Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Leadership teaches many lessons

Recently (a useful word that encompasses a number of time zones) I was asked to compose a few words of introduction for the printed program to be handed out at the 25th anniversary dinner of Leadership Lake County, reflecting upon my own experience with the organization. And so I did. But not wishing to expend so much energy for so small an audience, I have decided to reproduce those words here in the form of an "Editor’s Notebook." I hope you approve of my decision.

The 25th Anniversary of Leadership Lake County presents a good opportunity to reflect upon the organization, its value to the county, and the spirit of togetherness and "oneness" that is experienced by its graduates.

If I may digress for a moment, Leadership would be a meaningless organization were it not for its own leadership. That may seem like stating the obvious, but think about it — the people who have led Leadership embody the qualities that make the organization a success.

I am speaking of the only two executive directors the organization has known in its 25 years, Jim Capitan and soon-to-be-retiring Ellen Cantor, and the top-flight people who have served as officers and trustees of the Leadership organization over that quarter-century. They are quality people who embody the spirit of Leadership — who make the county move and who give it its identity. But those are observations from outside Leadership. Let me offer some personal observations from inside the organization as a graduate and as one who proudly never missed a Wednesday session during my happy, pleasant and most instructive year as a participant.

Let me first say that I knew each one of the founders of Leadership Lake County, some of them extremely well and many as fellow members of other organizations to which I have belonged.

In 1987, when Leadership began, I had already been editor of The News-Herald for 20 years. As a daily newspaper editor, one learns a lot about one’s community.

Many of those founders consulted with me about the prospect of starting up a Leadership group here. I was flattered, and thought it a great idea. I also thought it would be a great training ground for the county’s future leaders — but of course it was not for me because I was, well, you know, already a leader of sorts.

When Glenn Gilbert, who worked with me at The News-Herald as executive editor, enrolled in Leadership, I thought it was a fine idea for him to experience Leadership training. He was a relative newcomer, from Michigan, of all places, and it would teach him a lot he should know about Lake County — things which I, of course, already knew.

I hate to apply a word like "smug" to myself because the word can be almost pejorative, in a way. But looking back, I guess I was a little smug. Experiencing Leadership taught me how much I didn’t know about Lake County.

I had always been invited to the opening night cocktail party and the graduation ceremony of each new Leadership class, and very much enjoyed attending. And I met a lot of very fine people I had never known, as well as seeing many people I knew very well who were about to enter into the Leadership experience. And then I was enrolled in Leadership myself, thanks to the cajoling of Mary Ann Blakeley, an executive at Lakeland Community College, who assured me I would enjoy it, it would be a worthwhile experience and it would be good for me.

She was right on all three counts. The experience was extremely informative — every time the bus stopped and we got off to visit a new venue. Thus I learned a lot about the county I had never known. Every place we visited was fascinating, in its own way.

Some of my classmates I had known previously and some I met for the first time. They were all "winners" in my book. We continue to enjoy our association, either in prearranged gatherings or chance meetings.

Leadership not only taught me much I didn’t know about Lake County, it also gave me renewed interest in institutions that were "old hat" to me.

I will continue to belong to the Leadership alumni organization, attend functions and play in the Leadership golf outing — one of the highlights of the year.

I will always treasure my experience in Leadership, and will continue to be a strong and vocal advocate whenever the subject of Leadership comes up.

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