Greg Bassett: Series is training our next leaders

What is a community without leaders?

One thing that distinguished Salisbury from other Maryland cities in the late 1960s and early 1970s was its collection of young leaders. Salisbury’s reputation was that of a progressive city that others wanted to emulate, and its mixture of established leaders and up-and-comers was a considered a leadership roster for all time.

This was a group that got the community things like a new civic center and hospital, an industrial park, a Downtown government Office Building and parking garage, an expanded airport and a community college. They also helped to grow a state college, form a community chest, took steps to keep Salisbury the state’s second-largest marine port and influenced commercial development in north Salisbury.

Along the way, they did a million unseen things as well, serving on community and governmental boards, lobbying state and federal representatives, and personally raising money for everything from Salvation Army to the United Way to Future Farmers of America.

As a newspaper reporter, I was lucky to get to observe these leaders up close for a lot of year, all through their range of community contribution. I had always been conditioned to believe the truly smart folks among us had emigrated to the cities. That wasn’t true at all: There were plenty of smart leaders in Salisbury.

A commonality among these leaders of the ’60s and ’70s was their deep understanding of news and events. Not only did they know what was going on statewide and nationally, they comprehended how those news trends affected things here.

They also went to great lengths to learn and understand local issues, to know the neighborhoods, the demographics and the geographical problems.

I came to learn quickly that the best leaders are deeply informed on local issues.

I see a lot of the opposite today; it concerns me, but I know it can be corrected.

Often when covering one of the councils or planning commissions, I’ll see a successful business owner – someone with proven real leadership skills – show up and outline problems that elected officials need to address. Many times, their information isn’t well researched or just plain wrong, which makes their input tinted, and their leadership is wasted.

I recognize, of course, that these leaders are busy running businesses, and they can’t be expected to know the circumstances as well as the folks directly involved in the government. But if these leaders had had an opportunity to know more, to be a bit better rounded, their input would have immense merit.

Leaders who don’t “know,” who don’t have up-close experience with the region’s infrastructure and institutions, can actually cause a leadership vacuum.

Mike Dunn, President & CEO of the Greater Salisbury Committee has something in the works that is seeking to address this. Called the Transformational Community Leadership Series, the effort goes much deeper than making leaders more aware, it also teaches leadership traits and seeks to build leadership skill sets.

Still, exposing the 50 monthly participants to community institutions and issues is truly unique. Their access to a “deep dive” into the institutions that drive the community, set the business tone and help determine quality-of-life standards can only make them community assets.

TCL was conceived by a group of the community’s noted young professionals, led by Chris Eccleston, Heather Duma and some others. Thanks to Dunn’s … wait for it … leadership … the Greater Salisbury Committee’s membership quickly recognized the need and approved of a solution step.

The TCL series began in March and runs through September. Through site tours and panel discussions, the young leaders class has embarked on learning about area issues, businesses, facilities, and the economic development engines that drive our community.

Salisbury University, through its Center for Lifelong Learning, has introduced academic leaders to the discussions, forming a bedrock of scholastic aptitude to help form these leaders.

One perhaps unenvisioned result has been where panelists discuss leadership. In the March session, Police Chief Barbara Duncan, State’s Attorney Ella Disharoon and Judge Matt Maciarello traced how they developed leadership abilities and explained how those traits are deployed through their personal and professional lives.

In a “Speak Out Salisbury” submission last week, this hit home on the community scale as a reader applauded Maciarello for not just having leadership skills that advanced him to the judicial bench, but recognizing and helping to address a community problem.

Seeing a trend in which Doverdale youth were gaining negative attention from police and law enforcement, Maciarello employed his leadership skills to form a youth lacrosse club for the Doverdale youngsters. He then tapped into the leadership skills of others, including Duncan and Disharoon and the entire city police force, and the lacrosse club is a reality.

It’s too soon to know what the result will be, but the effort is a stunning example of how leaders can deploy their skills for the betterment of a community.

 

 

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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