March Mountain News
By Kathryn Reed
Dictionaries are not always descriptive. They define a leader as someone who leads or guides. Pretty simple by most accounts.
But being a leader is more complex. And the components of a leader are limitless.
Since 2003, Leadership Lake Tahoe has been training 20 or so people a year to become leaders or improve their skills. The two defunct chambers which collaborated to form LLT handed the program to the merged South Shore Chamber.
It seems with every class that the project has been a hurdle – though never insurmountable. To ease the angst many class members felt, new this year is the chamber dictating they put on this month’s Business Expo or the chamber golf tournament.
The third option of picking their own project seemed to be whispered and not everyone in the class knew that was available to them.
“The problem with the project is that the first year you guys came in fresh and with a clean slate and no preconceived ideas regarding the project. You went through the normal group dynamic issues,” said Virginia Boyar, who was instrumental to in forming the program, but is no longer on the chamber’s LLT task force. “Then word got around and people came in with solid ideas. Even employers were coming with ideas, complete with business plans. That’s another reason we went with this format.”
(This reporter is a graduate of the inaugural Leadership Lake Tahoe class.)
The first LLT class picked three projects – put on an event for locals, improve Linear Park and fund at least one LLT scholarship. The event, Tahoe Winter Expo, funded the other two projects.
One class split between helping Sierra Recovery Center and doing the successful ceramic bear project in conjunction with LTVA. Patrick Kaler, who heads the visitors’ authority, was in that class.
Another class tried to raise money for the local Boys & Girls Club via a sparsely attended event at a casino.
Although most leadership programs like this are put on by a chamber of commerce, not all mandate participants do a project.
Nancy Harrison, who was in the first LLT group and is now on the chamber’s committee that runs the class, believes the revised format for the project is good.
“The goal was to streamline the project so they had a good experience, went through the learning experience of putting on an event, but avoided the troublesome issues that brought up roadblocks for classes two through four,” Harrison said.
Despite inheriting an event once known as Kaleidoscope, LLT08 members who were contacted are mostly content, though none seemed overly enthusiastic.
“I was hoping we could put our creative stamp on it, that we could go above and beyond and make it our own, whichever event we took on,” said Nicole Cox, who is LTVA’s special events coordinator.
New this year is the green theme. Last year’s was technology, so a theme is not new.
“I think our approach to the project is holding a community event, not just business-to-business,” said Nick Haven, TRPA’s transportation planner.
The group is setting up what’s called a Green University, will have workshops related to green issues and is encouraging businesses to be green at their booths. (Participants must be chamber members, but anyone may attend the expo.)
Amber Tanaka, who works for Barton University, believes the project is part of the overall experience of Leadership. As chairwoman of the promotions committee for the Business Expo, Tanaka said the group is trying to be green by emailing and phoning people, and getting booth registrations and donations via email.
Overall, what she likes about LLT is the exposure to various aspects of the South Shore – the economy, government and environment.
“All of that is really informative. It’s great to put faces to names of local leaders,” Tanaka said.
Haven admits that through his job at TRPA he is familiar with many of the topics discussed at the monthly LLT sessions.
“I value more of the relationships I am building with people,” Haven said.
Julie Threewit, who owns The Appointment Biz, also puts value on the time spent with classmates, but it was not enough for her to stick with the program. She quit earlier this year and therefore will not graduate with the class June 13.
“When it came down to it, the time spent away (from work) was costing me more in lost production than I was gaining in new knowledge or experience,” Threewit said. “I might not have been the right candidate (for Leadership Lake Tahoe).”
For her, not enough emphasis was put on leadership building and too much put on getting to know the area.
Threewit believes LLT is worthwhile, that the chamber is helping the community and would recommend it to others. But the project made Threewit feel like she was working for the chamber – after all, the first $18,000 the group raises goes into the chamber’s coffers. Any amount raised after that, the group can spend as it pleases.
“The piece that offended me was the project,” Threewit said. “The chamber feels strongly that by helping the chamber raise money we are helping the community. I disagreed.”
Chamber CEO B Gorman defends the new policy of having the group do a chamber project with money going to the chamber. She said several classes got caught up in “what are we going to do instead of learning the mechanics of how a group functions.”
“Leadership programs are run as a service to the community; to build future leaders. Period,” Gorman said. “That’s the goal. The chamber is here to serve the community. We are not here to serve only one person or one organization.”
Though it’s not necessary to work for or be a member of the chamber to be in LLT, the 24 chosen for the program all work for companies which belong to the chamber. (The group is down to 22, with another person quitting because of a job transfer.)
Gorman believes money raised by LLT classes goes back into the community via the programs the chamber puts on that are open to everyone.
She said LLT is not a money-maker for the chamber even though participants pay $500 to be in the 10-month program. The group meets once a month, had a two-day orientation and will graduate in three months.
She said the chamber spends about $400 in food each month for LLT. Some of the speakers are paid. Transportation is another cost. Class materials are another expense.
“We will be lucky if we don’t lose money,” Gorman said of LLT.
What: Business Expo
When: March 21, 4-9 p.m.
Cost: $10, includes workshops