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Local Officials Take on Leadership.

Summit Frames Challenges for Future

Interweaving the past, present, and future, 120 local elected officials convened the Seventh Annual Leadership Summit in Welches, Oregon, August 15-17, 1999.

Emphasizing the Summit theme, "Reflecting on the Past, Envisioning the Future: Facing new Challenges in Governance," participants networked, kept journals, and engaged with speakers and panels to explore leadership challenges facing themselves as individuals and as elected officials.

NLC President Clarence Anthony challenged Summit participants to learn more about themselves and about each other, and to continuously hone and update their leadership skills. To emphasize his point, President Anthony referenced the progression of the music industry. He spoke of how the music of Nat King Cole was originally played on 78 RPM records, progressed through vinyl albums, 8-track cartridges, cassette tapes to CDs and now to Digital Video Discs.

Summit speakers Sheila Sheinberg, Clay Jenkinson, and Virginia Postrel provided insight and an exciting cross section of material that touched on the realities of the past and the possibilities for the future of leadership.

Sheila Sheinberg

During the opening session, Sheila Sheinberg challenged Summit participants to embrace the creativity and energy, of being a "change-master." An initial exercise involved participants exchanging stories about people who mentored or influenced them, identifying what qualities they exhibited as leaders, and explaining how those experiences have shaped them in public life.

Sheinberg was very engaging and touched on moving from old to new leadership paradigms. She used the stow of Moses to illustrate the differences between "Linear and Additive" change, which is "paradigm enhancing" (improving on what has been done before) and "Transformational" change, which is "paradigm creating." She defined "paradigm" as "a pattern, assumptions, or frame of reference that we operate under in our lives and our leadership decisions."

Sheinberg pointed out that strategic thinking usually involves "additive" change -- but it should be "transformational." During her presentation, she demonstrated that "anomalies" in the system usually spawn change. She said good leaders are able to identify, prioritize and explore "anomalies" and create a pathway to the future -- creating a vision for the new paradigm from what may appear to be chaos.

Clay Jenkinson

Offering a past leadership perspective, keynote presenter Clay Jenkinson portrayed President Thomas Jefferson. The breadth of Jenkinson's historical knowledge regarding Jefferson amazed and intrigued many Summit participants. He is considered a leader in first person characterization and his interactive session as President Thomas Jefferson had participants discussing leadership from both present and historical perspectives.

Jenkinson portrayed Jefferson as a man able to learn from the world around him during very tumultuous times, and to shape his democratic vision to meet historical and social circumstances.

Jenkinson began his presentation with remarks and then participated in a presidential press conference. As Jefferson, he expressed the former president's disdain for the present day practice of conducting press conferences. Toward the end of his presentation, he stepped out of character to highlight and contrast the past and present perspectives raised during the presentation.

Jenkinson said he believe Jefferson thought leaders should be, metaphorically speaking, "... boldly revolutionary as peacefully as possible and as bloodily as required." He pointed to Jefferson's desire to "govern lightly" and to help "citizens fasten their carts to enlightenment."

One of his primary topics was race relations in this country. He noted that present-day America is still grappling with the issue of race because of the failings of Jefferson and his contemporaries to appropriately address the issue.

Jenkinson speculated that Jefferson, had he survived across the centuries, would most likely encourage an updating of the constitution every hundred or so years to meet the needs of a changing society and evolving culture.

Virginia Postrel

Virginia Postrel, served as provocateur during the final session. Postrel is the editor of Reason magazine, a contributor to and Forbes ASAP, as well as the author of book, The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise and Progress. Postrel's talk highlighted the "dynamist vs. the stasis perspective." In her words the stasis perspective embraces the secure and static future where a dynamist perspective embraces change and failure, learning and exploration.

Using an example from her book, Postrel referenced continuing improvements to contact lenses to note that, "Each problem solved leads to new demands, and sometimes, to new problems." In her view, the fluidity of current times allows for a great deal of creativity. However, the constant change resulting from that creativity attracts "enemies" who oppose the flux based on philosophical differences on self-interest in the status quo.

Youth Panel

A panel of Portland-area youth convened to discuss their perceptions of leadership. The panel included a 19-year old city council member from Tualatin and a potential mayoral candidate from Troutdale. This interactive session spotlighted their concern not only for activities geared to young people, but also for the active participation of young people in planning such projects.

The mayoral candidate noted how at school he learned the need to reach out, noting how during a school campaign he set at tables with students he had not previously approached.

A recurring theme was the need to get to know young people and not make sweeping assumptions about them because of how they dress or the fact that they skateboard. One panelist expressed the sentiment that, "... at risk youth is a young person not living up to his or her full potential, not an income level."

Hartley Watson Cooper, Keith Kirk, and Anne Oliver contributed to this article.

The Role of Leadership

From Sheila Sheinberg's discussion:

* Leadership creates the context for the people in the organization

* Leadership crafts and communicates the story.

* Leadership expects and rewards excellence

* Leadership owns the system

* Leadership is the ability to envision the future and the courage to pursue it.

The Buzz About Leadership

* Leaders must develop the skill to tell a story which can illustrate the vision. The vision creates an opportunity for positive change.

* Leadership: Anticipatory, Vigilant, Visionary, Optimistic

* Leaders must Carefully act on Behalf of their people.

* Leaders must credit natural low or other people -- humility is essential.

* Dynamist believe in processes: Market innovation, Ambition, and Creativity.

* Chaos can drive people into a box or create a great opportunity.
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Title Annotation:Annual Leadership Summit, 1999, Welches, Oregon
Author:Anderson, Sharon D.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 30, 1999
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