Launching a Quest for Leadership

When we think about leaders, the discussion tends to gravitate — as it does when the subject is entrepreneurs — toward whether such individuals are born or cultivated.
The answer, with regard to each, is both.
Leaders, like entrepreneurs, simply must possess certain inherent traits, without which they won’t succeed. But we believe that leadership, like entrepreneurship, can be encouraged, developed, and, in effect, produced.
Which is why we are very encouraged by the creation of an initiative known as Leadership Pioneer Valley (see story, page 6). Spawned by the Plan for Progress and, more specifically, Action Item 7 in a 2004 update of that document — “Recruit and train a new generation of leaders” — the program was launched with the broad goal of creating an abundance of something the region will certainly need in the years to come.
Based on models created locally and in other communities, Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) will attempt to take people with inherent leadership qualities and provide training and insight that will help shape them into effective leaders than can serve — and benefit — this region in the decades to come.
In the ‘About Us’ section concerning LPV on the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s Web site, it notes that the 10-month program that recruits enter “immerses participants in an inspiring and enlightening curriculum that examines critical issues that the region’s numerous and diverse areas. During the program, participants expand their leadership skills while gaining connections, greater commitment to community stewardship, and cultural competency.” Roughly translated, this means that LPV intends to give participants an education in the Valley, its assets, challenges, goals, and aspirations — and then provide them with some opportunities to do something meaningful with that education.
We’re obviously hopeful that LPV can succeed with that overall mission, because this region has a number of very large challenges facing it, and none of them can be overcome without leadership.
For example:
• The region as a whole and most all of its larger communities must still reinvent themselves from former manufacturing centers into … well, something else. Unfortunately, most cities in the Valley carry that descriptive phrase ‘former manufacturing hub’ and have nothing to replace it with;
• While developing new sources of jobs, the region and its individual communities have to create a workforce with the skills needed to take on those new jobs, and thus attract new employers to the 413 area code;
• Springfield, the capital of Western Mass., is emerging from the economic meltdown that made it the butt of jokes for the better part of a decade, but it is still far from being the vibrant urban center everyone wants it to become; and
• The minority populations (soon to become the majority) in cities like Springfield and Holyoke need to become much more engaged in their communities and part of the pattern of progress. They have strength in numbers, but they’re not fully utilizing this asset.
These are just some of the myriad issues and challenges confronting our region, and the truth is that none of them are recent phenomena. They have been issues for many years — decades, actually — because the solutions are elusive; they don’t come easy.
And they won’t come through chance, fate, or the law of averages. They will come only through effective leadership that understands the region and the people who call it home, and are committed to moving it forward.
That’s why LPV is a critical development for Western Mass., and why we hope it will succeed in its all-important assignment.

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