Since its inception in 1980, Leadership Fayetteville has been a hallmark initiative of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. In 2011, the chamber placed the program on a temporary hiatus, during which chamber staff puzzled over ways to ensure it would remain relevant for the 21st century.
“Our goal is to help leaders understand the interconnectedness of community sectors,” said Paige Muh, director of community relations at the Fayetteville Chamber in Arkansas. “Strong education systems attract parents who value education, which leads to more responsible citizens, and ultimately, a stronger talent pipeline for industry.”
Chamber staff spent a year surveying and conversing with program alumni and community leaders to revise the program’s curriculum and raise its credibility. Those discussions led to the addition of two new subjects, diversity and civil discourse, in addition to offerings like education, economic development and health and wellness.
“We wanted to shift from a show-and-tell experience to a more interactive environment,” said Muh. “Panelists and presenters are encouraged to share information in a dynamic, conversational style, and we adopted the use of the DISC Assessment to give participants a window into themselves and their interactions with others.”
Applications are accepted from members and non-members, and are reviewed by a team of alumni. The cohorts typically include about 20–25 participants, with a leadership made up of volunteers, co-chairs and chamber staff members—a change made during the program’s hiatus.
“Our leadership team serves not just as a planning team, but also as session facilitators,” said Kim Schnoes, chair of the chamber’s board of directors. “The intent of the sessions is to provide firsthand exposure to the challenges and opportunities here in our community, through panels, tours and interactive roleplays.”
“Our class projects focus on four specific areas: social connectedness, confidence in institutions, political participation and community involvement,” she continued. “In 2018, we added a national survey component, which will allow us to set benchmarks and compare ourselves to similarly-sized communities.
Looking ahead, the major focus for the the initiative will be planning for increased sustainability, meaning keeping alumni engagement active and setting out succession plans for program leadership, according to Muh.
“It’s important for our program’s sustainability to provide similar opportunities for others, perhaps by having an emerging leaders program, or encouraging our grads to participate in regional and state programs,” she said. “By forming a network and enabling young people to be transactional with other community members, we are confident that we’ll continue to affect positive change in our community.”
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Tags: Leadership Development