. “Companies like Tyson Foods that invest in leaders now are helping their people weather the storm and positioning their companies to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more resilient,” he added.

Tyson worked with Shafer Leadership to customize the program based on the specific needs and goals of Tyson supervisors. In February, SLA Program Director Tisha Gierhart visited the plant to talk with each shift and team member. That assessment informed the custom program, which includes SLA signature programs The Five Behaviors, Emotional Intelligence, and The Leadership Challenge.

ZOOM screenshot

ZOOM screenshot

Tyson Human Resources Manager Bree Steffen said the program is designed to empower front-line workers with enhanced communication, social awareness, and leadership skills. In addition to weekly Zoom sessions, participants will spend several hours each week applying what they learn throughout September and October. SLA and Tyson have committed to continuing the partnership into 2021, after the grant’s end.

“I have attended many trainings, that give you a really high over view of a subject or lecture you with language that is just over your head and you leave feeling confused,” said Steffen, who secured the state-funded grant to support leadership development. “With SLA, they get to know you and relate to each individual to provide a personal learning experience that leaves you feeling empowered to take the knowledge they have shared with you and apply it in your daily life.”

SLA hired Virtual Program Manager, Eilis Wasserman, to coordinate virtual public programming and to ensure Tyson’s training mirrors SLA’s collaborative, in-person approach. Wasserman operates video, audio, text and interactive tools within each Zoom session. She walks participants through use of various functions, including digital collaboration “whiteboards,” live polls, breakout sessions, chat boxes and non-verbal feedback buttons. Wasserman said the scale of the Tyson training has allowed SLA to flex its muscles in terms of what it can offer before, during and after a virtual experience.

“The intersection of virtual technology and facilitation can provide a transformative and interactive experience that connects individuals in a learning community like we never have before,” she added. “SLA’s virtual programming is an innovative and forward-thinking format that provides further accessibility and engagement for community leadership conversations and knowledge sharing.”

Gierhart is a few weeks into the Tyson training, and she said it’s been a privilege to watch professionals evolve into “the best leaders they can be.” The virtual experience hasn’t hampered conversations or growth, she said. It empowers all people to participate in new ways, especially introverts who often appreciate the focused reflection and non-verbal feedback.

“It doesn’t matter if the session is virtual or live, the goal is the same: to build relationships that impact teams and develop leaders so that everyone takes something away that helps them have a better conversation today, tomorrow or next week,” said Gierhart, who has facilitated similar in-person trainings forclutch manufacturer, FCC Indiana, also in Portland, during the past four years.

Kathryn Drumm, manager of communications, said Eastern Indiana Works is proud to partner with Tyson and foster this type of professional development to elevate the state’s workforce. Drumm said the organization is committed to assist both businesses and individuals through its range of programs and services at

Shafer Leadership Academy is a Muncie non-profit that provides people of all ages, backgrounds and interests access to the tools necessary to develop and enhance their leadership skills. Go to for an overview of its programs, scholarships, and impact on the community. Connect with SLA on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or call the office at 765-748-0403.