When Leadership Howard County (LHC) revised its curriculum several years ago, the visual pyramid was developed as the structure of the program. This notion came from a desire to remove silos or topic-focused days in earlier curricula when a full nine-hour day was devoted to one topic, and there was little integration of many aspects of community.

The visual idea of a pyramid reflected a multidimensional approach built on a broad foundation, building to the goal of informed and effective community leadership.

The Pyramid Itself

The Premier Program brings a group of individuals, linked primarily by their intention to serve their community. To provide a common foundation for all of the members of the yearlong session, LHC conducts a mandatory retreat at the beginning of the program to build a spirit of teamwork within each class.

After the foundation, LHC wants to give participants an understanding of the quality of life in the community where they live and learn. Living and Learning topics include accomplishments; visits to historic, cultural and scenic locations; and insight into county history. Understanding of quality of life is supplemented by focusing on health and wellness; continuous learning opportunities (preschool through college/trade school/continuing education); opportunities for spiritual, cultural and recreational activities; and an introduction to human services.

When a group of people live and learn together, there are business or economic drivers. Thus the level above Living and Learning is Business. This topic would include the local business climate, employment demographics, economic development and the business issues the community faces.

When a community is living, learning and conducting business together, there is probably some type of governance. Thus the topics associated with Governing include elected leaders; legislative structure (state and local); and a basic understanding of the budget, legislative processes, policies and issues.

In any community there are problems, and there is a need to be safe. The next level is Protecting, with an in-depth look at social issues such as housing, transportation and responding to the needs of disadvantaged individuals. Plus there is a focus on those issues that could negatively impact the quality of life in our area. Therefore, public safety and the judicial system are highlighted.

The yearlong study ranges from information to issues, trends to responses to threats, and the positive and not-so-positive outlook for the future. Now it is time for LHC graduates to “Take Your Place.” This, after all, is the prime mission of the organization. The last level informs participants about the ways the nonprofit world operates and what graduates need to know when actively working as community volunteers.

Filling Out the Pyramid

It is widely recognized that the vast majority of adults learn best when they can actually experience aspects of the topic. LHC provides a wide variety of hands-on learning activities called Learning Enhancements. These experiences offer participants additional perspectives about specific issues or opportunities.

Included in this aspect of the program is a mandatory navigation of the public transportation system, opportunities to tour the recycling center, tour the Shock Trauma Center or maybe even have a visit to the backstage area at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

To better understand the mechanics of a community issue, participate as a member of a team and attempt to solve a real world situation faced by a local community organization, LHC Premier participants select a Community Impact Project.

Each year class members work in teams on a challenging project for a community organization or nonprofit. As an example, the Class of 2014 Premier project teams provided the following services.

  • Developed a marketing plan for Carroll Baldwin Memorial Hall, an historic community center in Savage
  • Planned expanded outreach and visibility of the National Family Resiliency Center
  • Developed a three-year strategic plan for the Ellicott City Historic District Partnership
  • Conducted market research and made recommendations for the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
  • Performed a strategic review and made recommendations for Conexiones
  • Did a feasibility study for the Board to Promote Self-Sufficiency for the Howard County Department of Citizen Services
  • Made strategic recommendations for CHAI: Counselors Helping South Asians & Indians
  • Developed marketing strategies for HC DrugFree

Indeed, the LHC pyramid is a multidimensional approach to learning about the community so that graduates can fulfill their commitment to continuing participation as leaders in Howard County.

Mimi O’Donnell (LP1992) is an independent consultant who developed the Leadership Pyramid concept and is currently an at-large member of the Leadership Premier steering committee. She can be reached at [email protected].