Chamber program helps develop leaders

I never really had any interest in joining the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut's Leadership Program, let alone serving as one of the presidents. But two years ago my boss came into my office and mentioned the program and asked if I was interested in participating. I told him no, that I was too busy, and didn't have time for any other activities outside of work. He said OK, but as he left my office, he noted that a fellow associate was going.

I groaned and reluctantly agreed to go as well, having been basically shamed into joining.

That September, when I showed up for orientation, I had no idea what to expect or what the program even entailed. I don't think I had even read the promotional flyer.

But I soon realized I had stumbled into something really meaningful.

I met an incredible group of people and became good friends with many. Together we learned so much about this community, saw places many of us didn't even know existed, met the key leaders and decision makers in the region, and made a meaningful impact in the lives of dozens of children at the Drop In Learning Center in New London.

But the most important thing I took away from this program was what I learned about myself.

Not to be arrogant, but I have always thought of myself as a leader. I tend to gravitate toward those roles in my life, perhaps because I like things done a certain way, perhaps because I can't stomach indecisiveness in others, perhaps because I need to feel like I'm in control.

But the most important thing I learned was not taught in any session, was not talked about by any speaker, did not come out of any discussion we had in a planning meeting. Instead, I learned it from my peers in the program: My limitations as a leader.

I learned that I can't do it all myself. I have to trust others. I have to delegate. I have to listen. I have to compromise. And most importantly, that, at the end of the day, I am only as good as the people beside me.

Like most parents, I worry about my son's future, where he will go to college, whether there will a job for him someday here in eastern Connecticut, whether he will even want to live here when he grows up.

Our state and region face daunting challenges in the years ahead. New London County has failed to recover from the last recession and there are more questions regarding our shared future than there are clear answers. In the leadership program we saw firsthand the deep and unrelenting need that exists in our region, but we also learned that by working together we can overcome any obstacle.

It will not be long until the responsibility for this community falls into the hands of a new generation of leaders. I'm not sure what role I will play, but I intend to be here in southeastern Connecticut. This is my home, and I will do my part, whatever it may be.

The goal of the Leadership Program is to prepare future community leaders for positions of responsibility by exposing them to those issues that affect our communities, businesses and the public. The program includes a service project to benefit a local nonprofit organization. The class of 2014 chose to work with the Drop-In Learning Center in New London to paint and refurbish five classrooms, as well as donate a dozen e-readers to the center's RIF program. For more information visit www.chamberect.com/leadership.html.

Bill Sweeney is a partner in the TCORS law firm of New London.

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