Agnes Ly

Agnes Ly, Ph.D.
Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences
University of Delaware

What makes a great leader?

When I think of what it means to be a leader, the most straightforward answer is that this is someone that I trust is on my side, inspires me to be better, and can communicate a clear vision for a future. 

To me, the main characteristic that sets truly great leaders apart from other leaders is their emotional agility. Dr. Susan David, describes it a process of allowing yourself to navigate your inner emotional world with an open attitude.  Emotional agile leaders model, enable, and encourage emotional agility in others. Great leaders create this psychologically safe space that fosters a space where everyone can have a voice, ask for help, and take risks without fearing punishment for mistakes. It’s through this psychologically safe space where creativity and productivity thrive.

A great leader is someone who emerges from challenges stronger by making hard decisions while working with and sacrificing alongside others on their team.  They communicate, are honest, and transparent.  They also keep connected to their team by being genuinely interested in how they are feeling and communicate how their feedback is being considered and used.  A great leader is a person who demonstrates their leadership and care with action, not only with words.

  • Tell us about a time you felt truly proud of your work. What did you accomplish?

I find that it is these seemingly small and powerful exchanges that I have with my students where I feel truly proud and grateful for being a teacher.  My approach to teaching is inspired by my favorite childhood book, The Phantom Tollbooth. The book begins with Milo, who couldn’t “see the point in learning to solve useless problems…and, since no one bothered to explain otherwise, he regarded the process of seeking knowledge as the greatest waste of time of all” (Juster, 1961, p. 9).  Through his adventures beyond the tollbooth, Milo interacts with many characters that help him learn and apply his knowledge to overcome roadblocks. When he returns to his own world, Milo sees it through new eyes – his previously boring, everyday life is now more interesting and complex than he first experienced. 

The fascinating content about psychological science that I get to share with my students has the potential to change how they see their worlds – just like it did for Milo.  One of my students recently shared that “a month ago, I would have never thought about all of the different things that go into forming a thought or how a behavior forms, but now…I think more deeply about these kinds of things and ask myself questions about how this could have come about. I also think about how I need to rely on science more to answer questions about the world…Learning about psychology has made me more inquisitive and aware of my surroundings. Even outside on my walk to class, I notice the world around me a lot more and even think about how things have formed, and the relationship between different things and how they work together in the environment.”

I am only one part of our students’ entire educational journey, and as teachers, this is the kind of difference we hope to make as our students forge their own paths.

Agnes Ly is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Delaware. She is an advocate for the use of mixed pedagogies and tools, such as problem-based learning, team-based learning, and clickers, to tailor and enhance student engagement and learning. Dr. Ly’s current pedagogical interests are in developing methods to engage and support students taking large-enrollment introductory courses and the use of technology to support student learning both inside and outside of the classroom. She holds a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Irvine.