Tag Archives: Leadership Augusta

Just Ask

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Addressing envelopes is one of my favorite volunteer gigs. In addition to improved penmanship, it gives me a productive but relaxing vibe, almost percussive.  I enjoy falling into the hum of a wandering mind while writing out names and addresses in whatever handwriting style I’ve adopted for the day. These cerebral meanderings take place several times a year, when I help Leadership Augusta mail invitations or letters to their alumni family.  There are over 1,300 past graduates of the program, at least 800 of whom are still within our reach to contact. The remaining have either passed away, moved away, become MIA, or asked to not be involved. Every year 30-40 new names are added to the books. We try to send correspondence to everyone we can, with the hopes of keeping the program sustainable.

I enjoy seeing the names of these alums each year. Some are good friends I know well, some are people I have met only briefly, others I have never met but feel like I know after writing their information on invoices and invitations so many times. I delight in seeing the new names, recent graduates with their alumni future shining brightly in front of them. I wonder if they will attend events, become involved in the community, encourage others to participate in this leadership program affiliated with the Augusta Chamber of Commerce, which has been in existence since 1980.

During this year’s dues invoicing, writing out envelopes led me to ponder how vastly different the LA experience has been for everyone who has graduated. We were all exposed to behind-the-scenes glimpses into what makes Augusta tick, hearing insights into such topics as criminal justice, healthcare and education. We were all encouraged to use our leadership skills not just within the bubbles of our own diverse industries, but also to venture into other territories in the community which might be in need of our talents. In the years which follow this grand networking adventure, however, the responses vary greatly. Many of us pay dues, attend luncheons, volunteer on future classes and serve on charitable boards, while others continue with their lives, unchanged. The range of involvement spans from the people whose lives are transformed, to those who contribute only briefly, to those who never offer their time or their financial support.

My personal Leadership Augusta story was one of the transformations. I served on the board, volunteered with the alumni committee, recruited new leaders to apply.  I consider my Leadership Augusta experience to be the best thing I have done professionally, one that enhanced my confidence at work, as well as brightened the stamp on my community service efforts. I am grateful to this organization for introducing me to the opportunities which gave voice to my talents, and ultimately, to my life’s purpose, which is, simply, to be a blessing to others.

Knowing what Leadership Augusta has meant in my life, and knowing that it has not been that for everyone, I contemplate the reasons for this broad spectrum of impact while I write on these envelopes. For my experience, I have 3 people specifically to thank. Had I not met these people, my Leadership Augusta experience would be just a pleasant memory from the late 90’s era. If they had not voiced their faith in me, I, too, would have sat shyly behind the scenes and lamented that I passed through the program, unchanged. In the 38-year history of the organization, I realize that I am in a small minority who can say my life was touched in a profound way. I indebted to the 3 people who bravely said, “I think this girl has something to offer.”

The first is Woody Merry, a graduate of the class of 1987, who nominated me to participate in the first place. Our interaction prior to that was minimal (perhaps serving on a political campaign together, if I recall correctly), but he must have seen some potential, and I thank him for that initial leap of faith. The next Angela champion, and the most significant, was Brenda Durant. She was in my class of 1999, and ever since then has been an awesome connector who throws my name into the hat for projects in the community. One of them, Celebrate 2000, was the catalyst for the creation of VolunteerAugusta.com, which connects charities and volunteers. Finally, Bryan Quinsey was the Leadership Augusta Coordinator in 2002 who recommended me to the Board of Directors, the start of a 12-year term of service. He must have seen something in me when we served together on the Red Carpet Tour during Masters week, and I’m forever thankful that he did.

Sometimes one person is all it takes. By nominating someone for a position or program, inviting them to join you on a project, or encouraging them to get involved, you can be the difference between a memory and a potential metamorphosis. During the interviews referenced in my last blog about Leadership Augusta ( Angela’s LA journey ), I asked a bank president why she never got involved in the organization after graduation. Her reply was profoundly straightforward: “Because nobody asked me to.” It only takes one person to reach out to another and vouch for their gifts, or let them know they are needed. We can make our volunteer organizations stronger and enrich one another’s feelings of connection and engagement. No matter how trivial the job might seem, there is a person in your circle of influence who would appreciate being nominated, who is hoping to be included. Take the time and just ask. I am indebted to my three champions for their initial encouragement, and to the current board of Leadership Augusta, who continue to reach out to me. I hope they continue to ask me to jump in, as well as the many other alumni members who are ready to get involved. For the meditative benefits alone, I would be happy to address envelopes for years to come.

