The following provides answers to the most frequently asked questions.  Additional questions may be directed to Kris Vehrs at kvehrs@aza.org.

Application Process

Where can I access the Application Form or the Director Recommendation Form? 
All forms, along with other need-to-know information regarding this program may be accessed through www.aza.org/ELDP.aspx 

Is there a deadline for submitting an application to the program? 
Yes, AZA must receive all completed application materials, which includes the application form and recommendation form by July 15, 2016.  Application materials may be submitted to arutherford@aza.org with the subject line "ELDP Application [Last Name]".

Is there a limit of the number of applicants that may apply from one institution? 
Yes, only two applicants from an institution may apply per cycle.

Do I need to have the support of my existing Director? 
The applicant's current Director must complete the Executive Recommendation Form, which acknowledges support. In addition to their current Director completing the form, an applicant may also ask another Director from another AZA accredited institution to complete a form, which is optional.

The recommendation forms will be kept confidential and once complete may be sent via email from the Director to kvehrs@aza.org.  (Note: If the applicant's Director is a current member of the ELDP Executive Resource Selection Committee, they will be required to ask a Director from another AZA accredited institution to complete the form.

How should I approach gaining support to participate in this program if the Director from my institution recently transitioned and does not know me well? 
We would advise that you schedule a meeting with your previous Director and your current Director to discuss your ability and interest to advance to the role of Director within an AZA accredited Zoo or Aquarium within the next 5 years. Based on their insights and willingness to support your participation, they could both complete an Executive Recommendation Form.

Who would be an ideal candidate for the ELDP? 
An ideal candidate for this program will be someone that…

  • Demonstrates the ability and interest to advance to the role of Director within an AZA accredited Zoo or Aquarium in the next 5 years.
  • Is a self-starter who takes initiative and is willing to devote a significant amount of personal and professional time to their executive development throughout the program.
  • Has the confidence to reach out to expand their networks across the AZA executive community.
  • Demonstrates and shows solid evidence of the selection criteria described on the Application Form.
  • Has strong support from his/her Director to pursue this opportunity and will be given the time to actively participate in the various program components such as the work sessions, individual development plans, Action Learning Teams, mentor meetings,  etc.

Should I go through the application process if I am an existing Director and would like to participate in this program? 
No.  We are currently working with the Professional Development Committee to make the program components accessible to existing Directors to support ongoing executive development and/or accelerate the orientation of experienced executives who are new to the field or new to an institution.  In the meantime, you may contact Kris Vehrs at kvehrs@aza.org or 301.562.0777 ext. 229 to discuss ways to leverage the various tools and experiences to support your development needs.


Selection Process

How many participants will be selected for the ELDP? 
At this time, we plan to select 10 participants each year.

Who is involved with the selection of ELDP participants? 
The ELDP Executive Resource and Selection Committee, which is made up of existing Directors, AZA Staff and AZA Board Members, will evaluate applications and select program participants.

How will I know if I am selected? 
All qualified applicants will be notified by late August - early September.  If an applicant does not meet the minimum requirements, they will be notified shortly after their application is submitted.

If I am not selected for the 2016 ELDP, can I reapply again the following year? 
Yes, if you still meet the program requirements, we encourage you to reapply.

What if I need to defer my acceptance? 
We will handle these on a case-by-case basis depending on the situation, but in most cases if a participant needs to defer their acceptance, they would need to reapply in following year.


General Program

What is the goal of the ELDP Program? 
The goal of the Executive Leadership Development Program is to develop executive talent and leadership for individuals who demonstrate the ability and interest to advance to the role of Director within an AZA accredited zoo or aquarium within the next 5 years.

The focus of the Executive Leadership Development Program is on the development of the executive competencies, or the knowledge, skills and behaviors needed to be most effective in the role of Director.  The competency model emphasizes three tiers of competencies to include:

  • Executive Leadership Behaviors, which define the heart and values of an effective leader and the leadership approach to Inspire, Model, Challenge, Enable, Encourage others to deliver on the mission of the Institution.
  • Executive Focus, which define the skills and knowledge needed to sustain a viable institution and advance the mission.
  • Executive Oversight for Zoo/Aquarium Operations, which define the skills and knowledge needed to provide operational oversight at the Institutional level.

What can I expect from the ELDP program experience? 
Program participants will work closely with the Director at his or her institution and his or her assigned executive mentor.  Throughout the program, they will all work together to assess development priorities and create an individualized development plan (IDP) to address.  Elements of the IDP will include a variety of experience including,

  • On-the-job training and job shadow experiences at the participant's home institution, other community organizations, etc.
  • Action Learning Teams, where participants are assigned to urgent and critical priorities facing AZA and the zoo and aquarium members that are complex and not easily resolved.
  • Conversations with Z/A Executives scheduled throughout the year; these informal sessions will enable existing executives, and other industry professionals to share leadership lessons and transfer institutional knowledge on a variety of topics.
  • Executive Coaching to help participants identify development priorities and differentiate the role of leaders at the executive level versus manager level. 

