Developing future community leaders

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


From tumultuous hayrack rides to going live on the radio, the first Henry County Leadership Class celebrated all they learned and experienced during the nine-month program as they graduated Wednesday, May 30.

There were 15 graduates from the program this year, which is organized through the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance and led by Chamber Executive Vice President Kristi Ray. Students from different businesses in the community came together once a month to take three hours of leadership training before heading into the community for hands-on learning. As her final test of leadership, Kadie Johannson, from the Fellowship Cup, was chosen to give remarks as a representative of the graduating class.

?I think we?ve all realized we have to invest in our community to keep it going,? Johannson said in encouragement to her class. ?That means maybe donating money or our time and talents. So, volunteer, vote, sit on a board when somebody asks you. Step up to the plate.?

For Johannson what made the class strong was the different perspectives each person brought to the table. From Katherine Evans from Iowa Wesleyan University who moved to Mt. Pleasant three weeks before class started to lifelong Henry County residents with businesses in the community, those different perspectives led to good conversations, Johannson said.

Above all, the class was made of ?really nice people,? Johannson said, adding that if it takes anything to be a leader, it takes being a really nice person.

While everyone joined the class for different reasons, some maybe selfish, Johannson said they all walked away with powerful knowledge about their community. Whether they came each month wanting to become better leaders in their roles at work, build social capital or just have a fun day away from work, the graduating Class of 2018 is walking away with renewed investment in their community.

?We came up with some really good ideas and a stepping point for the Chamber and business community,? Johannson said. Despite the challenges Henry County faces, ?Our strengths are so much more,? she said.

Ray admitted that when she launched the leadership class, she worried whether anyone would sign up. Hoping for six to eight students, she was thrilled as the applications began coming in and 15 people signed up for the class.

It isn?t the first leadership class Ray has taught, however. She was the director of leadership when she worked in Missouri and has been a part of 28 leadership programs. In all of those, she always wondered, ?Did I truly make them a better leader??

In an effort to not leave herself wondering that again, the Chamber partnered with the Iowa State Extension office to conduct the three hours of leadership training for each class session.

Leadership is an important aspect in any community and as Ray heard more and more organizations beg for new leaders to step up, she knew it was time to tap into that talent.

Throughout the course, the class was able to tour the Henry County Jail, the Mt. Pleasant Correctional Facility, go to the state capital, see Egli Landscapes in Wayland, learn about the day care in New London and meet students at WisdomQuest.

?Would any of you had gone to the jail if I wouldn?t have taken you?? Ray asked. ?How many have been in a correctional facility and sat down and talked with the inmates??

Keynote speaker and Iowa Wesleyan University President Steve Titus encouraged the graduates to continue to be leaders, saying if a community doesn?t commit to growing the capacity for leadership it puts them at risk. Now as graduates of the leadership program, it?s time to nurture, sustain and activate that leadership.

?Leadership is a calling, something we do in service,? Titus said. ?Leadership is a labor of love.?

Titus preached how leadership can be dangerous because those in leadership are always disappointing someone; however, ?If you are not failing, you are not leading and if you are failing all the time, you are not leading,? he said.

Titus ended with 10 practical tips for leadership including understanding the dangers and stresses of leadership; pacing the work; avoiding martyrdom; and distinguishing oneself from their role.

What Titus stressed most about leadership, however, was understanding strengths and developing those instead of focusing on deficits. The best leaders are not well-rounded, but have well-rounded teams, Titus said.

?Your leadership is needed and appreciated,? Titus said. ?Programs like this are a critical investment in our communities.?

In closing, graduates were recognized one by one and presented with plaques as they shook hands with Chamber President Robb Gardner.

Johannson summarized the emotions in the room as she said, ?I?m ready to be a leader in my community, and I think everyone else is too so let?s do it.?