Photo: Pam Long Photography

Stacie Hunt, President and CEO of Leadership Howard County, reflects on the impact of the organization to businesses. 

What makes this year’s ‘leadership classes’ unique? 

Leadership Howard County (LHC) is making a very concerted effort to make sure we are being as inclusive as we can with the participants in our programs. We want to remove as many barriers to participation as possible. The more voices at the table working on community issues, the better our community will be because of it … we expanded representation in our program on all levels across many demographics – gender, occupation/ industry, culture, industries (corporate, small business, non-profits, community volunteers), age, etc.

Through this wider lens, expanding the types of businesses allows for enriching our network offered to our alumni, thereby creating richer opportunities to connect with each other on an individual basis, as well as to engage together to work on community issues.

How has Leadership Howard County evolved?

Evolution is a constant in all our program content and offerings and we consistently evaluate and assess feedback to remain relevant. Although we are a nonprofit – we approach our work as any business does; we must understand the market, current and future needs and provide programming and services that are of value to our community and make a difference to inspire others to Take their Place!

LHC began as a program under the Howard County Chamber of Commerce in 1985 in step with the community leadership model and then became its own 501 c (3) in 1987. The Chamber realized the value of developing business leaders’ understanding of community issues and the roles and responses of the government, non-profit and private sectors.

This 10-month program offering an intense curriculum of civic information, intersects learning with decision makers and industry experts; program participants develop a working knowledge of our community across sectors and learn to appreciate the diverse perspectives of their classmates, resulting in a dedicated network of leaders equipped to transform our community.

The board of directors added Leadership U (LU) 24 years ago as they began to critically think about developing the next generation of leaders. Leadership U is a unique leadership development and community service program open to rising high school juniors living and/or going to school in Howard County and empowers students to learn while doing and fosters leadership growth and civic engagement through education on community issues, student developed community service projects, and development of unique leadership skills.

Leadership Essentials (LE) was created in 2007 and managed by LHC until 2011. Now managed by Loyola University, in consultation with LHC, this six-month program geared to young professionals was initially designed to bridge the gap between formal education and the seasoned professional. The program combines skill building, self- assessment and reflection, personal coaching and direct service to a community organization.

Over the last few years, we are beginning to see those full-circle moments as graduates of Leadership U participate in our Essentials and Premier programs. Our alumni program was created by our graduates to keep their relationships and involvement in the community active.

In addition, graduates of all programs are volunteering in a variety of ways within LHC with some returning as LU Mentors and LE and LP are volunteering as coaches in LE. We also have opportunities for alumni to help shape program year curriculum, and sometimes, host class members to promote and educate them about their business.

How has the new strategic plan changed your activities?

Currently, LHC is working on its 2020-25 strategic plan. To strengthen and enhance our ability to develop, connect and serve our leaders in the county is why I have been here going on 18 years. We are looking forward to continuing to engage collaboratively with community groups on some tough issues, as well as further strengthen our members connections so that they will be more successful in their careers and in their community.  As we continue working on the strategic plan over the next five years, I anticipate we will reveal some new ideas soon.

What is the focus of LHC events?

LHC’s Steering Committee actively explores ideas and topics that may be of interest to our general membership.

The 2019-2020 program year kicked off with Mike Heslin, with Lyft, to discuss their innovative transportation partnerships and future trends for the ride-sharing industry.

Jamie McDonald, founder & CEO of Generosity, Inc., challenged attendees to “Think Big” and be courageous to take risks and forego the safe path to achieving goals.

Andy Shallal, founder & CEO of Busboys & Poets, shared his plans and vision for their newest venue, set to open in Columbia late-spring/early summer. Our membership was inspired by his personal story, as well as the commitment to creating a business culture focused on diversity and building community.

We’re excited for our next general membership breakfast in May when Carim Khouzami, the recent appointed CEO of BGE, will join us to share his views about leadership and strategic principles.

In addition to these larger general membership events, we host a number of “This Just In” sessions that are designed to be smaller discussions and allow a more dynamic interaction with our speakers on some of the “hot topic” issues on our radar today. Included among some of the topics we’ve addressed this year are: Human Trafficking, Equity in Howard County public schools, Business at Savage Mill, and, most recently, Brit Kirwan joined us to provide a deeper dive into the recommendations and the research/data behind the Kirwan Commission that has been approved by the Maryland legislature.

We also host a few strictly social events throughout the year and LHC also invites active alumni to participate in several Leadership 2.0 events which are behind the scenes, exclusive learning opportunities scheduled throughout the year.

Why are the “Community Impact Projects” important to the program?

Community Impact Projects are an important component of both the Leadership Premier and Leadership Essentials programs.

Program participants work together in small teams with a host organization on a consultant basis, addressing an organizational challenge or strategic issue. The experience is designed to be a mutually beneficial experience with selected organizations benefitting from much-needed expertise and advice and our participants gaining a better understanding of community needs, as well as forming a deeper appreciation for community involvement.

Host organizations (a non-profit or government entity) identify an issue or challenge and applies for consideration.

Over 100 organizations have benefitted from a CIP team. One of our projects, the Community Ecology Institute, has benefitted from involvement from all of LHC’s programs – Premier, Essentials and Leadership U.

How can Leadership participants encourage civil discourse in a very divisive time?

There are a few ways that folks can do this. First, come to our BIG Event, featuring Eric Liu, co-founder & CEO of Citizen University, who will share his experience as the son of immigrants and how it shaped his belief “that democracy works only if most people believe that democracy works.  Please note that our rescheduled date is TBA – check for the latest information.

Join us to hear his inspiring and challenging message that applies to leaders in every sector that this is the time to build a stronger culture of civic responsibility.

Second, participate in our programs and learn more about the issues – then share your learnings and help your networks understand the issues better.