Niagara Gazette

December 24, 2012

LEADERSHIP CHRONICLES: As Leadership Niagara grad, I'm in the "army" now

By Michele Deluca

Niagara Gazette — Well, it’s over.  My year-long class sessions with Leadership Niagara have come to an end. Sort of.

I know now that once you sign with this group, it’s never really over.  Nobody seems to want to leave.

And despite my Grinch-like mutters in January about not having the time to learn what I thought I already knew, I have had a series of revelations about myself.  I think that was part of their plan all along.

I’m now kind of hooked on spending time with people who want to be better leaders.

Funny how, despite being a lifelong student of successful living — immersing myself in stories and research about how people succeed in all aspects of life — at the outset I still didn’t see clearly that leadership is not just about getting people to follow you.

The headlines for me as a new graduate of Leadership Niagara class of 2012 is that leadership is more about the intention to empower others. It’s like the stark difference between the stories of Jesus and Hitler. People were drawn to Hilter because they were afraid. They knew that if they aligned with him, they might be safer from his reign of terror. He turned everyday people into monsters. But, if you read the stories, people were drawn to Jesus because he made them feel safe. And they believed he could help make them better people. Which, apparently, he still seems to do for people today.

Leadership isn’t a position. It’s a state of mind. It’s an attitude of service and intention that empowers every exchange between humans.

I’ve learned this year that if you aren’t looking at the people around you and trying to see who you can help to be a better, stronger leader — trying to see how you can help people be the best they can be — then you’re not a leader.  You’re a manager.

My original reluctance to join up with the LN class, after my publisher requested my participation in the LN class of 2012 by saying “It would mean a lot of me if you did this,” was that as a news reporter, there shouldn’t be much they could show me about Niagara County that I didn’t already know. It’s my job is to know what’s happening around me.  

And, if you asked for a show of hands right now, as to who has that kind of time to give over a full day a month, I think a lot of people would keep their hands in their laps.

But what if you ask who wants to learn more about yourself, your community and the world in a way that will make you better at everything you do? Well, that’s a whole different question.

And yet, I’m not advocating that everyone line up and join Leadership Niagara. But I did learn that no matter what job you hold or what you do, you can choose to be a leader or not. You can choose to inspire

My year’s investment of time was spent in immersion learning, taking a single topic like education or law enforcement or energy, and being immersed in those topics for eight hours. Surrounded by really lovely humans who were engaging and endearing — each a leader in their own world.

And we’re back to my lifelong philosophy, the one I should have considered last year when I was doing all that reluctant muttering.  The motto I hold dearest, the one forged from an alchemy of conflict, resolution: “If you are not growing, you are dying.”

Every successful speaker who met with us, from Sheriff James Voutour to Developer Howard Zemsky,  described for us how collaboration was the essence of their success. Voutour spoke of the collaboration between law enforcement agencies, creating a team with representatives from every level of law enforcement, from federal to local officers. Zemsky, who led the drive to restore the Larkin Building about a mile from downtown Buffalo, told us of a joint renovation effort so powerful it expanded into the surrounding community and resulted in “Larkinville,” a place where miracles really do happen.

There were so many speakers throughout the 12 sessions, and so many epitomized the “servant leadership,” of those who are determined to create for themselves a legacy of community growth and prosperity.

My classmates and I graduated Thursday during a ceremony at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. It seemed like to a man — and woman -- we were sad to see it end.

But, the Leadership Niagara program has programs in place to keep us active and engaged and to forward our movement.  And there is a whole new class of leaders who have joined the program in 2013.

And I’m kind of hooked on leadership and the people who want to be better leaders. When given the choice, I would chose to be hanging out with them.

Wouldn’t you?

My deepest gratitude to Leadership Niagara Director Molly Anderson and Tracy Shattuck, operations manager, as well as the volunteer board of directors and the hundreds of people who converged to make this past year so enlightening.

As Molly said at our first gathering last January, “we’re creating an army of leaders, one leader at a time.”

I am in that army now.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca

at 282-2311, ext. 2263.