Leadership Austin graduates a class of 21

Published 7:21 am Friday, April 9, 2010

Twenty one people completed the fourth year of Leadership Austin, an eight-month program designed to teach budding leaders about the community and opportunities here.

Thursday was the final meeting, and each of the participants gave a 15-minute presentation on his or her perspective on the community, leadership and how they plan to become more involved.

“It really is about a commitment, a passion to this community,” said Dr. Terrence Leas, president of Riverland Community College.

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Leadership Austin is put on by the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce and Riverland Community College. The program is designed to help emerging community leaders hone their skills and connect with other individuals in the community. Since the program started, about 80 people have completed the program, said Chamber director Sandy Forstner.

The program is an eight-month series of an all-day seminar each month. After a few introductory sessions, the group shifts to focus days, where they did things like tour the Hormel Foods Corp. plant, toured the Hormel Institute and met with people with the Austin Police Department.

Since the program takes a full work day each month, Forstner said the program is quite a commitment by a company and employers.

Many of the people who completed Leadership Austin are already in leadership roles in the community, like Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz. However, Forstner said many of the participants learn many things they never knew about Austin.

“A lot of the focus is on learning more about the community,” Forstner said. “People who’ve lived here all their life go through the program, and they learn a lot.”

Forstner said the program helps each participant identify his or her leadership strengths and then helps them build on it.

Each person received a plaque for completing the program, and spoke briefly about something that stuck out over the course of the eight months. Many of the other participants spoke about being attacked by a police dog when they had the chance to be decoys on police day.

“Law enforcement day was electrifying. I’m just going to leave it at that,” Brian Kelley said after he received his certificate. A person in the audience whispered that Kelley was tased during police day.

Kelley, who’s work as night operations manager since 2001 at Quality Pork Processors, said he presented on how to guide youth toward leadership opportunities at a young age. Kelley said he hopes to pass along some of the things he learned at Leadership Austin in the workplace, especially about being passionate about your work.

Jay Lutz, a staff engineer at Hormel Foods, told the story of a video the group watched on Law Enforcement Day. The video showed two angles of a man surrendering to police. The first angle showed a man setting down a rifle, but then a cop shot the man who appeared to be surrendering. Lutz said many of the participants saw that as a bad decision until they saw the video from a different perspective. The video was replayed from a different angle which showed the man pulling out a handgun behind his back as he pretended to surrender. Lutz, whose son is a police officer, said it taught him to look at issues from different perspectives when making decisions.

Hormel Foods plant manager Mark Coffey served as the year leader for Leadership Austin, and he told the graduates that leadership Austin didn’t end with Thursday’s graduation ceremony, as they would go on to continue to be active in the community.

The chamber is already accepting applications for next year’s Leadership Austin program. The deadline to apply is June 1. The sessions are on the second Thursday of each month beginning in September and running through April 2011.