VOL. 132 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 9, 2017
Making Best Better
By Don Wade
More than a decade ago, Carolyn Hardy was a vice president with the Coors Brewing Co. in Memphis when she attended the Leadership Development Intensive (LDI), a personal leadership training ground stretched across 3 1/2 days.
“I don’t think I initially knew who was going to be there,” said Hardy, who is now chairman of Chism Hardy Investments LLC. “I was very much impressed with the representation from the Memphis business community in that room.
“When you’re in an environment like that you can assess your abilities, which not a bad thing. It just created a different village from what I had when I arrived at the meeting.”
During the interactive Leadership Development Intensive, participants share ideas, experiences. (Brandon Dill)
Today, the twice-a-year LDI is carried out under the umbrella of New Memphis. Its roots go back to the Memphis Jobs Conference of 1979. The Jobs Conference gave birth to New Memphis predecessor Goals for Memphis (GFM). In 1997, GFM convened the Leadership Summit. Participants ranged from Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist, Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton and Shelby County Mayor Jim Rout to Jack Belz, Greg Duckett, Bill Dunavant, Barbara and Pitt Hyde, Mike Rose and Fred Smith.
The Leadership Summit morphed into LDI and in 2004 GFM became Leadership Memphis Academy and then in 2014 that became New Memphis Institute – and is now phasing in a new name: New Memphis.
Regardless of the names, LDI always had a goal of providing the top leaders in Memphis with even more opportunity for growth. The leadership experience is delivered in partnership with the Center for Creative Leadership, which is based in North Carolina but provides facilitators for the training.
“They’re No. 1-ranked for leadership development,” said Nancy Coffee, president and CEO of New Memphis. “We wanted a local cohort of executives, but world-class training.”
Coffee says bringing local executives together – and representation comes from companies with as few as 10 employees to big-footprint companies such as AutoZone Inc., FedEx Corp., International Paper Co. and ALSAC/St. Jude – is the “secret sauce, this group of people who are peers, maybe become friends, and maybe become business partners.”
Duncan Williams, president of Duncan-Williams Inc., attended LDI in 1997, basically on the eve of assuming the role of leading the investment company that bears his name.
“I’ve always told people it was the most important four days of my business life,” he said. “I was 29 years old and my father had passed away, and personally, I needed to understand Duncan better.
“It helped me mature, for lack of a better word.”
Terri Lee Freeman, who is president of the National Civil Rights Museum, attended two years ago. She was well into her professional life by this point but her position and place in Memphis were new.
“It’s totally introspective on how to do better for yourself and then do better for a lot of other people,” she said. “The best part is when you sit down with your coach and talk about who you are. In a way, it’s liberating.
“What most of my data showed is I’m super critical of myself,” Freeman continued. “So it was, ‘second-guessing yourself is your biggest flaw.’ It was confirmation for me, but it was great to hear somebody else say you should stop it.”
Freeman also finds additional benefit to the experience for the inherent networking that takes place as attendees go through the training together: “Especially for people new to the community, new to their roles, it’s a great way to start off.”
Since LDI started, 960 graduates have come through the program. More than 120 of them have been a company president and/or CEO. About 70 graduates have been C-level executives and the remainder are senior executives. More than 400 area companies have put at least one employee through the program.
All these years later, Hardy remains amazed how honest the people – even very accomplished people – were as they went through the training.
“What you see in that room is a lot of raw talent,” she said, adding the trainers “encourage you to be yourself, without the mask, and how many places do you get to be that way?”
There is no scientific evidence, per se, to demonstrate exactly what LDI has meant for each individual or company exposed to the program or collectively for the city.
Williams, for example, can’t say he would have done one thing and not another without LDI training. But he knows this: “What I learned in those 3 1/2 days guided me in making less mistakes.”
Everyone who graduates is asked to recommend someone to LDI, to pass it on, so to speak.
“We’re always trying to connect young people to the program,” Hardy said.
But neither is it too late for an executive deep into a career.
“This is for folks who are at the top of their game,” Coffee said. “It’s taking something great and trying to make it even greater.”
Calvin Anderson retired last February from his position as a senior vice president with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. He had just graduated from LDI in 2016; it was one of those things he had on his to-do list for too long.
The good news, two decades into LDI, he can look at collaborative projects such as the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, and enhancements to Shelby Farms Park and the Memphis Zoo, and see where leaders worked together – as though as one big cohort and unconcerned with gender, racial or ethnic differences.
“I wish I had taken time to do it sooner,” Anderson said of attending LDI. “It’s a good thing. I look forward to another 20 years.”