Sewing the seeds of economic development, resourceful leaders create jobs in Sussex County

Be. Do. Cause. With three simple words as their mantra, the inaugural 2010 class of Resourceful Leaders celebrated a unique commencement in June, equipped with renewed confidence as individual and community leaders. Eager to apply specifically honed personal goals to Be more effective where they work and live, Do more than just talk about change, the empowered leaders will Cause measurable economic prosperity through creation of new jobs in Sussex County.

The Inaugural 2010 Resourceful Leader Class. From left to right, Back Row: Mike Nally, Frank Brady, Colin Walls, Patti Grimes, Rob Rider, Scott Thomas, Ryan Williamson, Bill McGowan. Seated: Melody Booker, Saulo Chavez, Lindsay Maurer. Not present for photo: Brenda Whitehurst.

Each participant had a personal stretch goal to create at least one new job in Sussex County. They are giving themselves six months. Two have already met their goal.

Modeled after graduate-level seminars, the collaborative exercise, conducted at the Elbert N. and Ann V. Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown during May and June, focused on economic gardening. Each of the 10 class members, all who work full time jobs in the county, made a commitment to attend seven, five-hour evening sessions, challenging each other to develop natural talents into performance, build confidence through encouragement, and turn inventive ideas into real, tangible results.

Launching an economic gardening program through resourceful leadership was a natural progression for Bill McGowan, University of Delaware Community Development Extension agent and co-director of the Sustainable Community Enhancement Initiative. Having facilitated initiatives such as the two-year agricultural leadership program LEADelaware, workshops on heritage tourism, and multiple town hall interactions to define the Heart and Soul of Sussex County, and now working with SEDAC, the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee, McGowan was acutely aware of the economic challenges facing Sussex County. Delving into a variety of issues and hearing from equally diverse interests, McGowan instinctively knew where the solution could be found – with Sussex Countians themselves acting as economic gardeners.

“Sussex Countians are conscientious, caring, community -minded people,” McGowan observed. “They are willing to help each other.  It may sound simple, but in committing to this program, you grow yourself, you can grow your organization, and grow your community.”

Saulo Chavez, administrative executive of a Georgetown community health care center, agreed. “This class helped us to realize – we hear on the news how the rate of unemployment is so high. We wait for government to help,” Chavez said. “It is up to us to create those jobs and it us up to us to encourage job creation. We are not waiting for someone else to do that.”

The determination to grow the economy was evident throughout the group.  Each of the 10, representing the arts, charitable foundations, financial management, health services, non-profits, auto service, manufacturing, home builders, land developers and tourism, examined their personality profiles to better respect the different approaches that exist across arenas. After the first session, a strong bond was formed in an atmosphere where “Be, Do, and Cause” really meant something. It meant they had to produce. It meant taking their collective commitment to serve Sussex County and delivering something tangible to benefit a larger good.

To get Sussex’s economic garden properly tilled, McGowan turned to his friend Mike Nally, founder of Lead Your Way Solutions and partner on other leadership training projects, most notably with the current two-year class of LEADelaware. McGowan’s admiration for Nally as a skilled leader/coach made Nally’s addition the natural choice to guide the seven sessions.

“Nally is a tremendous asset to Sussex County. We chose Mike because of his belief in, commitment to, and demonstration of servant leadership. He is a living example of walking the talk,” McGowan said.

“Mike’s ability to share his ‘Be Do and Cause’ principles with the group and guide them in their own discussions with each person around those principles is one of the finest demonstrations I’ve seen of adult learning,” McGowan continued.

The group was unanimous in describing the sessions as transformational.

“We’ve all been to training seminars for one and two days and you come back on fire and then it fizzles out,” said Frank Brady.” The way it was set up- the week to week format-allowed the right stretch of time to be responsible and to be transformational, so we can make a change and be accountable for it – to ourselves and to the group.”

“I didn’t want it to end, said Lindsay Maurer, who, like Brady, works for a residential and commercial builder. “I would do anything for these guys. It was transformational. I would love to see everybody go through this,” Maurer said.

Ideas came to the table from all directions – and were listened to, challenged, encouraged, and fleshed out in real time. Softball ideas where honed for specifics and some of the sessions were intensive, but generous with constructive criticism and the offering of personal lessons as a way to convert ideas into reality.

Patti Grimes, executive director of a non-profit art foundation, found the different backgrounds of the class participants an important ingredient in enriching the group. “We all learned from everyone else’s experiences through this,” Grimes said. “It helps us take that back to work and to our homes and help create new leaders.”

Nally was initially concerned that the long evening sessions, coming at the end of a full work day, would be difficult to sustain.

“I thought it might run out of gas,” Nally offered.” Keeping people engaged for five hours was a worry – it’s tough to keep up the energy. But the reality, the dynamics of the group proved the opposite. The conversation stayed fresh and long enough to start changing things.”

We moved the world to be here,” Grimes said. Everyone agreed quitting at 9 p.m. proved difficult.

Nally and McGowan’s stretch goal intends to create 100 resourceful leaders for the community from a diverse pool of applicants. The only prerequisite is a commitment to Sussex County. The inaugural class will act as mentors and provide additional resources for future sessions.

As the last session came to a close, a class that began as 10 strangers left as a tightly knit unit that did not want to quit. Instead of goodbyes the new Resourceful Leaders were making plans to meet regularly and continue the process of support, partnership, and economic growth.

As a token of their commencement, McGowan and Nally presented each with a potted Bonsai tree accented with a “Be, Do, Cause” touchstone – a reminder of their purpose. McGowan reminded the group that Bonsai trees were beautiful to look at but tricky to grow, requiring a commitment of time and personal attention. If the Bonsai was a fitting symbol, then Maurer’s reaction to it might symbolize the leaders and their chances for success. Maurer took her Bonsai home, examined several websites on how to care for them, and shared the best instructions with the group in an email the next day. It wasn’t her Bonsai she was concerned about – it was everyone’s Bonsai that mattered.

Article and photo: Michele Walfred     Click here for additional photos

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