Each year, the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce hosts a six-month program called Leadership Otsego. Area businesses and other organizations send individuals to sessions once per month from February through July to enhance their knowledge and experience. The course is designed to increase each individual’s ability to work within a team environment as successful leaders of people in today’s ever-changing world. By the end of our journey, however, it was clear that I learned much more from them than they did from me.
The scheduled topics for Leadership Otsego were concepts such as Emotional Intelligence, Leading Through Change, Diverse Leadership Styles, Servant Leadership and Time Management. We visited places from Oneonta to Edmeston, and even the State Senate and Assembly chambers in Albany. We had conversations with people in area big business, academics, non-profit foundations and small “Mom & Pops. They came from restaurants, retail shops, City Halls, County Seats, service organizations, boardrooms, classrooms and hospitals.
But the centerpiece of the experience was the Class Project. Unlike our Elementary School class projects of years gone by, we didn’t focus on baking soda & vinegar volcanos, dioramas, revolving models of our solar system or Mentos dropped into Diet soda. Our participants were given a task. Actually, two tasks in one. Identify the most significant issues that need to be addressed in Otsego County, and how to make each one better. Basically, to act as a physician would. Diagnose the conditions and prescribe the remedies required to alleviate the pain. Simple, right? Not so fast my friends. (Right Stan?)
Identifying areas of concern in Otsego County, and the respective set of solutions to those concerns, were all the result of the teamwork exhibited by the class participants. Not a textbook or a facilitator. The ideas were theirs. The ways to communicate the projects goals were theirs. And the project presentation delivered at the Otesaga Hotel on July 12th was theirs. They worked on team formation (one per issue), project outline, research, teammate roles and presentation delivery over the entire six-month timeframe. They were engaged, attentive and dedicated to their work. That focus on the job at hand was showcased in their final presentation.
Here is a summary of what they produced. The central theme is Quality of Place. Why? Because making this area a better place to live, work and play brings more families looking for a great spot to raise their kids. If they move here, they need a place to live. To buy a place they need good jobs. If they move here with families, buy homes and get good jobs they contribute to the community. They pay taxes here, shop here, send kids to school here, volunteer in the community here and put down roots here. To accomplish this goal, the team named five workgroups to tackle five separate areas that would contribute to our Quality of Place. They are Workforce Attraction, Development and Retention; Marketing & Branding; Affordable Childcare; Housing & Infrastructure: and Funding. How will these five areas of focus bring about a better Quality of Place? Glad you asked. The presentation is on the Otsego County Chamber of Commerce website at otsegocc.com. Check it out. You really should.
What did this group of individuals teach me about leadership? Where do I start. They taught me that complete strangers can enter a room on a frigid Upstate February morning. Then, in only six sessions over six months (approximately 40 hours) and a lot of independent research time, can have their group photo taken on the rear steps of the Otesaga Hotel on a hot summer afternoon as teammates, co-workers, and friends. They showed me that there were more ways to tackle an issue than first thought. They proved that diversity is more than I may have understood as they solidified my feeling that it is a foundation of strength, resiliency and pride. Diversity of opinion and viewpoint comes from diversity of perspective. To hear real-life stories and examples of individual strengths and weaknesses, work AND life experiences that each of them bring into work each day, was a PhD-level education for all: especially me.
I would like to thank, in alphabetical order, those individuals who, in participating in this endeavor, game me a great education. Ryan Bissinger, Patrick Bullock, Stephanie Byrnes, Adam Clouse, Tim Dauchy, Gina Gardner, Helen Garvin, Jessica Granish, James Johnson, Chris Kegelman, Paul Lawrence, Lara Leonard, Amber Merchant, Gordon Mumbolo, Michelle Myers, Tara Nolet, Julianne Pettine, Dominique Rockwell, Heather Schermerhorn, Nathaniel Shuart, Tracy Reed-Smith, Josh Taylor, Jennifer Teserio, Marisa VanWormer, Holly Webb and Serina Wilber (who is always alphabetically last). Without you all, there would be no program. Here’s to the Leadership Otsego Class of 2023!