Leaders are Learners—not just Copycats!

I spent last week at the National Executive Development School (NEDS) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. NEDS is a leadership development school for Parks and Rec professionals, and SGR has started collaborating with the New Mexico Recreation and Parks Association in managing the school. It’s an effort by both the NMRPA and SGR to help leaders in that profession develop and hone the skills it takes to excel as servant leaders in the public sector.

I’ve been involved in leadership development for long enough to know what to expect when you go as a presenter for an event like this. You may be going to teach, but the truth is that you are going to learn. Let that sink in. If you don’t learn some things from others, I tend to question whether you ought to be teaching. So, it was no surprise to me to find myself jotting tidbits into Evernote after walking away from informal conversations so that I wouldn’t lose a good idea that someone else was doing.

However, perhaps the most valuable part of an experience like NEDS is not the quantifiable things that you can write down, that great innovative program that you could do in your own setting. Perhaps the best things are the intangible things that you see in others that inspire you. I love great ideas, but if you just take someone else’s great idea and use it, without growing or changing as a person, then once that idea is done, it’s done—but you are still the same. I’ve seen more than a few leaders who did exactly that. They did the same things that other leaders did in different settings, but they never became genuine, authentic leaders because they, themselves, never really grew or changed. Authentic leaders are learners, but they aren’t just copycats. They aren’t afraid to use the ideas of others, but more importantly, they aren’t afraid to learn from others; there is a profound difference.

So here are a few things that inspired me that I saw in others at NEDS:

  • Passion for the health of a nation—not just physical health but the mental health that is often enhanced by good health that physical activity creates. I’ve heard Parks and Rec professionals refer to themselves in a kind of tongue-in-cheek tone, “We’re the essential non-essential.” You probably can’t understand all that this means unless you are an insider in Parks and Rec (and I am not). However, I suspect that it’s a tacit protest against a philosophy that ignores the importance of health as a pretty important essential. If you think about it, they’ve got a point!
  • Passion for every person in the city—regardless of their age or socio-economic status.There’s a really noble heart at the core of public service and when you catch a glimpse of it, it can take your breath away. The heart that cares about every person and strives to provide services to them without regard to what they can “give back” is the essence of servant leadership. I’ll just say that if you want to see it, spend some time with Parks and Rec professionals.
  • Passion for developing leaders—I saw this in my colleagues. I saw it in the NEDS committee members who have spent decades putting on the school and I saw it the participants who are building up the leaders who work with them in their respective cities. Everything rises or falls with leadership and one of the best things we can do for our country’s future is to develop the leaders around us.

So “Thank You to EVERYONE”—to everyone who was a part of NEDS 2014! Thanks for letting me be a part of it and thanks for inspiring me and for what you do as servant leaders in our nation. See you next year!

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Chief Operations Officer, Strategic Government Resources

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