PROGRESS: Leadership Texarkana Perspectives

 Leadership Texarkana/LIfT for Texarkana Gazette Progress Edition

Personal Perspectives 
Ruth Ellen Whitt, Executive Director
May 13, 2016/ May 23, 2016

It is my privilege to presently serve as the Executive Director of Leadership Texarkana (LT), with which I have been affiliated in various other roles since completing the flagship annual program in 1989. In the 27 years since, I have led opening retreats for many LT classes and have facilitated numerous Quality of LIfe sessions, and in the process, I have heard firsthand from hundreds of the most committed and connected LT participants from every demographic. For the past six years as LT Executive Director, I have had the truly unique opportunity of annually hearing the leaders in every sector of our community share their perspectives on the state of their industries (whether of healthcare, education, economic development, government, quality of life initiatives, etc), their challenges, along with the opportunities they are pursuing.  

I relish it all because I have been a dedicated student of Texarkana USA for over thirty years, leading, launching and growing various non-profits, and participating in innumerable efforts over those decades to understand our community dynamics and the dreams and motivations of the wonderful people who live here.  

From it all, and coupled with LT’s summary of citizen input from decades of goal-setting and visioning, I know some things about Texarkana USA with some certainty:

           Texarkanians want to have a community that is not only 
           Twice and Nice and One of a Kind - but also Second to None–
           a thriving center for business, education and culture that attracts and serves us all.

Texarkanians seek Community Excellence, Pride and Progress.  
          They value Working Smart by Working Together, Educational Excellence, 
          Cultural Riches, Pride from Beauty and Knowing, as well as Economic, Social and Personal Well-Being.  

Because community leadership is key to community excellence, Leadership Texarkana matters. 

For this annual publication on progress in Texarkana USA, I’ve been asked to share my perspectives on the work of Leadership Texarkana: what we’ve been doing lately, what we’ve accomplished and where we’re headed.  Since Leadership Texarkana has undergone an evolution in recent years, a bit of historical perspective will help frame the current arc of the organization’s work.

Leadership Texarkana was Launched to Meet a Need.  

Texarkana USA has been blessed throughout its history with outstanding servant leaders who have been responsible for ensuring amazing resources for our region.  However, in the mid-70s community leaders had an increasing concern: Citizens were increasingly unengaged in the business of the community and were not stepping up to take responsibility as its leaders. It was a problem common to many communities at the time, as we Americans had become increasingly mobile, time-challenged and heterogeneous.  In response to that perceived problem, in 1979, the Texarkana Chamber of Commerce–akin to many others around the country–launched Leadership Texarkana as a program to engage and equip selected citizens as community leaders who would ensure our community’s well-being. 

For the next thirty years, Leadership Texarkana trained community leaders, 25 at a time, working to good effect, first through the Chamber and from 2001, as an independent non-profit.  

Even so, in 2010, LT leaders realized that–as a community–we were “still beating the same dead horse we’d been beating for the past forty years” when it came to beautification, community image, community narrative, and citizen apathy, among other challenges.   Even though there were many hard-working citizens and groups engaged as leaders in working for Community Excellence, Pride and Progress in those arenas, the problem was that they were not Working Together effectively nor with common purpose to make the best use of the resources that they had.  

Although Texarkana USA was a community of excellence when working together from common purpose, too often groups and individuals were working in isolation and settling for “Half as Nice.”  In particular, at that time, the most pressing need was for leaders of the two Texarkana cities to reestablish a relationship conducive to improving community outcomes.

A Redefined Need meant Redefined Goals. 

To achieve community excellence and make progress, LT leaders realized that Texarkana USA didn’t simply need citizens willing to step up as leaders; Texarkana USA needed leaders who were committed to Working Together wherever there might be mutual benefit.  To address the redefined need, Leadership Texarkana’s retooled its goals, actions, and programs in 2010, to focus on the imperative of cultivating, connecting and engaging leaders in Working Together for the Community Excellence we desired.  

At the same time we asked:  What added results/outcomes/progress might be possible in our community if more than 25 citizens each year became engaged and excited about creating our desired future?   Texarkana is the collective business of all of our citizens, and that the more who were motivated to take on their measure of responsibility for our community as leaders in working towards our best future, the better our community. 

The LT endeavor known as LIfT: The Leadership Initiative for Texarkana was started to go BEYOND the 700+ graduates of the flagship class with LT’s mission of engaging citizens throughout the community to step up as leaders in Working Together for Community Excellence. 

So:  What has Leadership Texarkana been doing in the community lately?  
              ENGAGING citizens to step up as effective leaders and 
              Providing the motivation and foundations for WORKING TOGETHER for community excellence. 

Imagine Texarkana is Your Business - Because it Is

We believe that our best results in producing a community that is Second To None will come when we apply the same leadership wisdom to our community as that used by any successful business or organization whose organizational advantage is built on creating a culture of excellence.  

Every successful business leader knows these things: the importance of WORKING TOGETHER – of having all on the team share a unifying vision and values; the importance of investing resources to have teams that can work cross-functionally; the power unleashed in an organization when stakeholders are provided with reasons for pride, when team members are given evidence of values-based progress; the importance of a common agenda and challenge for moving forward, the importance of defining their own culture of excellence and aligning all to support it.  Successful business leaders ensure these because they provide the foundation needed for Working Together for Excellence in outcomes. 

Imagine the differences between a BUSINESS which has those foundations and one which lacks those foundations.   Imagine the differences between a COMMUNITY which has those foundations and one which lacks those foundations.

