How ‘Leadership Pioneer Valley’ can help grow leaders – and our community

Published on MassLive OPED June, 17, 2016

By Paul Stelzer and Tim Brennan

As a local business and regional planning organization, we see the critical need for investment in leadership development in our region. Future leaders are key to our economic growth and the health of our communities and community organizations. We at the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission are proud to have helped found and incubate Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV). Over the last five years, we have also had our staff participate in their 10-month leadership development program. Each time, they learned not just how to work effectively with others but also made contacts that are invaluable to the work of both of our organizations. We believe that this kind of development and relationship building is vital given the aging population of the Pioneer Valley and the need to increase the leadership skills of existing and emerging leaders.

According to the Census, by 2020, 35 percent of the U.S. population will be 50 years or older. This age group primarily holds the leadership and managerial positions in our workforce, which creates a need for leadership skills in our region among those coming up the ranks. Currently, 23 percent of the population in the Pioneer Valley is 55 or older.

Our team at Appleton Corporation also believes in the importance of Leadership Pioneer Valley, and we have invested in leadership by promoting LPV’s Leadership 2.0 seminars. We think the value of a program like Leadership Pioneer Valley cannot be underestimated. Nearly everything in business begins and ends with great leadership, and because it’s a complex topic, no one has a complete formula for what makes a better leader. Overall, we are seeing the development of small and large companies as fluid and decentralized, and one that continually reinvents itself and operates locally, regionally, and now more than ever, globally. This puts an added burden on leadership competence.

Leadership Pioneer Valley tackles regional issues of importance and connects leaders through its program of teaching leadership values, using case studies, and peer management of a joint project. Trust, goal setting, and team building skills are developed through this intense program. Building leadership competence is critical to our workforce needs, as noted by the census data. If you want to know why so many organizations sink into trouble, look at that company’s leadership. That’s the value of a program like Leadership Pioneer Valley. It examines, quite holistically, the leadership paradigm and their graduates are more competent and ready to assume leadership roles in any sector they choose to work in. This is not text book learning but real practical, hands on personal development.

We think if you study leadership and watch closely, the real job of leaders is to inspire the organization to take responsibility for creating a better future, and a responsibility to communicate effectively. Leadership Pioneer Valley not only develops those skills, it also creates a regional network of leaders who can work together for the betterment of all in the Valley.

By working with other leaders from both the private and public sector, Leadership Pioneer Valley graduates return to the workplace with a stronger understanding of how to be inclusive. In fact, by the end of the program, 76 percent of participants showed increased cultural competency. Our region is increasingly diverse and our companies and organizations need inclusive leadership to thrive.

Our staff who have participated report that LPV has helped to deepen their understanding of our community’s biggest challenges and opportunities, built important relationships, and further developed their skills as leaders.

As Leadership Pioneer Valley prepares to graduate its 5th class and accepts applications for their 5th Anniversary Class, we agree that Leadership Pioneer Valley is an invaluable resource that local employers can use to help cultivate and retain top talent, much like each of our organizations have done. We urge employers to join the more than 80 other employers who have taken advantage of this critical resource.

Paul Stelzer is president, Appleton Corporation, Tim Brennan is executive director, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.