Last Wednesday 43 participants graduated from Greater Mankato Growth’s Leadership Institute. Each year a graduation dinner is held on the last day to honor the participants’ hard work and dedication to the nine-month program. One of my favorite parts of this event is when class members volunteer to speak about their experiences and observations. One class member, Elisabeth Moat, Manager of the Mankato AmericInn presented a very eloquent and heart-felt testimonial about her experience and agreed to share it on this blog. If you’ve ever considered applying for the program, or if you are a graduate of Leadership Institute, it IS worth your time to read on and according to Elisabeth, it IS worth your time to participate in the program!
Greater Mankato Leadership Institute Graduation comments by Elisabeth Moat:
When I was encouraged to apply for the Greater Mankato Leadership Institute, I was terrified. I wondered “Why would my boss want to subject me to nine months of training in rooms with people who were established in the community; people who were surely more important than me?”
Our first day was spent diving into our StrengthsFinder evaluations, which gave us the top five characteristics that define how we think and operate. The entire premise is based not on trying to change who you are to get more “desirable” characteristics, but rather to more effectively utilize and embrace the skill sets you have. I was hooked from day one, and have since integrated the StrengthsFinder book into my own management curriculum at my company.
From there we tackled the High Ropes Course. I’m petrified of heights – a steep flight of stairs will have me gripping the railings. What I loved most about this opportunity was that, from the beginning, the common goal wasn’t to have everyone complete the ropes course, but to have each person identify what their individual goal was, and cheer for them to achieve it. My goal was simply to climb up and touch the top of the 50′ pole. I got about halfway up; I could feel the pole bending in the wind, the steel grips were numbing my hands – I was scared I would slip. I remember looking down and locking eyes with someone in my class who I hadn’t even met yet, but they were cheering me on – BY NAME “Come on, Elisabeth, you can do it!” I can’t describe the level of validation I felt at that moment, and I was able to dig deep and keep climbing all the way to the top. The adrenaline lasted all day, but the confidence and validation have stuck with me ever since.
During another session, we explored the topic of Diversity. It was incredibly enlightening to be in a safe space where individuals of different backgrounds could share their opinions without fear of prejudice or judgement. We participated in a team activity where each group represented a different social class. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes in when our group was significantly behind others that we realized we were representing a lower social class with few resources, but plenty of people to treat us differently just because we were part of the “blue” group. Despite knowing it was an exercise, it invoked a lot of different feelings among the group, and spurred some healthy discussion. We also heard a first-hand account from a refugee student living here in Mankato. I’ve always thought of Mankato as a small town and had no idea the number of refugees that are seeking to build a new life in our community. It was incredibly eye-opening to hear of the life experiences that some of our community members are going through, and at such a young age.
One way in which the Leadership Institute fosters a relationship with the community is to have a Community Engagement Day, in which small groups of classmates go to different locations around town to volunteer. Our group went to Open Door Health Center to help them get organized after a recent renovation. It was heartwarming to hear about this great organization in our community that is able to provide healthcare to those who might otherwise not be able to afford it and see firsthand some of the individuals that were able to benefit from the program.
Surprisingly, one of the most enjoyable classes for me was one based on Effective Communication. I am not a public speaker, but it was really what I learned in this class that inspired me to challenge myself and speak to you all today. I made the mistake of sharing what I learned with my boss, who then, without notice, had me give a summary of what I learned at a recent meeting of more than 30 managers in our company. They were all thoroughly amused by the idea of not taking more than three steps at a time when you are speaking in front of a crowd, and I even caught a few of them practicing it later on.
Our class also had the pleasure of spending a day with a group of middle-schoolers from Dakota Meadows. Our goal for the day was to take social topics relevant to Mankato and use technology to convey our message. Here I thought my generation was all over technology use and that this would be no problem. Boy was I wrong! Our two middle-schoolers taught us how to record an interview, upload it, edit the video and mesh it with other news clips, videos and articles we found online to create one seamless video, that also included an audio track. I wouldn’t have gotten half as far with the entire day to figure it out, and to these kids it was second nature. It was very interesting to see how the school system is using technology to create a more interactive learning environment and I was actually pretty impressed.
Another one of my favorite days was the session on Ethical Leadership. Similar to the topic of diversity, being able to sit in a room full of individuals so committed to this experience that we all ensure it is a safe space to open up and share our viewpoints was empowering. I had built up enough confidence by this point in the class that I surprised myself at how vocal I was in the debates. It caused me to really think about my values as a leader, and knowing that sometimes I may need to make a decision based on the facts that I have, even if I don’t personally 100% agree with it or like it.
All in all, I cannot say enough about the Greater Mankato Leadership Institute. It has been a joy to integrate what I have learned in my workplace and with my team. It has given me the confidence, validation and techniques to grow even farther in my capacity as a leader and I thank Shannon as well as Greater Mankato Growth for allowing me to be a part of this year’s class.
The application deadline for the 2016-2017 class (Sept-May) is June 1, 2016. More information and an application can be found at greatermankato.com/leadership or call 507.385.6656 with questions.
Written by Shannon Gullickson, Talent Programs Director at Greater Mankato Growth