Leaders Create More Leaders
In a few weeks I will be speaking at the 20-year celebration of the Berkshire Leadership Program. In preparation, I have been thinking about what I learned about my own leadership from the experience of establishing the program.
When I arrived in the Berkshires to become the president of Berkshire Community College, there was a group of concerned leaders who recognized that the lack of a leadership pipeline was making it difficult to fill volunteer and leadership positions on the boards of organizations vital to the community’s quality of life. This group had been developing by-laws, but had not made significant progress in starting an actual program. I asked them if they would mind if I took over the effort and, with their agreement, gathered a new group of decision-makers.
I am proud to say that within a year we had a curriculum and an admissions process and were ready to begin. But what I remember most vividly is the fun we had making this happen. We were excited about our goals and, as leaders from a variety of sectors, enjoyed learning from one another. At one point I remember someone saying, “We have a program, but we don’t have 2 nickels to rub together.” Without missing a beat, we all started to throw nickels on the table. In short order we had the commitments of financial support we needed to begin.
I learned a valuable lesson in humility that year. Having only recently relocated from Rockland County, NY, where I was quite familiar with their leadership program, I had assumed I would simply lead the group in adapting their model of sessions one full day a month. The group quickly informed me that in a small rural county like the Berkshires, few individuals would be able to commit to a full day, especially if they were small business owners. We developed an evening model instead.
The first year was a great success. Our participants included nurses, teachers and entrepreneurs. Lifetime Berkshire residents were thrilled to visit places they had never been and to delve into issues outside their sphere. But it was what happened next that was even more important. The planning committee, who had become the founding board of directors, made a commitment that one third of the board would be replaced by program alumni each year, until it was an alumni board. Thus, we provided emerging leaders with opportunities to apply what they learned and gain visibility in the community. What we didn’t realize was that when the alumni began to take over they would change the program! Change the curriculum we had, with our superior wisdom, so carefully crafted for their benefit! What a challenge it was to let go.
My college sponsored the program for several years, with the intention of turning it over to the Chamber of Commerce. It now resides with 1 Berkshire, the organization which succeeded the Chamber and the Tourism Council as the comprehensive economic development and tourism organization of the Berkshires.
I am looking forward to reuniting with the founding directors, meeting former and current participants and finding out how the program has evolved to meet contemporary needs. I am sure it is quite different from the program I remember. Starting the Berkshire Leadership Program made me a better leader and will always be one of my proudest accomplishments.