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CREATE, CDF joint venture on Community Leadership Institute

Tupelo — Ask 20 business and civic leaders for their definition of community service, and you’ll likely receive 20 different answers, given their individual perspectives.

Priorities, concerns and management styles all may vary given diverse educational and professional experiences.

Harnessing this potential for the broader community good can be challenging if common goals are left unrecognized — and leadership talents aren’t cultivated.

Understanding these commonalities of interests, while providing leadership development tools, is the goal of the Community Leadership Institute, a joint venture of CREATE and the Community Development Foundation.

Recently, the group’s newly-tapped 2005-2007 class met for the first time in Tupelo to review its plan of work for the next two years.

A seven-month, two-year program, the Community Leadership Institute focuses on community, personal and professional growth via one year of training and one year of community reinvestment. The opening instructional session will begin October 13-14 in Olive Branch.

According to CDF vice president Barbara Smith, the 2005-2007 class represents a diverse array of disciplines: financial services, law, law enforcement, government, technology, media, education, healthcare, real estate and industry. Unlike some leadership programs that are geared toward entry-level talent, the Community Leadership Institute focuses on more experienced managers. Accordingly, the average age of the newest class is 43, said Smith.

“All of these individuals are already leaders, so it’s not so much of an introductory leadership program as it is an enhancement of leadership skills,” Smith said. “There’s a great deal of interaction in the community through on-site visits and tours in tandem with the sessions. It’s very hands-on.”

There are three basic components to the overall program. First, a community orientation with program sessions that address economic and community development, education, healthcare and local government with various site tours. A leadership skills enhancement component focuses on skill-building exercises and includes personal development assessments, visioning/strategic planning, speaker/presentation training, effective communication techniques and consensus building. The third element is community reinvestment where participants give back to the community what they have learned. The one-year community leadership reinvestment is made to a nonprofit organization or a defined community need.

Brian Leathers, a lifelong Tupelo resident who works in sales for Chambers Fabrics, said that as a father, he is interested in learning more about public education in the region and “how I can learn to help our community continue to grow.”

“Areas such as public education, healthcare, industrial and economic development are all so important to our ability to compete globally,” Leathers said. “I’m looking forward to understanding how our community can continue to build on the base that it has established.”

In addition to understanding how economic and community development is interconnected, class member Melbra Bell said that she sees the program as a chance to meet other leaders while enhancing her leadership skills.

Renasant Bank senior vice president Cathy Fitzpatrick said that she hopes to learn about team-building, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing the area.

In addressing the class in its first gathering, Furniture Brands International CEO Mickey Holliman stressed that while many facets of the business world — namely technology and communication—have changed considerably since his early career days in the 1960s, “change requires steady leadership.” Moreover, he stated that there are certain values that should never diminish, such as integrity.

“Establish it early in your career and never waiver from it,” Holliman advised.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Karen Kahler Holliday at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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