Reflecting on Leadership Fort Wayne

Post by
November 30, 2023

I was privileged to be accepted into Greater Fort Wayne Inc.’s Leadership Fort Wayne (LFW) Class of 2023. The class kicked off in January with a two-day orientation, and we convened monthly for a full-day learning experience with our cohort. In between those meetings, I reflected on the content, worked on a Community Action Project (CAP) and prepared for the next classes. Our group met through September, and we celebrated our graduation on November 16, 2023.

It was an intensive year, adding this to an already full life (how lucky am I?). Entering the program, I knew it was going to challenge me, although I wasn’t quite sure exactly how yet.

Reflecting on the experience, there are three distinct areas that have made immeasurable impact on me as a leader: personal and professional growth, relationships and connections and the CAP experience.

Personal and Professional Growth

A core element of LFW is unveiling your CliftonStrengths, a report that highlights which of the 34 “strengths” you are naturally best at, in the themes of executing, influencing, relationship building and strategic thinking.

  • Executing themes help you make things happen.
  • Influencing themes help you take charge, speak up and make sure others are heard.
  • Relationship building themes help you build strong relationships that hold a team together.
  • Strategic thinking themes help you absorb and analyze information that informs better decisions.

Each of the strengths falls in one of these categories, so many people lead with certain “themes” and have to work harder to “navigate” the others.

My top five CliftonStrengths are (in order): Strategic, Intellection, Individualization, Connectedness and Learner.

What was interesting about this discovery was that all my top five are in the strategic thinking theme (Strategic, Intellection and Learner) and the relationship building theme (Individualization and Connectedness). So basically—I’m good at creating, identifying and supporting connections amongst people and ideas.

This information helped me understand why I do some of the things I do—and even why I’m in the kind of role I’m in. It also made me aware of some of the blind spots that my strengths may cause. For example, because of my Strategic strength, when working with others, sometimes they may misinterpret my contributions as criticism. But I can make the conscious effort to be mindful of what is already working well and what others have accomplished and acknowledge those.

It also highlighted why certain tasks or situations are harder for me than others. I’m wired a certain way. For example, in my top five strengths, I don’t have any strengths in the executing or influencing themes. That doesn’t mean I’m bad at them, or that I can’t do those things; it means it comes less naturally to me and requires more discipline and intentionality.

My two favorite quotes from this year are:

  • “Leadership is not about me. It is about what people need from me.”
  • “Under pressure, we do not ‘rise to the occasion.’ We default to our training.”

They are a reminder of the ever-evolving nature of me as a person, and every person I will work with, now and into the future. *I* am something I have to work on consistently—it doesn’t end just because the program is over. I have grown tremendously over this year through this knowledge, and I’m excited to continue to grow as I use these tools in my everyday work and interactions. This is just the beginning!

Relationships and Connections

One of the most rewarding parts of LFW was (is!) the people I met and connections I made that I couldn’t have otherwise. These individuals and organizations are also invested in making themselves, and our community, the best it can be. It was energizing to be in a room of individuals who are seeking to grow. It challenged me to see things from perspectives I hadn’t considered before, as we were a group of people working in different industries, with different backgrounds and different interpretations of the same events. I’m grateful for the relationships we’ve made that we’ll carry into the future!

LFW also hosted speakers from various industries and organizations to paint a more comprehensive picture of our community. From community history; to inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility; to public safety and beyond, I feel more knowledgeable about my community and the work being done to improve it.

I think it’s important to note that I’m an introvert (something that tends to shock people), but here’s a reminder that being introverted doesn’t mean that you stray from people. It means that you are re-energized by alone time, and that being around groups is a higher cost on your energy. So, after an LFW day, I usually was tired and needed some extra alone time, but then I was back at it. (This is my pitch for introverts to not shy away from leadership development activities like this—you’ll spend your energy, and it’ll be hard. But you’ll get so much in return, and there is no growth without discomfort!)

Community Action Project

As part of the LFW curriculum, every participant completes a Community Action Project. CAPs pair LFW participants with local nonprofit organizations to create, develop and implement either a new initiative or solve a problem.

I participated in the Women’s Fund of Greater Fort Wayne’s No Matter What sticker and coaster campaign project. No Matter What is a campaign that quickly and discreetly connects survivors of sexual violence with the resources they need. As part of this project, we distributed No Matter What stickers to local organizations and businesses. We also raised $1,000 during the Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne’s Give Greater Allen County to fund and execute a No Matter What coaster campaign, where 38 bars and restaurants in Allen County distributed more than 18,000 coasters with our campaign logo and a QR code on them during the month of October.

Thank you to our entire CAP team who made this happen:

  • Cassie Beer, Women’s Fund of Greater Fort Wayne (Project Champion)
  • Andie Mosley, AWS Foundation
  • Andrew Kopec, Purdue University Fort Wayne
  • Frank Navarro, Sweetwater Sound
  • Jessica Pater, Parkview Health
  • Jill Boggs, Visit Fort Wayne
  • Katie Davis, Indiana Michigan Power
  • Mike Ripley, Hylant
  • Tasha Sector, Metro Title
  • Tony Belton, Purdue University Fort Wayne

I am so proud of what we accomplished together!

Thank you to Meghan Short and Olivia Dickerson, and everyone else from the GFW Inc. team, for providing this opportunity. And thank you to everyone at OLG, who supported my participation in this program. I know it will benefit our team, our clients and our community!

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