Niagara Gazette

August 26, 2012

Classmates share experience of Leadership Niagara

By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — So far I’ve been swathed in luxury at the Giacomo Hotel. I’ve toured a plastics factory and a garbage to energy plant. I was immersed in Canadian/US relations. I’ve been to jail. Slept at the lovely hotel on the air base. And I’ve made lots of new friends.

Such is my year thus far with Leadership Niagara. Each month’s class has brought insights, friendship and fun into my work day. And it’s put a laser focus on my leadership skills.

Although I’ve faithfully attended each monthly session, I had to miss the August session due to a last minute trip to Florida to be at the side of my hospitalized older brother who, thankfully, is healing well.

But, because I cannot write about the experience — called “The Tourism Session” — I thought I’d ask some of my classmates to share how the experience has been for them thus far. Here are some of their thoughts:

Randy Szukala, chief of the North Tonawanda Police, didn’t know much about Leadership Niagara when he was approached last year by the Law Enforcement Association of WNY and asked if he’d be interested in sending a representative. He decided to try the experience himself and is glad he did.

”Knowledge is the answer to change,” he told me, noting that the experience of visiting colleges, the air force base, local factories, and even getting wet at the Cave of the Winds on Tourism Day, has helped him to see that all the region’s issues are related.

”When you’re in a police department that’s all you’re thinking about is the law enforcement aspect of life,” the chief said. “Now, I see that everything is interrelated, from agriculture to law enforcement to tourism.”

Szukala has been so impressed with the experience, which has allowed our class to rub elbows with top politicians, business leaders, and government officials, that he’s already talking to one of his lieutenants about joining the 2013 class.

”It’s an eye opening experience,” he said.

Meanwhile, my friend Tammy Dodge, a First Niagara branch manager in Newfane, said that while she thought the experience would enhance her professional network, she’s made many personal connections as well. Beyond that, she’s found the experience of meeting so many different leaders “enlightening.”

”It’s really opened my eyes to how important collaboration is between organizations and businesses and how powerful it is,” she said.

The most memorable experience for her was the visit to the jail and the ride along with a Niagara County Sheriff deputy Keith Hetrick. “I didn’t realize how passionate they are about their work,” she said of the officers we met during our law enforcement outings.

Another of my classmates who was impressed by the “ride-along” with local sheriffs, was Sarah Lonzo, director of Independent Living of Niagara County. She and her officer, Deputy Dave Ganz, made an arrest and found a missing child. “It was just a really cool night,” she said, noting how impressed she was at how respectfully Ganz treated people.

Sarah said the class has offered so many opportunities to do things we locals sometime just don’t do, such as go into the Cave of the Winds. “We were almost like tourists ourselves,” she said of the recent adventure.

But, really, it’s the leadership component that seems to really have touched my classmates, who are most impressed not only from learning so many things about the place that they live, but also about how to succeed in that place.

Personally, one of my favorite tours was of a North Tonawanda factory run by my classmate, Joe McMahon of Audubon Machinery. His company has an international client base for products which include oxygen generating systems, sold to medical facilities in many Third World countries.

Joe, a pretty impressive leader in his own right who employees about 50 people, said he’s impressed with the leadership mentors that director Molly Anderson puts in front of us, especially Tim Wojaja, he said, whose recent lecture of “killing the status quo” really hit home.

Joe said that he was impressed by the message that when you need to change things you can’t just tell employees you are going to tweak the system. You have to go all in.

”You need to kind of burn the ships and really get everybody onboard with a new mentality of how you’re going to do it,” Joe said.

”You should think of business as a tug of war,” he told me, “and if you don’t have everybody on your team pulling at the same time, you’re going to get crushed.”

I think that if you talked to most any of my leadership 2012 classmates you’d hear the same story. After this year, we’re all going to be wiser about, and more engaged in, our communities.  No matter what kind of work we do, that can’t be a bad thing.


Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.