You getting to know you

It wasn’t until this year when I handed my high school freshmen a writing assignment with the theoretical prompt, “What does Leadership Mean to You?,” did I find the principles and ideas behind the topic rather vague. What’s certain is that none of these 14- and 15-year-olds had much of an idea what leadership was, let alone what it means inside their cognitive bubbles, at least in a way they could articulate in the form of a passing grade.

Paulette Tutor and April Pettitt, the outgoing and incoming Leadership Arlington presidents

Imagine standing in front of 25 lost souls, staring vacantly at you, pencils in hand, yet their lined paper as blank as their thoughts.

As the papers began to trickle in, it hit me that leadership is one of those intangible abstracts most of us connect to football captains barking instructions or some CEO commanding his troops to, sure, do what I say but importantly, do what I do.

Perhaps my mini epiphany on leadership was solidified the other day when I spoke by phone with a couple folks. One was Paulette Tutor, who on June 30 officially steps down as president of Leadership Arlington to make room for the incoming April Pettitt.

Tutor served two terms as president and has been involved with the organization since 2011. While she espouses the organization’s corporate line about focusing on “the development of the next generation of community leaders” by first identifying potentials and then educating them on civic engagement and giving access to like-minded professional leaders, her thoughts on leadership training are uniquely intriguing.

It involves strengthening bonds with cohorts and not necessarily leaving the 10-month program with the understanding that the development of leadership isn’t merely a critical investment in the continued growth and stability of XYZ company.

The second was Leadership Arlington Alum Cheryel Carpenter, who was handling communications for the City of Arlington when she went through the program. She talks about something that Leadership Arlington does well, and that it is one of those invisible intangibles you don’t know you have until you summon it.

By the end of the program, where she learned first-hand about health and human services, education, government and economic development, she knew herself well, gaining an acute insight into her strengths and weaknesses.

“What I gained most from it was being able to interact more seamlessly with other people and how to function in a team atmosphere,” Carpenter says.

In other words, Leadership Arlington forces you to think about yourself and your journey, and that becoming the person you want to be starts with knowing the person you are. Participants go on retreats and break into small groups, which Tutor says is where the real learning takes place. Though much of what Leadership Arlington does is through these group experiences, it really is about the candidate’s individual learning curve.

“Certainly people return to their workplaces having a better understanding of themselves,” Tutor says.

Which, in turn, makes them exceptional leaders.

Google “Top 10 Ways to Become a Good Leader,” and you won’t hear that one.

Pettitt will be at the steering wheel with a new board of directors including James Hollis of UTA, Henry Lewczyk of the Greater Arlington Chamber and Misty Lockhart of the Junior League of Arlington taking over the 2019-2020 installment.

Tutor says the training program itself runs like “a well-oiled machine,” yet “we’re not so egotistical enough to know we can’t improve things.”

No kidding. In fact, as Tutor hands off to Pettitt, the idea is about a larger presence. Leadership Arlington would love to be the go-to shop for, say, speakers or experts on leadership. She also wants to pump up the Youth Leadership Arlington component as well.

It can happen.

Or, as a budding leader might put it, it will happen.

Kenneth Perkins

Columnist Kenneth Perkins has been a contributing writer for Arlington Today since it debuted. He is a freelance writer, editor and photographer.