What commitments will I need to plan for throughout the program experience? 

  • Program participants will be required to devote a significant amount of personal and professional time for his/her individual development plans and other structured development opportunities. 
  • Program participants are accountable for driving their own development and will be responsible for meeting regularly with their Director and with their Mentor to discuss their program progress.
  • A 360-degree Leadership Behavior Assessment will occur November-December, before the program launch, which involves administrative logistics and will include a one-on-one coaching session to review your results.
  • The ELDP in-person work sessions will be scheduled during the AZA conferences planned in January, March, May and September and will require participants to travel to conference site during the scheduled week of the conference. Participation in the remaining conference is encouraged, but is not mandatory.
  • The Action Learning Teams will meet regularly via phone and web-conferencing.  Participants should anticipate a weekly meeting or some follow up action associated with this project each week for a 6-month period.
  • Time allocated to complete job shadow experiences, on-the-job training and participation in various events and meetings to coincide with your development priorities will all take place on a regular basis

Is there a cost to participate in the ELDP? 
Yes, the tuition for the program is $2500. This cost covers all program materials, your 360-degree Leadership Behavior Assessment, several individual and group executive coaching sessions throughout the program, and the on-going support of the program leadership. Participants will also incur the costs to travel to the four in-person program meetings, scheduled to take place at the Director Policy Conferences, the Mid-Year Conference, the May Congressional Session, the Annual Conference, as well as any other potential site visits or conferences that would support the development plan. The registration cost of attending these AZA conferences would only be due if the participant stays additional time to participate in other conference sessions and events. Before applying, you will want to talk with your Director to make sure they will support your attendance at these in-person meetings and to discuss the budget for these expenses.

Are there scholarship dollars available if my institution is unable to support my participation? 
The goal of the application process is to select the most qualified applicants.  Although we do not have a formal scholarship process in place, the ELDP Executive Selection Committee will assess these situations on a case-by-case basis and determine how to best support an individual that is well supported but may come from an institution that is unable to support the program expense.

How long is this program experience intended to be? 
Participants are considered active in the program for 13 months (January-January) - starting and ending with the Director's policy conference. All of the structured components of the program will happen during this year.  Following the first year, the participants are encouraged to continue their development with a more self-directed approach and may continue to use the tools and resources that have been provided to advance their executive development.  Program alumni will continue to be invited to virtual conversations and other relevant development opportunities.

Will there be a formal assessment of an individual's performance in the program? 
The performance of an individual during the program will be assessed both formally and informally.  Ongoing progress will be evaluated on regular basis through meetings with the participant's leader and mentor.  A combined meeting will take place quarterly to include participant, leader, and mentor to reflect on progress and make agreements on the action plans of the next quarter to address development priorities.

What are the role and responsibilities of the Director and Mentor throughout the Program experience? 
The Director and the Mentor will meet regularly with the participant to support their program experience by…

  • Providing input and guidance for the Individual Development Plans (IDPs)
  • Identifying experiences or opportunities to address the development priorities
  • Acting as a sounding board
  • Providing constructive feedback and real-time coaching
  • Assessing progress and supporting the application of learnings
  • Bridging relationships and networks
  • Sharing industry expertise and leadership insights
  • Supporting job shadow experiences, site visits, observation at own or other institutions

Is there oversight to address issues throughout the course? 
Yes, we will have a program administrator available to address any program related issues or to provide support.  Individuals may also contact Kris Vehrs directly to address any program concerns.

What if I cannot fulfill my responsibilities and commitments to complete the program successfully? 
The most important action an individual must take throughout their program is open communication to those supporting their program experience on how they are doing.  If things are not going well for an individual, or they are unable to meet their program commitments, it is important to be aware and understand why. Leaders, Mentors, Program Administrators are all available to help individuals address program challenges, remove obstacles, and or negotiate program commitments.

What if I leave an AZA organization during the timeframe, can I complete program? 
If a participant leaves their existing institution and moves to another AZA accredited institution, they will continue in the program.  All other transitions would need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

What happens after I complete the program? 
Following the program, ELDP participants should continue to update and add to their individual development plans, expand their AZA networks, and look for additional opportunities to advance their executive competency capabilities. As openings occur at an institution, the AZA's Senior Leadership Team will also work to advocate for individuals that have completed the program successfully as appropriate.

Find a Zoo or Aquarium Donate to AZA Contact Us Member Login Search the site