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VOL. 122 | NO. 74 | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Alums Reflect on Gains While Leadership Academy Master's Class Celebrates First Decade in City

By Rosalind Guy

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Former Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division president and current mayoral candidate Herman Morris was one of the city's first leaders to go through the master's class at The Leadership Academy, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

Perhaps Morris represents the ultimate effect the academy can have on a leader, as he is engaged in a highly contentious race for the mayor's office.

Recalling his experience in the class, which took place in July 1997, Morris said it provided excellent leadership training and development experience.

"The experience was a kind of inside-out activity," Morris said. "There was an introspective aspect to it, where you examined your personality style and traits and attributes."

Morris is among the more than 450 masters who have gone through the program since its inception.

You can't buy class

Later this year, the nonprofit organization plans to host a series of events to commemorate the class' anniversary.

While all the details have not been finalized, Angie Herron, director of marketing and communications for The Leadership Academy, said the goal of the events will be to bring together all the graduates of the program to get them re-engaged with the organization.

"It'll be a reunion to get these folks together again and see how much they've changed, done or accomplished over these past years since they've been in our program," she said.

The master's program is one the academy launched once its board of directors decided to change the organization's mission.

Founded 25 years ago, the academy once was known as Goals of Memphis. At the time, the organization's focus was to tackle society's ills one at a time, such as crime, diversity and education.

In 1997, the board decided the best way to achieve its goals was with what senior vice president Susan Chase calls a "more all-inclusive approach."

So, the decision was made to focus on developing leaders in the community, who then would go out and affect changes. The organization's first foray into leadership development was through the master's program.

And in that first class, Herron said, could be found some of the city's "movers and shakers."

Head of the class

Among them was Dean Deyo, current president of the Memphis Music Foundation and former CEO of Time Warner Cable; Frank Ricks, a principal at Looney Ricks Kiss Architects and, of course, Morris.

Deyo said he's always been proud of the fact that he was in the first master's class.

When he went through it, he was still at the head of Time Warner, a position he held for 25 years. Through a test called the Meyers-Briggs Personality Index, Deyo learned his leadership style and how it affected the work environment at Time Warner.

He said his leadership style - which tends toward facts and data rather than creativity and spontaneity - had become ingrained in the company's culture, not just at the upper level, but throughout the organization. The problem was that until he recognized what his style was, he couldn't do anything about it.

"It's not that it's good or bad. It's that as an ISTJ (Introvert, Sensing, Thinking, Judging), I like lots of facts and figures, to have lots of meetings and like to have information available on everything I do," he said ... "which means we were a great company for never missing a deadline and being well-organized. But we were not a great company for being creative and spontaneous."

After realizing his strengths and weaknesses, Deyo went back to Time Warner and had all the managers in the company tested and discovered that they were all ISTJs.

"We had to take that and immediately go and start looking for creative people who were a different style, and we had to train people within our company to be able to accept that other style," Deyo said.

So, Deyo credits the learning experience from that first master's class with helping him to make the culture at Time Warner a lot better.

"Knowing what kind of style I was ... showed us that we were missing huge opportunities by not purposely going after other people with other styles," he added. "And it wasn't a well-rounded company unless we had kinds of all styles."

Deyo pointed out that failing to recognize other leadership styles and therefore failing to appreciate them can lead to conflict within a company.

A buyer's market

Likewise, Morris saw his involvement with the first master's class as a valuable tool.

He pointed out that while there was the typical array of exercises in a leadership/management development class, there was one activity that stood out in his mind: the "blindfold experience."

For that experiment, several members of a team would be blindfolded. The members who were not blindfolded would have to give instructions for completing a specific task.

"In effect, it's an experience in communication," he said.

Morris said that experiment, as well as the others he experienced during the leadership training, continue to contribute to his leadership style.

"It gave us an opportunity to work with each other and, in effect, get to know each other and appreciate that we could work together," he said. "It made points by example like you've got to communicate and share information with those with whom you're working and, in particular, with those whom you would presume to lead. That you've got to have a binding and shared vision that people not only share, but buy into."

Flow chart

The Leadership Academy master's programs are held several times a year. They consist of a four-day program for presidents and CEOs of companies and organizations in the city.

Chase said most of the people who participate in the program are referred by others who already have gone through it.

"If they choose to participate, there isn't a process for acceptance," Chase said. "If they choose to participate, they're welcome to participate."

Class size is typically around 25 people, she added. The class for October already is about two-thirds full.

Herron attended the master's class in October 2006, so she knows how valuable the class can be for community leaders.

"It's an incredible program, and like everything else that we do, it's focused on developing your leadership skills based on who you are," Herron said. "It's about knowing what your leadership style is and what your preferences are and how that translates into how you interact with others."

The Leadership Academy also offers a program for emerging leaders. Born of the master's program, the fellows program was launched in 2004. It's a yearlong program that consists of 18 sessions.

"With the master's class having several years of success and really building on the leadership in Memphis, we wanted to create something that would take that same sort of training to an emerging-leader level," Herron said.

The average age for participants in the fellows program is around 34, she added.

"They do some very similar exercises in terms of self-awareness and developing their personal leadership skills," Herron said. "But then we also have that group take what they learn and put it into practical application through creating a community action project."

Typically, fellows participants join with a local nonprofit organization that needs help in an area that coincides with the fellows' passion for community work, she said.

Two fellows classes take place all the time because they're a yearlong process, Herron said. One of the classes begins in April and the other begins in September.

To learn more about The Leadership Academy, call 527-4625 or visit www.leadershipacademy.org.

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