I was a member of the first class of Leadership Slidell. It was a fascinating year and we were treated like people who already had made a difference. Actually, that was the criteria to get into the program. We were identified as existing and emerging leaders. The purpose was to continue to develop the members of the class so that we could be good stewards of the community and lead the community as it changed during the years. The objective was to select talented individuals from different sectors of our region and form a think tank to meet the challenges of the future. Our graduates all went on to boards or ran for office.
The next year, I wanted to give something back to the program that gave me so much. I became the designer of the curriculum which focused on three areas: knowledge, skills, and attitudes. It was not designed to be an information dump nor to make a leader out of someone who did not demonstrate leadership qualities. I knew through research that leadership is highly associated with social and communicative abilities. Hence, we started with the assumption that all candidates were experienced in those areas. We subsequently developed a program which enhanced the qualities the students brought to the program. I knew we had to implement our program in an engaging manner so we added the powerful component of experiential learning. Our efforts paid off. In 1993, we won the award for the best program from the Southern Association of Staff Developers.
The next challenge I faced was that we were not financially able to sustain hiring a staff. In response to that I started a program of cross training graduates to lead and teach each session. As the years went on, I was the facilitator for 25 years and worked alongside with especially talented graduates to make sure that a quality program was delivered. Subsequently, it became a great joy to see so many students describe the year they spent in Leadership as "transformative". Graduates went on to do amazing things in this community. Another joy was to see our graduates step up to the plate and become a part of the faculty guiding each new class. This dedication of our graduates continues to be a fine example of community stewardship.
My hopes for the future are that we keep our standards high and the board keeps a healthy balance of leaders who excel in human communications as opposed to individuals who are primarily task oriented. We need to be vigilant about the difference between a leader and a manager. A leader can see into the future and inspire others. A manager makes decisions based on efficiency and logistics. Managers are responsible for maintaining the status quo. In order to remain strong in the future, it is imperative that we actively seek people who are visionaries to guide our boards. They will inspire us to face changes and thrive during challenging times. True leaders understand the minds and hearts of others. Let us be clear about not confusing a good manager with a good leader. Our board requires leaders to make the guiding decisions because they are focused on the future. May we dedicate our efforts to finding leaders from all sectors of our community. Our strength is in diversity and having a guiding vision which defines the direction of this distinctive program.
Another hope that I have is to establish a truly dynamic alumni association whose primary purpose is to inspire, nurture and educate our graduates. We need a rich program to provide social, educational , civic leadership (as opposed to service projects) and personal growth opportunities for our alums. Again, the board needs to select leaders, not managers, for this task. What a gift to Slidell it would be to have a vigorous and relevant alumni program. We need to make this happen. This will profoundly shape our community for the greater good. I am optimistic that the alumni board will grab the torch, hold it high and develop a fully articulated program dedicated solely to the alumni. It will require some earnest hard work, but we can be what we dream. I challenge the architects of this venture to take time from their busyness to dream.
In closing, the people I have met through the years have brought a sense of abundance, joy, and a sense that I am solidly connected to the pulse of Slidell. My heart overflows with gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to a place I call home. I passionately believe that investment into the people of this community will help us all prosper. Let us never take our eyes off our purpose and may we continue to thrive.
Yours in Leadership,
Joan Archer, Ph.D.