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VOL. 42 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 19, 2018

Leadership Knoxville shifts 2019 agenda

By Joe Morris

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District 15 State Representative Rick Staples is a member of the 2019 class of Leadership Knoxville.

-- Adam Taylor Gash | The Ledger

Embracing change and learning how to benefit from it is a standard lesson for Leadership Knoxville participants, and this year the organization itself will be practicing what it preaches.

Specifically, as the newest class, which was seated in August and began its 10-month calendar of events, one major annual activity will not be listed: a class project.

While those have been valuable in the past, and sometimes have resulted in high-profile team-building efforts over Leadership Knoxville’s 34-year history, the projects might not always be the best use of participants’ time, says Tammy White, president and CEO of the organization, which annually brings together a diverse network of selected community leaders to improve individual leadership skills, help those leaders understand current issues and foster meaningful and lasting engagement in East Tennessee.

Class members are nominated with 52 chosen for the current sessions. Among Leadership graduates are current Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero, Class of 1992, James Haslam II (’85), James Haslam III (’87), Jimmy Cheek (’11), Doug Dickey (’88), Kyle Testerman (‘85) and Pat Summitt (’88).

White, who sits on the national board for the Association of Leadership Programs, says using the class’s time wisely during their monthly day-long exploration of key topics is behind the idea of dropping a class project.

“This year we are moving away from a big project because I and my colleagues around the country were beginning to realize that oftentimes you get into the habit of just checking a box next to something like a project, just to say you did it,” explains White.

Leadership by the numbers

52 spots in a Leadership Knoxville class

400 applicants for the current year

175 repeat applicants for the current year

1,550+ Leadership Knoxville alumni

“Are you doing the project just because, or are you doing something that helps people work in groups and as a team? We never have enough time to do all the things we’d like, so we are beginning to add in some other elements, some experiential learning outside the classes, to take the place of that one big item.”

As an example, she says that Leadership Knoxville cohorts often don’t get to dive too deeply into the realm of higher education, despite having the state’s flagship university in their backyard.

“One thing we’ve begun in recent years is having the chancellor visit the class to talk about the University of Tennessee’s vision and its financial impact to the area,” she points out. “I didn’t grow up here and I’m not a UT grad, but I do care about the success of the university and how it affects my community.

“That’s a message we feel like our class members need to hear, and that they should know more about what’s going on at the top-25 research institute that’s right here.”

White also lists activities as diverse as police ride-alongs, K-12 school visits, an overnight trip to see state government in Nashville firsthand and attending at least two Knoxville City Council, Knox County Commission, Knox County Schools Board of Education or Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission meetings as engagement opportunities.

“The truth of the matter is that we’d rather have them attend those rather than work on a project, because that gives them a much better look at what’s happening from a democracy standpoint,” White says.

“Then they get to see what’s going on and how we can make changes around having more people engaged and speaking up on the issues that are important to them. If we get them to become an active board member for a nonprofit, or seek office, or become a season ticketholder for an arts organization, all by exposing them to those organizations and how they work, then we’d much rather see that happen.”

Whatever the activity or engagement, the goal is to build on a curriculum that focuses on a specific leadership style, White says.

“We use a book called, “Seven Pillars of Servant Leadership: Practicing the Wisdom of Leading by Serving.’’

“Our vision is that every leader is a servant leader, so we are educating these C-suite community leaders around what the community’s issues are, and also give them some history so they can see where we’ve been as well as where we might go. Then we work with the them on ideas for action and help them as they move out and begin meeting people and figuring out where they want to engage.”

Some class members already have found a niche, such as Rep. Rick Staples, who is the state representative for District 15, which includes downtown Knoxville and Fort Sanders, as well as running north to Washington Pike and south to John Sevier Highway.

Taking part in Leadership Knoxville was something he’d wanted to do for quite a while, Staples says, because it would help him better serve his district.

“I was chosen as an emerging leader and represented Tennessee at a national leadership program, and then also was named to another program through the Southern Christian Leadership Foundation, so I’d gotten a taste of this type of thing from the national and regional level,” Staples says. “I wanted to look at more education on the local level, so I applied to Leadership Knoxville and I’m really glad I did.”

For him, the ability to look at a community he knows from different perspectives, and meet people he might otherwise not, has already been invaluable.

“You see more, you learn more,” Staples says.

“Anytime you can build relationships that will help you serve the community and the people in it better, whatever leadership role you happen to be in, is great. I’ve already been given way more from Leadership Knoxville than I thought I would, and I know we’re going to do a lot more still.”

Praise from participants aside, White adds that Leadership Knoxville must continue to diversify its programming, as well as its classes, in order to stay relevant.

“We want a true cross-section of the community, and with that comes a richness of experience for participants,” she says. “They tell us every year that the relationships are the best thing they come away with, and so we want to make sure that keeps going.

“If they leave us as better community leaders because they’ve been part of a great team which has fostered dialogue in new and different ways, then we have given them key skills that will help them deal with any community issues that might need their attention.”

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