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Leadership training builds from community resources
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- A leadership program that focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses offers individuals the opportunity to handle issues and problems that arise in their communities.
"Too many times people will come into a community and look at the laundry list of problems that community has," said Chance McDavid, a Mississippi State University Extension Service associate in Community Resource Development. "The LeadershipPlenty approach is a new way of thinking and acting that focuses on the assets communities have rather than the deficits. It discovers the talents, skills and resources that exist among the people and works to uncover and develop those assets."
The program is designed for diverse groups of people who want to address a community problem or work to make their community a better place. People of all ages and backgrounds are encouraged to develop their leadership potential.
The LeadershipPlenty training program was designed by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change, a Virginia-based civic research organization that strives to identify and document promising solutions and strategies crucial to developing strong communities. The MSU Extension Service is a state LeadershipPlenty partner, and Mississippi is recognized by the Pew Partnership as being the first to implement the training on a statewide basis.
"The Pew Partnership pulled together a collection of some of the best leading curricula out there. They packaged it and called it LeadershipPlenty," McDavid said. "The Pew Partnership describes the program as a tool to mobilize a change in mindset from one with a leadership lack to one with leadership plenty."
The training program focuses on nine areas that need to be developed to create a successful leadership team. In the 50-hour program, participants learn how to look for leaders within the community, identify the assets of a community, manage groups effectively, make meetings more productive, manage conflicts, build strategic partnerships, develop and implement a plan, evaluate impact and communicate efforts to the local community. Another session focuses on the challenges of racism and race relations in communities.
"The beauty of the program is that it's tailored to each individual community's needs. We can modify the program to fit a particular community's needs -- health, economic development, education issues or any other community issue -- and incorporate additional, more specific information for that community," McDavid explained. "This program is made for everyone, not just traditional leaders. It's meant to get everybody's opinion on the table to solve problems that affect the entire community."
The program was particularly successful in a four-county area that includes Montgomery, Carroll, Choctaw and Webster counties. Kay Emmons, the Extension county director in Montgomery County, described the LeadershipPlenty training as a "labor of love."
"The training I received was excellent, and I am proud to have been a part of it," Emmons said. "It has been very satisfying to me personally and professionally to see ordinary people grow in citizenship and leadership."
Emmons said the training program is particularly effective because it offers teaching techniques that can be understood by learners of all types.
"The effectiveness of the program is based on the realistic approach to learning styles. Every session brought some new learning technique so that no matter what a person's learning style, they were covered," Emmons said. "Each person was taught they can make a difference in their lives and in their communities."
Emmons believes participants in the program are more community-minded and understand that they can make a difference in their communities. Plans are already under way for future LeadershipPlenty training classes, with graduates of the first class as trainers.