Spotlight on Los Alamos: Leadership program graduates ready to engage in community

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By The Staff

Inspiration was the order of the day when the Leadership Los Alamos Class of 2008 graduated from its eight-month course on Friday, engaged, committed and ready to make the community a better place.

The 27 adult classmates, who came from all walks of life, ranged in age from their 20s to their 70s. With the addition of this group, there are now 137 people in the area who have considered the challenges faced by the community  through a series of seminars on the topics of youth, culture, education, government, economic development and the environment.

On The Edge Production’s Phil Bryson, who led both the initial and the final sessions, facilitated the class. Bryson began in September by helping the class define each person’s workplace style, then led them through a series of challenges that acted as metaphors for society and the workplace.

On graduation day, Bryson led the class through an exercise designed to simulate a dysfunctional workplace, where only managers know what the goal of their work is.

In that exercise, the “workers” were mute and blindfolded, and told only to listen to a supervisor who could not tell them anything but the fact that their product was dangerous and that their health and their jobs were at risk if they did not deliver the product safely.

Workers feel disconnected, are continually at risk, and are only allowed to listen to their immediate supervisors in a model Bryson calls “mushroom management.”

“That’s where you keep people in the dark and feed them a bunch of manure,” Bryson said. “The companies that are moving forward today are the ones that are empowering their workers.”

The ’08 grads are the fifth class in the local program. Alumni from previous classes have proven their commitment to the community by helping in schools and with youth groups, contributing time to nonprofits, serving on boards and commissions, and running for the school board and county council.

Leadership Graduate Lori Heimdahl-Gibson was motivated by her experience to found the youth group JUNTOS, which seeks to unite area youth. There is also an active Los Alamos Youth Leadership (LAYL), with 39 high school students in four teams, which grew out of graduate Sharon Stover’s desire to give the young people of the town the same engagement she had experienced in the leadership program.

Each of this year’s graduates gave a short presentation on his or her experiences in the class, and listed inspirational sayings and favorite books from the reading list as well as examples of leadership in their own lives. People cited everyone from Dr. Seuss to Hannibal Lechter in their speeches.

One graduate quoted Max De Pree, saying, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”

The day’s events were topped off by a graduation ceremony in the La Vista Restaurant in the Hilltop House Hotel, complete with proud spouses and parents, and cheers from the group as each graduate’s name was announced.

This year’s class was chaired by Rick Reiss, who opened at breakfast time by thanking past graduates Marla Brooks and John Hoffman for their help in facilitating each session, and who closed the evening’s festivities after dinner in the same fashion, thanking sponsors and past Leadership graduates who continue to support the program.

The primary sponsors of Leadership Los Alamos are Los Alamos National Bank and Los Alamos County with help from the Los Alamos Monitor, Bandelier National Monument, the Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Los Alamos Family YMCA.

To be considered as a candidate for the 2009 class, which begins in September, contact co-chairs Ron and Kim Selvage at the La Vista Restaurant.