Lessons Learned

Recently, I was invited by Yale University to speak to their graduate and undergraduate student leaders about what it takes to be successful in one’s life and profession. What moved me to agree to the presentation was when Stephen Blum, Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at Yale said, ‘I don’t want the regurgitation of Yale alumnae resumes. I want people who will talk about the lessons they have learned over their careers. I want people who will share their wisdom.’ Brilliant. So with that vision and inspiration, my keynote presentation at the Yale Careers, Life and Leadership Workshop shared the following lessons.

Lovely’s 20 Leadership Lessons 

1. Be clear on your values.

2. Work where you want, to not where you have to.

3. Curate mentorship.

4. Stand up for yourself.

5. Use every tool to get what you want.

6. Stand for principles even if you know you will lose.

7. Turn every “never ever” into a positive.

8. Just because something is successful doesn’t mean it is meant to succeed; life happens – value yourself over your work.

9. Figure out your non-negotiable.

10. Find ways to let people on your team do their best work.

11. Being a leader isn’t about recognition (external affirmation) but about how you move in the world (living your values).

12. Love what you do and whom you do it for and with.

13. Try different things and take risks.

14. Take sabbaticals - plan them into your life and work.

15. Negotiate at key career junctures.

16. Surround yourself with diverse perspectives.

17. Watch for trends and always learn.

18. Don’t confuse success with self-worth.

19. Make time for your life.

20. Use your experience and education for your own good and the good of others.

photo credit:    David Zheng

photo credit: David Zheng

Be grounded in your values

Find guides

Take care of yourself and others

Dream big – and always live your best life!


While these lessons were for those at the beginning of their careers, they can apply to everyone. Indeed, it was a wonderful exercise for me to reflect on my own career so far and think about what I had learned and what might be valuable.

We need to spend more time thinking about what we have learned in our work too. That is what I love about the work I do. I think that data, at its best, is used to improve rather than just to prove that something worked or didn’t. I love partnering with organizations to do just that. It is inspiring to witness a growing number of organizations thinking about how they can support strategic learning and transparency so that lessons can be learned and shared for everyone’s benefit.

- Lovely Dhillon, CEO Jodevi

Lovely Dhillon and Sara Vaca Publish in the Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation

Lovely Dhillon and Sara Vaca co-authored ”Refining Theories of Change” in the Journal of MultiDisciplinary Evaluation. This article has been extremely popular, surprising even us by the number of times it has been downloaded (over six thousand) and referenced. Why this level of interest?

As more and more organizations are turning to experts in Theory of Change design and implementation, a research scan demonstrates that while Theories of Change have largely remained consistent in their visual format, there are significant disparities in the ways in which they are defined as well as in the elements that are included in their development. Indeed, Theories of Change have traditionally been presented as one-page visuals, created as stand-alone tools, and regularly confused with other strategy tools such as Logic Models.

In our scholarly piece, which is interspersed with visuals and examples, we propose four strategies for creating impactful Theories of Change:

(1) Incorporate the key elements of a good Theory of Change and distinguish it from other organizational tools. The key elements are causal links, strategies, outputs, outcomes, and impact/mission. These elements and other organizational tools which are often confused with Theories of Change are described in detail in the article.

(2) Consider adding other elements to your Theory of Change which allow for organizational and issue complexity and depth. These include assumptions, mechanisms, and specific causal links. As we further point out, not all outcomes or causal links are the same - some are more important or can be pivotal. These differentiations should be captured in your Theory of Change to make it more powerful.

(3) Develop creative representations and formats for your Theory of Change. For example, an arts organization may want to present its Theory of Change in a play format or as a piece of art, with an oral or written narrative detailing the Theory of Change further. Don’t limit yourself to the typical flowchart model and invest in graphic designers or other creative agents who can translate your Theory of Change into compelling data visualization formats.

(4) Link your Theory of Change to other organizational tools (see graphic below). Organizations should not develop each strategy tool in isolation. Rather, they should all nest well together and build from one another. This will allow an organization to capture nuance and changed circumstance and to iterate and incorporate strategic learning throughout its tools rather than in a piecemeal way that can feel inefficient and draining.

Creating a strong Theory of Change can improve all aspects of an organization or intervention, including in the areas of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, strategy, and impact. Theories of Change are becoming widely recognized as a powerful tool within an organization’s strategy toolbox, even in relatively new areas such as impact investing. We look forward to partnering with you to create organizational Theories of Change that reflect an organization’s unique approach to creating meaningful and sustainable change.

For more information, you can access our article “Refining Theories of Change” at http://journals.sfu.ca/jmde/index.php/jmde_1/article/view/496/444.