This was asked to me at the end of my twelve-month 2016 Leadership Niagara Class. If you’ve never heard of Leadership Niagara, you’re missing out on one of our region’s assets and you should check it out. (Spoiler alert! You don’t have to live or work in Niagara County to benefit from this program). I attempted to answer the question with a multitude of clichéd responses that began with “Yes, I’m a better leader because…insert cliché response.” But the truth is, I never really bought in to what I was saying. So I gave it another shot, and to give myself a fighting chance at a real answer, I had to reflect on what the last twelve months meant to me.
Each month, I eagerly attended our daylong session, spending time with 50 individuals with varied backgrounds that included education, law enforcement, the legal system, not-for-profit, healthcare, tourism, military, development, and manufacturing to name a few. Each session took our class to a new place throughout Niagara and Erie County, as well as Southern Ontario, to explore and understand regional issues. More specifically, I experienced places and learned from leaders in our region with whom I would most likely never have the opportunity on my own.
But I’m not talking about a typical business interaction or setting with these folks. For example, a session about “Applying leadership principles and values to your own leadership” took place on the Niagara Falls military base, kicked off by two military colonels and culminated in a flight on a C130. Another session was focused on bi-national relations and “Experiencing healthy tension and polarity management,” hosted at the First Ontario Performing Arts Center and included a leadership reflection with Mayor Walter Sendzik.
A session on “Understanding the interdependency of multiple systems and how leaders communicate and share information to achieve shared goals” took us to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office, on a tour of the Emergency Dispatch and Command Center (where the people who receive the 911 calls are!), a presentation from the Homeland Security Joint Terrorism Task Force, a visit to the Niagara County Jail (they went on lockdown so that we could go inside) and ended the day observing a youth adult drug court session.
With all of these unique experiences behind me, I think about what I learned over the last year. Well, I learned that leadership is a multitude of contradictions. It’s being consistent but knowing when to bend and flex. It’s knowing when to speak up and when to listen. It’s being empathetic and confident in your delivery. It’s working in the gray and black and white. It’s taking risks and knowing when to reel it in. It could be something different on Monday than it is on Friday. And this doesn’t vary depending on the industry you work in. It’s these contradictions that bring leaders together.
With this, I can say with an emphatic “Yes” that Leadership Niagara shaped my leadership style in a meaningful way. I’m more aware of the region my clients and I work in, I’m much more conscience of my particular leadership style and strengths and areas for improvement, and I have a new and extended network across many industries offering my company new resources to tap into. Professional development, just like any other meaningful experience, should have a short and long-term impact on you, both professionally and personally, and Leadership Niagara certainly afforded me that.