Excelling in Leadership: Personal and professional growth bonds NNY businesses, communities

Kylie Peck, President & CEO of the Greater Watertown North Country Chamber of Commerce, helps to coordinate the Jefferson Leadership Institute .

BY: Holly Boname

Leadership can be defined in many ways and is consistently an integral part to any business, community and even in daily life. It’s the source of direction that provides a starting point for employees and drives productivity, new ideas and inspiration.

    In Northern New York leadership is celebrated and developed to retain the talents that grow in the tri-county region and help to sustain the continued expansion of businesses and communities. Because of this, organizations like the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, Lewis County Chamber of Commerce and SUNY Potsdam’s Division of Graduate and Continuing Education have leadership institutes and academies in place to help develop and cultivate the different styles and methods each individual holds to ensure future leaders.

The Jefferson Leadership Institute (JLI)
    Leadership in Jefferson County is cultivated through a program that has been in place since 1991. The Jefferson County Leadership Institute is a program that immerses participants in community issues through a 12 – session curriculum that enables the class to develop their leadership capabilities, build strongly bonded relationships and provide them with an understanding of how they can positively make a change in their communities.

    This program was developed as leaders of that time recognized that the same few people were serving on many boards, and that major community decisions were being made by a very small group of people. Since the program’s creation, the same core values are instilled in participants, something that has maintained the growth of the institute.

    “Now, in 2017 it’s essentially the same,” said Kylie Peck, president and CEO of the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber. “It’s something we really appreciate about the program because the heart of it has stayed the same. “

    Each year, applications are made available and individuals are selected by their employers or other leaders in the community to submit for application. The institute has implemented a selection committee that reviews all the applications and, if needed, they will call on those applicants for an interview due to the high volume of applications.

    “Each year we are very lucky to have such talented candidates brought forward that we always have a robust class with different levels of leadership. And I think that anybody can become a leader and that’s part of the program,” Mrs. Peck said.

    She also explained that part of the chamber’s mission is to develop the area workforce and, most importantly, keep them local, and that JLI has provided the perfect avenue for this to take place.

    “Each year we visit all the different industries in the area- nonprofits, manufacturing, economic development. A couple of years ago we implemented a construction day, which is such a huge piece of the north country. We have been fortunate that Barrett Paving gives a tour of their facility and takes them to their rock quarry, and this year we are looking to implement the (Department of Environmental Conservation) also,” Mrs. Peck said.

    She continued that the DEC is a good fit for new curriculum because JLI works to ensure that world issues are also included, with conservation being a huge piece of not only Jefferson County, but the world.

    Class curriculums include an opening retreat, history from yesterday to today, business and the economy, communications in the 21st century, an inside look at government, healthcare in Jefferson County, education and lifelong learning, the nonprofits, Fort Drum, tourism and natural resources, leadership development and agriculture. Each class is held on one Friday a month for the whole day where students get hands-on experience and are able to learn from a panel of experts in that industry.

    “Interests really change with the classes. I think everyone agrees that you don’t really fully understand what is going on in the county until you have the opportunity to go through JLI because it gives you an inside perspective of how things are working together, which is really interesting,” Mrs. Peck said.

    A strong component to the JLI curriculum, that Mrs. Peck says is relatively new, is the final group project. Students of the class are required to develop a community service project that positively impacts a sector in Jefferson County. Most notably, in 2016 the graduating class joined forces to raise $25,000 dollars for the Community Action Planning Council’s ‘Bridges out of Poverty’ program.

    “For that JLI class they really have something to be proud of.  And they are going to continue it, that particular class is going to keep it going. They have developed a legacy,” Mrs. Peck said.

    The Jefferson Leadership Institute has proven throughout the years to really instill leadership in its participants and that can be seen through individuals like Mrs. Peck, who graduated the program in 2013 and has continued her career as a strongly respected leader and dedicated citizen of Jefferson County. And the program continues to develop community connections, build strong bonds between business leaders and those who will take over these roles for the next generation of executives and who will work to better Jefferson County for generations to come.

    “It’s truly a leadership program,” Mrs. Peck concluded. “It’s not just a good way to get to know your community. It’s a growth opportunity, it’s intense, and it’s a major commitment, but you’ll come out of the program feeling like a different person.”

The St. Lawrence County Leadership Institute

    Similar to that of the Jefferson Leadership Institute, the St. Lawrence Leadership Institute’s mission is to foster the development of emerging and existing leaders for the advancement of the St. Lawrence County and its communities. The primary program is a nine month series of classes held once a month on the first Thursday and provides valuable experiences for lifelong and longtime residents as well as newcomers to the area.

    The program got its start in the early 1990’s under what was then called the Merwin Rural Services Institute, part of the research foundation at SUNY Potsdam. According to SUNY Potsdam’s Division of Graduate and Continuing Education Executive Director Joshua LaFave, the goal back then, just as it is today, was to help foster leadership growth within professionals in the county.

