This is the first of a two-part series on leadership.
Leadership development comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it’s a goal an individual sets, or a professional requirement that’s mandated in order to take the next step in your career. Often, it’s executive education or professional training that companies offer, whether internal or external. No matter how you arrive at the decision to develop yourself as a leader, it’s a choice, one that undoubtedly will have positive benefits on you and others around you.
One of the benefits of participating in leadership programs is that it gets you outside of your comfort zone and allows you to meet other leaders with whom you might not otherwise interact. You become exposed to business and civic challenges where you’re able to offer your thoughts and perspective, and you hear the unique perspectives of others who may think differently than you do. It essentially creates an awareness for problems that need to be addressed – or in some cases, are being addressed – and provides you an opportunity to learn while cross-pollinating with resources, ideas and networks outside of your own.
Similarly, when you participate in leadership programs, you’re often exposed to government programs, nonprofits and companies that are investing in the next generation. While this takes many forms – such as infrastructure and housing, education, business and many others – these initiatives sometimes go unnoticed until a light is shined upon them. And when you shine a light on the good that is taking place in your city or state, it encourages others to get involved, creating a multiplier effect. One of my biggest takeaways from a program in which I recently participated, Leadership Alabama, was the many different and incredible places in our state, and the vast numbers of dedicated people and organizations who care deeply about our communities and are committing their careers, resources and lives to making us all better off.
It’s not lost on me how lucky I am to have experienced many opportunities – in addition to Leadership Alabama – to develop and nurture my leadership skills. When given the opportunity, I enjoy sharing with others the value of these programs. In speaking with other members of the 2017-2018 Leadership Alabama class, recurring themes emerged that I find fascinating. Tammy J. Montgomery, a district court judge in Sumter County, Alabama, puts eloquently into words the first major theme, engagement:
“[You] become familiar with, engage with, develop a knowledge of and coalesce with persons at decision-making levels who are involved in business, government, the arts, education, banking, media and real estate – with whom I might not cross paths otherwise. The greatest benefit of such leadership programs is allowing participants to fine-tune our knowledge of each other and forging camaraderie,” says Montgomery.
Carol S. Hunter, communications director for the Downtown Mobile Alliance, points to the impact this engagement can have on communities: “Most people understand the successes and weaknesses of their own communities, but traveling and immersing yourself in other cities opens your eyes to all sorts of possibilities. ‘What are they doing right?’ ‘What mistakes can we avoid?’ Equally, and perhaps even more importantly, leadership programs throw engaged citizens together in intense and sometimes uncomfortable situations. Important bonds are formed, friendships cemented and new networks of support are created,” Hunter says.
Another theme that arose in speaking about the benefits of leadership development is simple, but profound: hope, especially for the future.
Eric P. Jack, dean of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business, says that, as a transplant from out-of-state, he has seen Alabama come a long way since he moved to the state in 2001, and Leadership Alabama pointed to even better days ahead: “We saw strong, positive signs of hope for a bright future in Alabama, given strategic investments in education, workforce development, innovation, science/technology, manufacturing, logistics/transportation and the sustainability of our natural resources. Above all, the most hope comes from the many talented leaders who are willing to step forward and make a difference in their communities,” Jack explains.
Hunter adds, “Many of our most populated cities have programs and institutions that are working to advance the state. Some of those successes are remarkable, given the hurdles our constitution and entrenched systems present. The redevelopment projects in Birmingham were especially noteworthy. Many people had given up on the city, but the new energy downtown and in formerly blighted neighborhoods is proof that our urban centers can move Alabama forward.”
My classmates’ responses all point to a final theme: momentum. Whether it’s shifting from awareness to consideration to action or cementing new networks and spheres of support, there is movement. Our cities in Alabama are picking up momentum too – change is taking place, and it’s increasing in speed. As a leader – no matter where you are on your company’s organizational chart or your level of involvement in your community – you are responsible for creating and continuing momentum. Without it, very little moves forward.