With each passing year, the list of names impacted by Leadership Springfield grows longer.
The organization has provided community leadership programs since its formation in 1985, with now over 2,000 alumni representing roughly 375 Springfield businesses.
Leadership Springfield advocates for area businesses by providing programs designed to inspire, develop and connect local leaders to serve.
The programs are making an impact, says Executive Director Carrie Richardson.
“As graduates of Leadership Springfield return to their respective businesses, they bring a greater understanding of their own leadership strengths, an informed understanding of our local issues and an appreciation for higher level engagement in addressing area needs,” she says.
Leadership Springfield aims to educate and enrich its participants through community conversation, networking events, mentoring opportunities and industry discussions.
Richardson says the agency’s programs help cultivate engaged employees who are committed to the community. That, in turn, enhances worker retention for area businesses.
Three of its four programs, Signature Class, Leadership Academy and Principles of Leadership, follow a nine-month model. Access Class is the newest and shortest for the organization. It started in 2019 and is a two-day course offered quarterly for mid- to upper-level managers new to the community or looking to expand professional connections, Richardson says. City Utilities of Springfield and Springfield Public Schools are among program participants.
“Access Class has been a really innovative and fun program for us to launch,” she says, noting the course complements employee retention efforts and talent attraction. “That’s exactly why we launched the class in the first place in partnership with some local employers.”
Richardson took the reins of the professional development agency in 2018, becoming its first-ever director. Her hire immediately preceded Leadership Springfield’s transition to an independent organization. It was formerly an affiliate program with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
Signature Class, Leadership Springfield’s flagship program, has graduated three dozen classes of community leaders and business professionals since 1985. Leadership Academy, modeled after the Signature Class, followed in 1990 and is free for high school juniors. Principals of Leadership, started in 2014, in partnership with SPS, targets school principals.
Richardson says the organization’s advocacy focuses on educating and supporting a Springfield leadership framework for area business leaders that also aligns with the city’s biennial Community Focus Report. Topics in the report range from education, housing and transportation to public safety, recreation and the natural environment. “For our programs, it’s a way to connect local leaders. It enables the report to come alive for people,” she says. “It’s not just a data report, but it’s a way for them to connect and identify with something that they’re passionate about and see the drivers to that.”
The organization’s programming continues amid the coronavirus pandemic, with a pivot made in March to a virtual format for its Signature Class and Academy Class courses, Richardson says. Additionally, the Access Class scheduled in May was postponed until August. “The pandemic has provided us an opportunity to include additional offerings and deliver the programs in a different way,” she says. “We’re all aware how important leadership is right now and how important the connection is as we continue go on into a kind of different world right now.”
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Alex Neville-Verdugo, museum director at the Discovery Center in Springfield, describes the opportunities the Discovery Center has through partnerships with other educational organizations. Neville-Verdugo says the Discovery Center’s virtual learning program reaches across multiple countries, with traffic mostly coming from the U.S. and Canada.
Elizabeth Hurst, business development manager at HR Advantage, says we do see fewer women in the workforce today than before the pandemic. Hurst says many women want more flexible work environments and that is one way employers can capture the female labor force.
Curtis Marshall, CEO of Tie & Timber Beer Company, says he sees work-life balance very differently. When he was younger, he would push himself to take on more and more responsibility, but would stop and put his career on hold for months while living in New Zealand or Mexico, or to start a pet software project. He says he lives by the philosophy of work hard and play hard.
Brent Cochran didn’t think he would become a retailer, but when thinking of ways to keep his young adult son with Down syndrome intellectually engaged, he came across a father and son team that did just that. Cochran, now owner of Al’s Pals Pet Place, says both the needs of his son and his affection for the family dog with a sensitive stomach led him to the world of e-commerce.