    “What are some of the things related to environmental issues, health issues, business issues, so that we, being the institute, could help us grow civically engaged citizens who wanted to make a change for the better- whether it was city offices, town offices, serving on boards for nonprofits, etc.,” LaFave said.

    The program after its initial creation later moved to Cornell Cooperate Extension of St. Lawrence County, and was there for a number of years until it again moved to the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce around 2009 under the direction Pat McGowen, who was the executive director. She gained the designation of a 501(c)(3)  and LaFave says she is the one who “really worked tirelessly in the county to make sure we had something for future leaders.”

    “What’s really exciting about it is that we have kept the roots of what this program was intended to be and who it is for,” LaFave said. “We are able to add a lot of the resources that are available at our disposal at SUNY Potsdam because we are an institute of higher learning, and it is many different things.”

    And according to LaFave, that is just the beginning.

    This is the first time since the program has been held since 2011 and since the program is now housed on SUNY Potsdam’s campus students can tap into faculty experts in the fields they are learning about and access to library resources.

    “We are even able to offer unique opportunities, such as offering college credit for those who want to pursue that path, because of the leadership program,” LaFave said.

    But while the program is housed on campus, and the college resources are available to students, LaFave wants everyone to understand that the curriculum is not about leadership theory and constructing formal hypothesis. It’s about focusing on the individual and how they can grow personally and professionally to enhance St. Lawrence County.

    “We are doing 360-degree assessments. We are talking about everyday leadership, which is the theme of the first month; talking about helping us grow through studying emotional intelligence and its impact on how they can be successful at work; looking at the issue of organizational change and the concepts of change; we will be doing a thing called strengths quest, who we are when we are at our best and how do we leverage that. So we really do cover everyday leadership and break down those walls,” he said.

    Students are not just limited to those who are currently employed. This year, the program has students who are retired and are seeking to grow their expertise and become more engaged with the community- the core of the program’s mission.

    “It’s exciting. I think that mix is what is important, or the value of the institute, because of the networking and the learning with each other is a big part of the whole process,” LaFave said. “Content is content, issues are issues, but bringing people together to talk about them just takes everything to a new level.”

    The institute has held its first class, with 18 participants who are excited and eager to learn, according to LaFave. He himself is a graduate of the program, and says that being a part of it again has him reflecting on the positive impacts it made in his own life.

    “I would tell anyone who is interested, whether it is in Jefferson County or here, challenge yourself to grow not just in terms of leadership but to know what is going on around you, especially young professionals, because we are the ones who need to make sure that this home that we all claim to know and love is around and thriving in the future. These institutes are a prime example of how we can all do that together,” he said.

Lewis County Leadership Academy

    For Lewis County the Leadership Academy is back after taking a year break as new executive leadership moved into the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce, where the program is housed. The academy, again similar to its neighboring counties, is a preparatory course for individuals interested in becoming community leaders, whether it is in business, not-for-profits, municipal or volunteerism.

    “There was a perceived lack of new leaders stepping into leadership roles in civic organization, elected positions, and important service committees,” said Kristen Aucter, executive director of the Lewis County Chamber of Commerce. “There was also an age factor as many of the leaders filling these roles were becoming no longer available. By starting the academy, it was an excellent way to recruit new leaders and align more citizens with the big picture of Lewis County.”

    The Academy is open to anyone from emerging to advanced leaders interested in honing their leadership skills. It helps to encourage young professionals to stay in Lewis County and hone in on their skills that will better the county throughout the generations by motiving their employees and promoting community engagement.

    Bill Waite, an alumni of the academy and member of the steering committee, says that “The more you understand about the demands of leadership and how the community views those roles, it makes the jobs more fulfilling.”

    “Lewis County does an excellent job of building up our young people with excellent schools and involved parents. Unfortunately, once they go off to college, they often do not come back. The people who do come back here to live and raise a family here need to be prepared to step into leadership roles of all types. Leadership opportunities exist everywhere,” he said.

    And this is the core of the program; retention and development of the talents found within Lewis County.

    “The program helps them in obtaining a new peer network; future leaders will walk away with enriched leadership skills such as decision-making, innovation, negotiation and change management. They will also better understand interpersonal styles to recognize how interactions can influence one another in the work setting and in the success of the community as a whole,” said Aucter.

    Participants in the program get to experience Lewis County in a way that they may not have before. They are provided the tools to identify the strengths of the community as well as its weaknesses. To meet this goal, the academy has partnered with many agencies and organizations who present to the participants once a month. These businesses include Lewis County Historical Society, Oswegatchie Educational Center, Mennonite Heritage Farm, Lewis County Sheriff’s Department, New York State Court System, Watertown Daily Times, Lewis County Opportunities, Beaver River Central School, Lewis County Industrial Development Agency, Volunteer Transportation Center, Lewis County General Hospital and more.

                “We want to touch base on as many different aspects of the county we can,” said Aucter. “Rural communities like ours can benefit immensely from leaders staying and working in the community. The same skills used to increase success in their professional life can be utilized to successfully solve intricate, multidimensional problems found in our community. If we are losing the leaders, then we are losing potential solutions to make our county better than it is.”