Quietly Leading to Win

The May edition of Fortune magazine featured an article titled, “How Introverts Can Be Leaders”. Showcased in the story is former Campbell Soup CEO Doug Conant, who describes himself as a “born introvert”. I related to Doug’s experience when he told the story of the time he was offered the job of President of Sales for his company. His response to the CEO : “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m an introvert and I don’t play golf.”

In the end, Doug took the job, “his most challenging ever”, and got it done. He goes on to explain that although he isn’t the archetypal charismatic leader, his work ethic and directness won him the trust of his team and his leadership style got results. He would go on to even greater success, underscoring the point that one must never discount the power of a quiet leader.

I’m hoping this is true because I’m a quiet leader with a new responsibility much like Doug’s sales job: way outside of the comfort zone. On July 1, I am going to be the Chair of the Board of Directors for Leadership Augusta. Now that the start date is approaching, it feels like a recipe for an anxiety attack. Although there are no sweaty palms, I definitely have some heart palpitations and heaviness, similar to what one might feel after consuming a 6-pack of Mountain Dew and a bag of gummy worms. This year will definitely be a test of the quiet leader.

I know you think I should be a pro at managing these symptoms by now, and I truly should be. After the pressure of being a Dancing Star and a bride last year, surely this new role will be a breeze.  There is no reason to panic; it’s just a few board meetings and pep talks. So what’s the big deal? Why the extreme physical distress? I will tell you the big deal in one big word: expectations.

I can tell myself that the Board Chair position is just a few meetings and speeches, but I know in my heart that I expect much more of myself. This exceeds the stress of the Dancing Stars adventure because my goal this time is diffferent. Facing a crowded Bell Auditorium to perform the Tango, I aspired to make my instructor and supporters proud, and to avoid any serious mortification and/or injury. A couple of times the possibility of winning would pop into my head, and I would say, no, that’s the not the objective here. I was seeking survival over success. Survival was my success. I wanted to have a good experience, make new friends, learn something about dance and about myself. From these measures, the endeavor went beyond my expectations: it was an amazing experience and I am thrilled with how the final performance turned out. I tied for second place and doubled my fundraising goal. I didn’t win, but I was happy.

Some people who were there that night tell me I should have won. But they don’t know the truth. They don’t know that I played it safe. I didn’t do the tricky kicks  in the promenade around the dance floor, knowing that statistically the odds were stacked against me. The kicks would have given a tremendous ‘wow factor’ if I pulled them off, but the slightest hesitation or mis-step would cause a catastrophic tumble. I knew If I did the dance without the kicks, the audience wouldn’t know the difference. I could save face, turn in a decent performance, and live with my decision. I was not willing to take the risk, so I did not deserve the win. I can live with that.

This time, though, the stakes are higher. I don’t want to turn in a safe performance. I don’t want to just preside over some meetings and make a few speeches. My predecessors didn’t settle for that, and I don’t intend to, either. I want my year of leadership in this organization to be a year of progress. I want to leave my mark on the history of this impressive group. This isn’t just survival without mortification. This time I want to win.

In planning for my win, I have been conducting alumni interviews to determine what my best strategy might be. It has been a powerful and informative process, guiding me down a path that feels as right as that kick should have felt. I can imagine having a year of increased engagement, improved processes, fiscal responsibility and memorable experiences. The team is falling into place, the playbook is being finalized and the interviews are wrapping up.

So why the anxiety? Because it means so much. This organization has been important to me since I graduated in 1999. I have served on the Board for almost 10 years. I have been preparing for this role before I even knew I wanted it. And now it is time for the green flag. This is my one chance, my one race. I want to make it count. I’m willing to take the risks.

In one of my interviews, an alumni underscored this sentiment when she said, “Every day we must prepare for our finest hour, because we don’t know when it will be. Sometime during this year you could have your finest hour. Be ready.” I intend to be ready, but not because it could be my finest hour. I intend to be ready because that is the kind of year my team deserves and I deserve. A leader sets the bar for excellence, and it will not be said that I did not aspire to win, even if it is quietly.

A New Leadership Augusta Year

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 info@lexusaugusta.com