In 1998 I received a life-changing invitation. I was asked to join 31 other local professionals from various industries to participate in a leadership program affiliated with the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. My employer made a leap of faith, investing in tuition so that I could spend one full day a month learning how to contribute to the growing strength of the Augusta area. A co-worker at the time predicted that my professional life would never be the same. Thirteen years later, it appears that his declaration was an accurate prophesy.
My class of 32 leaders dedicated nine months to the program, each monthly session an immersion into a different part of the community. On Healthcare day, presidents of hospitals spoke to us on topical issues. On Community Service day, we ate alongside homeless men and women at the downtown soup kitchen. On Arts and Culture day, we experienced the world of theatres and museums. Outside of the classroom, we rode with police officers on the job and jumped off of telephone poles in team-building adventures. By the time we were done, we had learned about Augusta, formed new friendships and created unique memories. But the adventure had really just begun.
In June of 1999 we joined a legacy of other program graduates, sharing a common bond with those who had come before. Leadership Augusta alumni can ask one another, “were you a Green or a Red?” and start a conversation that a non-alumni could never understand. They can compare notes on what happened during their police ride, what kind of graduation party they had or how they scored on the history test. A few can even reminisce about meeting the Governor. If they pay their dues, they can attend holiday parties, business luncheons and wine tastings. For the Class of ’99, an entirely new world of networking was ours for the taking, and the call to service was loud and strong.
After graduating, many alumni choose to give back to the program, volunteering as panelists, speakers, class day coordinators, youth program facilitators or event planners. I was one of them, joining the ranks of many LA Alum who answered the challenge of continued leadership. The Leadership Augusta family is well-known for giving back to the community-at-large, agreeing to serve on non-profit Boards, volunteering for local events or offering counsel to various civic groups. I am one of 1,111 program graduates as of this writing, and the alumni directory reads like a “Who’s Who” in Augusta, boasting an impressive roster of movers and shakers.
In April of 2011, I agreed to serve as Incoming Chair of the Board of Directors, knowing that the time had come for me to put everything I have learned into action. I knew that soon, the next wave of leaders would begin to take over. Before I move up and out, though, I want to make a difference. I want to leave a legacy of Kaizen behind me.
Kaizen, the Japanese word for continuous improvement, implies that there is always some new growth that can be made in any individual or organization. In this spirit, I decided to use the 2011-2012 fiscal year to study what enhancements may be needed, so that the upcoming term will be thoughtfully planned. I have been interviewing as many Leadership Augusta alumni as possible, asking questions about their year in the program and their alumni experience. As of March 2012, I have had conversations with 42 different graduates, ranging from the class of 1980 to the class of 2012. I bounce ideas off of them, pick their brains about changes they would like to see, and inquire how other organizations run their meetings. After each 45-minute conversation, the notes are typed and the information is added to a report that will become the foundation of next year’s strategy.
Another benefit to the interviews is that I have a chance to get to know the LA family better. I speak with individuals who support the program heavily, and others who don’t pay dues. I talk with people I know well, people I know vaguely, and others I have never met. The interviews touch on succession planning, as I realize that this project is planting the seeds for a process of selecting new leaders, based on their interests, strengths and attitudes.
With 4 months left to go, my goal of 75 interviews is ambitious but do-able. I have 4 or 5 scheduled at any given time, and dozens of requests floating out there. I hope that any LA alum who learn of this plan and want to be a part of the process will reach out and request an appointment. I ask that any alum who has suggestions beyond what they shared in their interview will keep sending the ideas. I know that the more input I collect, the more meaningful the implemented changes will be. While the changes implemented will likely be small – the organization is solid, after all- they will at least set the stage for continued growth, and hopefully encourage other future leaders to stimulate new improvements of their own.
One of my early interviews was with Lee Ann Caldwell, a graduate of the first Leadership Augusta class ever, in 1980. Lee Ann served as Board Chair from 1983-1985, and continues to serve as History Day Chair to this day. Lee Ann said that for some, Leadership Augusta is a resume-builder. For others, it is transformative. For a few, it is life-changing. When an organization has the ability to have that kind of impact, it is an honor to be a participant, a priveledge to serve and a responsibility to uphold the legacy.
For more information on Leadership Augusta, visit www.leadershipaugusta.com
To contact Incoming Chair Angela Maskey (aka PR girl), email firstname.lastname@example.org