ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JANET HAMOUS
The eight people enrolled in this year’s Leadership Marion County program will find themselves on a different journey than the 152 others who have graduated since the program’s inception in 1989.
Although the program will continue to include some traditional features such as tours, speakers and panel discussions, the new focus will be leadership development and training.
Joanna Brazil, LMC board vice president from Peabody, said half of each monthly session will be spent “awareness building”-touring the county and studying what’s going on in the areas of agriculture, health care, education, business and industry, government and tourism.
But unlike past years, the other half of class time will be devoted to leadership development and training.
The leadership training is built around the concept of servant leadership-a leadership model based on teamwork, community and putting people first.
“The way I think of servant leadership is helping those around you grow, and as a result you grow yourself,” Brazil sid.
The servant leadership model is unlike the autocratic and hierarchical leadership models of the past.
“This new kind of leader is not the authoritative leader-that is not the direction we are going,” Brazil said.
She said a servant leader leads differently by asking the right question in a meeting or lending a hand to someone who needs it.
“It is understanding people and knowing how to work in a team,” she said. “You don’t have to be the team captain to be a good leader on the team.”
Brazil and other LMC board members Steve Garrett of Hillsboro and Racquel Thiesen of Goessel are responsible for facilitating the leadership training component of each class.
They are attending a comprehensive two-year leadership training program sponsored by the Kansas Health Foundation.
Brazil said the goal of the KHF program is to “connect communities all over the state to help every county build leadership.”
“It is not seen as a competition-it is definitely for improving Kansas as a whole,” she said. “This will spread across the state.”
Participants in the program are charged with taking what they learn back to their respective communities and sharing it with others.
“It is our responsibility to spread what we are learning,” Brazil said. “The idea is leaders creating leaders creating leaders. We will eventually have a ripple effect through the whole county.”
Brazil, Garrett and Thiesen are using what they’ve learned in the KHF program as the core for the program in Marion County.
“The Kansas Health Foundation program is training us to train,” she said. “So we train the class. We are teaching them the tools that they will hopefully take out and use.”
Part of that training includes opening your mind to new ideas, Brazil said.
“This whole process challenges you to jump out of your comfort zone,” she said, “but you learn and grow by doing just that.”
Brazil gave an example from the KFH leadership training class.
“They would have us change seats every time we were on break and sit with different people,” she said. “It was amazing how uncomfortable that makes you feel, because you have to load up all your stuff, move and chit chat with new people. But by the end of the day, you have bonded with everyone in the room.
“By forcing us out of our comfort zones, we became better able to work together as a team,” she added.
The LMC board hopes to create a class environment where that same type of bonding will occur.
“We were taught to produce a creative environment where the groups can have fun and feel comfortable talking about the real issues and coming up with creative ideas,” Brazil said.
“What we are also trying to do is develop the leadership group as a team,” she added. “We hope they will continue helping each other long after they have graduated from the class. We also hope they will facilitate some of the material they are learning and they will be teammates in doing that.”
She said some students in this year’s class were probably surprised to hear they would be more active participants in the program than has been the case in prior years.
“This is the first class to do a class project,” she said. “KHF has awarded $1,000 per year for the next three years to do a class project. The only stipulation is that it somehow benefits youth. It could be a family event, workshops, even training for adults-the options are endless.”
Brazil said the class will get to decide what their project is going to be and will work on the project off class time.
“It will really give the class visibility,” she said. “It will be a great opportunity for them to apply everything they are learning to the real world to benefit this county. And if the county is healthier, the communities within it are going to be healthier, too.”