Sunday, May 31, 2009

Leadership Twin Cities

Earlier this month I completed my Leadership Twin Cities class. The program's goal is to make us aware of important issues in our community, to motivate us, and to get us as leaders to use what skills and resources we have to make a positive impact. It certainly had a positive impact on me.

I first heard about LTC through a colleague at work who had been a participant the previous year. After a little research I was keen to be involved. It seemed a good fit with my role as co-chair of a committee at work that grants funds to fund local nonprofits and my involvement with Little Brothers. But really, I wanted to challenge myself with issues I was not familiar—or not nearly familiar enough--with. I also wanted to take my leadership further.

The class began in September at a wooded retreat 45 miles north of the Twin Cities. In addition to learning more about the following nine months, it was a chance for the class (around 50 people) to get to know each other. I recall the fun we had talking and drinking beer around the bonfire at night. In fact, there were many memorable moments. Here‘s a few that stand out:

As late summer drifted into fall we went on a bus tour for Metropolitan Issues Day. I saw the beauty of the cities. I also saw how maintaining that beauty comes at a cost. A community needs a good environment in which to thrive.

At Economic Development Day at the Midtown Global Market we heard a sober economic outlook from the state economist. He was, of course, being honest but his message got us all down! But this was short-lived and our mood was soon lifted when we met some of the Global Market entrepreneurs whose food we later enjoyed for lunch.

In December at Politics and Media Day we took part in a mock council meeting in the council chamber. That was a lot of fun, a great exercise in democracy, but also in improvisation.

As we moved into winter we gathered on a bitterly cold day for Arts and Culture Day at the Open Book. I saw the value of business helping to fund the arts.

Then came warmer weather, the promise of spring, and with it Community Safety Day. Our call-to-action items for this day were especially interesting. The tour of Hennepin County jail was eye-opening and made me realize the importance of funding preventative programs; my police ride-along was something I’ll never forget. If those six hours in a squad car could represent a microcosm of our community then I saw things that work, things that don’t work, people that need help, and people reaching out to help. In short, I saw a community - a living, breathing, functioning community. Like a circle, I saw how many parts are needed to make it whole.

The image of a classmate being tasered by a policeman was remarkable. I'm still amazed that he volunteered for that. Hearing a husband and wife recount their time in jail after being convicted of million dollar mail fraud was compelling and will stick with me as a moral tale long into the future.

The co-chairs’ requirement that we sing to the class should our cell phones ring made me paranoid. But to everyone’s benefit my careful vigilance saved them from that prospect; I only hope that the incoming co-chairs don’t consider tasering as a new punishment for ringing cell phones.

Nine months ago I didn’t know much about how a community affects business or how business affects a community. I now see that they affect each other a great deal: the two are intertwined. I had taken so much--be it transportation or safe streets--for granted. LTC has changed how I see things; my ongoing challenge will be to decide how to put this knowledge to good use.

At our last meeting at Medtronic World Headquarters for Vision Day I was honored to be asked to speak at the graduation ceremony. As I stood on stage I asked why our class was important. In front of me I saw open-minded, intelligent, forward-looking people who want to make a difference. It struck me that LTC can be summed up in three simple steps. We had all completed the first: be aware of the issues; the second: decide to get involved with a nonprofit or similar organization; the third: choose to act.

LTC was a wonderful experience. I made some great friends and would recommend it to anyone. I am excited to take what I have learned out into the world. Leadership is many things, but trying to make a difference--while learning along the way--is not a bad path to be on.