Howard program trains leaders for the future Executives learn how county works

December 27, 1992|By Ann Ellis | Ann Ellis,Contributing Writer

Imagine what might be accomplished if the leading executives -- bankers, government administrators, lawyers, health care professionals, educators and others -- sat down informally to talk about government, human services, the arts, public safety and economic development.

Such discussions occur each month under the auspices of Leadership Howard County, a nonprofit program started in 1987 by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce to identify and prepare county leaders for community service.

"We focus on the state of the county -- issues, problems and resources," says Shirley Burrill, the agency's director since it's inception. "Participants hold high-level positions of responsibility in the county and can make things happen. They have a record of community service and are willing to serve the county in the future."

Community service is the cornerstone of the 10-month program that is funded primarily by tuition and small yearly grants from the Columbia Foundation and the county chamber of commerce. The program consists of one-day seminars on health care, economic development, education, the arts and the media, government, criminal justice and human services. Graduates are then expected to translate their experience in the program to service in the county.

"Having grown up in Howard County, I thought I knew a lot about the county, but I had no idea of the kinds of programs out there. The networking is it. The program creates better relationships and makes it easier to contact colleagues," says Steven Breeden, a vice president at Security Development Corp. and graduate of the program's first class in 1987.

Activities related to each seminar topic are developed by class members, with the assistance of a leadership graduate. Teaching methods combine classroom discussion with hands-on experiences. In preparation for a discussion of criminal justice, for instance, class members rode with county police. To learn about county government, class members are sent on a kind of bureaucratic scavenger hunt to county government offices.

"Teams were sent out to obtain a permit for a deck, research a tax bill, find a county council member's office. Instead of just touring offices, they learned how to do things and where things were," says Ms. Burrill. She acknowledges the difficulty in giving people what they need to know in the one-day class without overwhelming them.

"Meeting one time a month doesn't allow you to solve problems, but the program raises questions and provides a network of key people, a direct avenue to county services," says Jeanette Pfotenhauer, a lawyer who is vice president and general counsel for the Columbia Foundation and 1988 leadership graduate.

Developing contacts or "networking" is seen as the program's primary benefit and is encouraged through an overnight team-building retreat, group projects, and an active alumni program. "Each class becomes a solid team. They feel comfortable calling on each other for consultation and resources," says Ms. Burrill.

Many alumni put their experience to practical and immediate use.

"Graduates bring resources to boards and committees throughout the county," explains Ms. Burrill. "I get many requests for potential board members. Lawyers used to be in demand, but now the primary need is fund-raising."

A membership directory, published each year, lists philanthropic interests and volunteer activities of each graduate to encourage members to draw on each other's expertise.

Teri Harrison says she applies what she learned about human services in the county to her position as director of employee relations at Allied Signal Aerospace Technology Center.

"I have a much broader concept of what Howard County offers in the human services arena. For instance, if an employee is going through a divorce and is seeking help with his or her children, I have a knowledge of specific services, and can refer them to Children of Separation and Divorce, for instance," says Ms. Harrison.

Each year, the class of approximately 35 is selected from 70 to 80 applications.

"Participants must live or work in the county. A recruitment committee develops an adequate pool of applications that represents a diverse population of major employers, small business, and a mix of gender, ethnic background and employment," says Ms. Burrill. "The selection committee has to turn away people with a lot of promise for the county, but those individuals are encouraged to reapply."

Attendance during one business day each month makes company sponsorship the norm. Employers usually foot the XTC $2,100 bill. "There is a lot in the program for employers," says Ms. Burrill. "Employees are tuned in to the community and develop valuable connections."

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