Leadership Haywood starts next month
Even the smallest communities are composed of a dizzying array of institutional and organizational groups that can either work together — or against each other — in the collection and distribution of limited resources to the utmost benefit of that community.
Local government, law enforcement, educational institutions and healthcare facilities are all obvious players in most counties. But there are other entities — cultural institutions, environmental organizations and economic development authorities — that also play a role in how residents of a community are served, or underserved.
Acquainting oneself with these myriad groups — and their missions, their roles, their powers and their leadership teams can be time-consuming, tedious and intimidating.
That’s where civic leadership programs not uncommon to many cities and counties across the nation come in handy. Haywood’s is called Leadership Haywood.
“Leadership Haywood plays a uniquely important role in connecting Haywood County organizations together,” said Ken Howle, executive director at Lake Junaluska.
Howle himself went through the program about a decade ago, and each year sends a few Lake Junaluska employees as well.
“It has been a very effective way for our staff to meet people from other organizations, learn more about our history and develop new partnerships that are mutually beneficial,” Howle said.
The program itself had been around long before Haywood Chamber President CeCe Hipps’ arrival in 2004, but at the time it was conducted under a volunteer organization’s leadership. When it went dark for a few years, Hipps reestablished it under the Chamber.
“I had experience at the Cary Chamber [where she worked prior to Haywood] with their leadership programs,” she said. “I think it’s very important, particularly for new people moving into a community, because it gives them a crash course in what a community is all about.”
Even Haywood County natives can learn something from the course, which consists of nine sessions lasting from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. once each month; perhaps most importantly, that class will be full of similarly civic-minded people, many who are currently or will likely soon be in leadership positions of their own.
“I also think its very valuable to try to build up leadership within our community,” Hipps said. “Particularly with young people and young professionals.”
The first session is devoted to introductions, communication skills and team building. That’s followed immediately by what many former students consider to be the highlight of the experience — something called SimSoc.
SimSoc is a turn-based social simulation game where participants are divided up into three teams that can either work together or against each other in the collection and distribution of limited resources.
Participants earn currency by solving simple word puzzles, but must spend it on basic necessities. The red team starts with few resources, and is also segregated into the smallest, most uncomfortable room in the building. The yellow team has more resources and more space, while the green team has the best socioeconomic situation of all.
Beyond that, participants are sworn to secrecy about events that transpire during SimSoc, including the interpersonal dynamics that often lead to some startling realizations about the allegories deliberately embedded in the simulation by its creator William Gamson, a Boston College sociologist.
But Leadership Haywood isn’t all fun and games; after gaining that perspective, a session on Haywood County’s history, its arts community and its cultural diversity takes place, including a short bus trip to relevant attractions like Waynesville’s Shelton House and HART Theatre.
From there, the course focuses on the various healthcare institutions in the county and then on the religious community. After that, it’s a session with local government leaders and Waynesville’s police department.
Economic development and tourism are also covered, as is education and the environment — which usually includes a kayaking session at Lake Junaluska that focuses on waterway health.
Graduates of the program then become part of an informal group of alumni that can be found in various public sector roles — like the Town of Waynesville’s Assistant Town Manager Amie Owens.
“Leadership Haywood helped me to make contacts in the community, not just in local government. I learned a great deal more about Haywood County, the commitment of individuals and groups of individuals who are working to keep a piece of the past while looking to the future,” Owens said. “I still interact with my classmates and have utilized them as resources on several occasions. The town tries to send two individuals annually to participate from different departments or divisions.”
Some graduates, however, hold no less important jobs in the private sector, like Stanberry Insurance’s John Patterson.
“Through this program you gain a deeper understanding of the assets and resources our community has,” said Patterson, who went through the program two years ago and now serves as a coordinator helping to organize and run it.
“I feel like from a business standpoint, it allows you to better understand how your business can use those resources and work alongside those resources to better serve the needs of the community,” he said. “We want our business to be woven into the fabric of Haywood County, and gaining a more meaningful understanding of this community in which we live, work and play helps us in those efforts.”
The people he’s gotten to know through Leadership Haywood, Patterson said, have not only become a professional peer network but also have become friends.
“These are people that I respect and have learned from,” he said. “Networking with other professionals has helped me grow, and I hope that I’m able to help them do the same. These relationships have the potential to last for decades to come, and I have no doubt that graduates from this program will become leaders across Haywood County in a variety of ways as time moves on.”
Howle expressed confidence that as time does move on, Leadership Haywood will adapt to the changes occurring in the county.
“CeCe and the staff at the Haywood Chamber of Commerce have assured ongoing success for this great program, and our whole community is able to benefit.”
Become a ‘Leader’
Leadership Haywood runs every third Wednesday of the month from September through May. This year’s cohort begins on Sept. 19, with graduation ceremonies scheduled for June. Applications are due by September 7, 2018. For more information on the schedule and curriculum or to apply, visit www.haywoodchamber.com.