Leadership Texarkana has worked over the past four years to provide foundations for excellence for our community: 

•  A unifying voice of vision and values captured in LIFT’s Focus for the Future, reflecting decades of citizen input, with a common agenda around which to align outcomes.

•     Teams that are willing to work cross-functionally aligned around key results through LIFT’s City Leader Summits with mayors, city managers and council/board members of the two Texarkanas, as well as alliances convened around specific issues and opportunities.

•     An expectation for a culture of excellence in which each person is responsible for the outcomes from LIFT’s Voice(s) and editorials, LIFT Challenges, and Sign Ons to articulate community expectations. 

•    Clarity on progress around key values and desired results – with celebration and pride from what has been accomplished – through LIFT’s Report to the Community; and more recently through LT’s WeeklyLIFT blasts.

LT’s most recent priorities and activities build on the two goals of ENGAGED CITIZENS who are WORKING TOGETHER.

In this past year, LIFT leaders worked with the leaders of the City Board of Texarkana AR to pass a resolution supporting the LIFT Focus for the Future and Leadership Texarkana’s documentation of the community’s vision and values for the benefit of Texarkana USA, as the City Council of Texarkana, Texas had also done.  

Working Together. 

Available resources are always limited; Community Excellence depends on our making the most of our resources of time and money.  LT’s mantra around working together is one we impress upon all LT Class participants:  Whatever your organization, institution the question, YOU (and every other person around the table) would ideally be asking:  Who are our natural partners around this issue or opportunity?  With whom should we communicate, so that we can see if there is benefit to coordinating or cooperating.   

Last fall, the LIFT Team and table spawned a successful joint conversation on Economic Development which was hosted by Texas A&M-University and facilitated by Business College Dean, Dr. Gary Stading.  The conversation was motivated by Acting Chamber President Buddy Allen and TC President James Henry Russell who were being called to multiple meetings, each hosted by one of the various organizations throughout the region all studying similar aspects of Economic Development.  The need was to work smart by seeing how they might work together.  To date there have been two joint sessions, with more planned.

More recently, Leadership Texarkana has been working to help establish an alliance of the various community Beautification organizations, facilitating a meeting to bring natural partners together around the issue and opportunities, to COMMUNICATE – to see where it makes sense to COORDINATE or cooperate.  ADD:  The partnering beautification organizations and entities include the Cities of Texarkana, Arkansas and Texas, with their Operation Facelift and Adopt-a-Spot endeavors, as well as Texarkana, Arkansas’ City Beautiful Commission and Texarkana, Texas’ Keep Texarkana Beautiful Organization, and Waste Management; Leadership Texarkana will use its community voice and vehicles to reinforce a community-wide call to action -  DELETE: This will be our focus going forward, as we build on our community call to action …  to say “We’re IN!” in making Texarkana Twice as Beautiful – Clean, Neat, Green and Pretty.   The alliance is in its very first phase of formation, and will be a focus the community will see going forward. 

Engaging citizens.  

For 37 years, LT has based their programs on knowing that the more that citizens learn about everything there is to love about our community, the more PRIDE they feel and the more they CARE about being part of the community’s future.  This is a foundation of citizen engagement.  To that end, in February, Leadership Texarkana blasted its first WeeklyLIFT – a one page news brief of “Good news and good ideas for everyone.”   

Each WeeklyLIFT highlights a Top Ten events that are scheduled that week, plus includes briefs about progress around one or another of the key values which citizens care about, profiles exemplary leaders who are involved in our community, as well as challenges and methods for citizens to take responsibility for making Texarkana Twice as Beautiful, and reiterates the citizen’s own vision and values for the community.  We have taken a first baby step; our vision is for this to be referenced weekly by ten times the thousand who currently receive it. As importantly, the majority of the content has been the responsibility of participants in the Leadership Texarkana class, which makes a double win. 

Personally, I am most excited by this publication as a vehicle for significantly improving the citizens’ community-wide narrative about Texarkana USA and the region, and I do believe that the more we all know, the more we all care, and will contribute.  Further, if I am reminded what our common agenda is, I can participate – step up and play my part – even without having anyone assign it to me.  That’s the goal… going viral in creating a community where it is top of mind in every citizen’s mind that they have an opportunity and a responsibility to move us forward towards the ends we desire. 

Coming full circle.  

For 37 years, the LT Class has been the flagship program of Leadership Texarkana for developing leaders for our community, and regardless of any other activity in which we are engaged, thirty individuals annually who commit the time to in-depth understanding and conversation remains the major key to moving our community from talk to action.  It is individuals who make our community what it is – whether the adults, the teens who participate in Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders, (or in the near future, seniors through LT’s planned partnership with TC’s new SAGE program.)  

This is where we work to instill all of the principles of engagement and of working together and where we work to frame and ponder how to create new outcomes around the pervasive issues that continue to challenge us.  

We work to align the same outcomes of Community Excellence and engagement through LT’s Wilbur Awards programs and through Leadercast, both as tools of inspiration and exemplary leadership. 

Leadership Texarkana is exciting because it is positive, it is progressive and has impact, and it is peopled and fueled by enthusiastic and committed citizens from every demographic and walk of life.  

Leadership Texarkana has never been about a small group of individuals; from its beginnings, and straight through to today, LT and LIFT represent literally hundreds and hundreds of individuals annually who are involved in training, facilitating, learning, leading, advising, supporting the efforts to ensure that we have citizens who are engaged and working together for our best collective future, ensuring the community excellence that makes Texarkana USA not only Twice as Nice – and One of a Kind – but also Second to None.

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