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Monday, May 24, 2010

Principled Leadership For A Better Community

In the Spring of 1998 I was floundering. My marriage was great, Leslie and I had been married for three and a half years. My career was doing well, I was helping families purchase homes and had already developed a reputation in the local industry as a hard working and honest mortgage broker. I was active in the community, volunteering for projects through the Long Beach Board of Realtors and also with the Long Beach Education Foundation. Externally everything seemed fine, but you know what they say about a book and its cover. Inside something was amiss.

I could not put my finger on the source of my discontent, if it even was discontent. Something was not clicking and evidently it was beginning to show. About this time a local real estate agent whom I knew a bit better than most had introduced me to a new client. Both of the women were older than me, in fact both have children close to my age. Both were active in the community, and both began to encourage me to apply for a leadership program I was aware of and knew several people who had been involved with the program. So insistent committed were Pam Spoo, the real estate agent, and Gayle Clock that I apply for the program that Pam slid an application under the door to our company at 5:00 a.m. on the way to the airport for vacation.

Wow, I thought, someone that committed about this; I should really take their advice seriously.

Before applying for the program I called three or four people I knew and trusted who had been through the LLB program and each of them said, "I cannot tell you exactly what you will get out of it, but I can tell you if you have the opportunity to participate in the program you most definitely should. It will change your life and be very positive for you." The part of me that was feeling disconnected grabbed onto to this recurring theme and said, "apply and see what happens." I completed my application for the Leadership Long Beach Class of 1999 to begin in August 1998.

Soon thereafter I was called for an interview and met with three alumni of the program, Mark Bixby, David Neary, and Minnie Douglas. Three people I did not know, though I had met Mark a few times in the past, but would come to know very well through the years. A few weeks following the interview I was contacted and told I had been selected to participate in the upcoming class.

Late in August I found myself in a stark corridor outside the auditorium at Long Beach Community Hospital. At the time who knew that in a few years I would be a member of the board of directors of Community Hospital of Long Beach after it was shut and re-0penned and later serve as the Chairman of the Board largely because I was standing in that hallway that morning. The class was to start at 8:00 and it was about 7:45, not surprisingly I was early. So were two other people, Janine O'Hare and Jerry Caligiuri. To break the ice with these strangers I said, "we better get to know each other because we will probably be the first ones at every class...we're the early people." Prescient.

And thus began a journey from August 1998 through today. The class met from August through June on the first Monday of every month with a three day retreat in the local mountains in September. I had twenty-eight classmates who were complete strangers at 8:00 a.m. that August morning of our first class and now are all people I know fairly well, some very well having made life-long friendships and relationships. We met at various venues through the city from the hospitals to the new Aquarium of the Pacific to the colleges to the Water Department. Our class had or conceived I believe five children during our class time together (including Leslie and I) and as a class we brought forth five class projects for the Long Beach community.

But my journey with Leadership Long Beach did not end. I was fortunate to serve in various capacities on the Executive Committee and board of the organization, including President. About five or six years I was able to go up the mountain once again as part of a team to facilitate the weekend retreat for new class members in the program. The eeriest was in 2001 when our retreat began days following 9/11. I remember the joy I felt one morning when I looked up and saw contrails in the high mountain sky knowing the terrorists had not won, commerce and travel were resuming following the tragedy.

It has been my fortune to participate in class days through the years as either a day chair constructing the curriculum or being a panelist fielding questions and engaging the members of the class in issues, able to challenge their perspectives.

Central to all of this participation on my behalf however was the engagement and participation in that first year, my class year. As we went through each class and dissected core leadership principles I began to feel more and more complete and whole. I recognized that I was in need of change in my life as there was no congruence between all aspects of my life, that I was being challenged to adhere to my own principles which matched those of the organization. Eventually I did make on major change, I left the company where I had worked for ten years and with some partners we formed Stratis Financial in September 1999.

Also changing during the period of our class was our home, Leslie and I sold our home in Los Altos and purchased our current home in Bixby Knolls. And as stated above, being open to change in my life the ultimate change occurred and Blaire was born in September 1999. I firmly believe that because I was open to change, deep internal change, and a re-alignment of my core values: of committing to living with integrity, been accountable and taking personal responsibility that I became whole. My internal and external balance were restored as I knew that how I wanted to live was how I was supposed to live and there was this great group of people who supported and encouraged such a life. Principled leaders also committed to living principled lives for the betterment of their lives and also our community were all around me, I just never knew them or saw them.

Now I do. I know that if I come from a place of integrity I can offer opinions, offer myself, offer my talents or offer my resources without concern or worry as to how they will be taken because I know the source and intention with which they are being offered. Never one to be shy with my thoughts or words, Leadership Long Beach training and development, both during my class year and in the years since volunteering to assist the organization and classes, has re-affirmed that honesty and integrity are very much valued in our community.

In college we have the opportunity as young adults free, or almost free, from our parents homes and direct influences to form strong relationships that can last a life time. For those of us who lived on campus it enables us to spending prolonged periods of time together with only our friends to help us solve our problems and allow us to help them solve theirs. During four years of living so closely with others and going through the pressure of exams, relationships and the changes that occur as we transition from dependent teenagers to adults starting a new life and careers, we learn who is trustworthy, who is dependable and who has the strength and depth of character we admire and gravitate to.

After college it becomes more difficult to form deep, personal relationships as we do not have the same opportunities. We have work relationships based on hierarchies. We have neighborhood relationships based on proximity. We have children relationships based on our kids schools and activities. But we rarely have the opportunity to develop deep, lasting and strong personal friendships and relationships.

Leadership Long Beach provides this opportunity and personally it is the greatest benefit I have received from my decade plus association with the organization. Almost anywhere or any meeting I go to in Long Beach I see people who I have met through the LLB organization. No ice breaker needed. Because of the openness and honesty of the communication in the classes and meetings there is no need to try to play a role, just a need to be myself.

Through the years I have heard many people say, "I don't need Leadership Long Beach I know a lot about this city." Or, "I'm established in my career and I can't see how it will benefit me."

I've also heard executives in the fifties who are deeply involved in the community say "I wish I had done this ten years ago." I have heard small business owners say, "this is the best thing I ever did for my business, not because of what it did for my business but because of what it did for me so I can do better by my business."

Those who think they cannot benefit from Leadership Long Beach, no matter what stage of life or career they are in, are saying they cannot benefit from spending time building new relationships, cannot benefit from sharing common principles such as integrity, accountability, ethics, with others, cannot benefit from learning more about their community and city. No one is above this program, anyone open to principled leadership will benefit and I encourage you to apply for the program.

If you feel you can benefit from associating with an organization whose mission statement is to "connect principled leaders for a better community," that you can benefit from forming and developing new personal relationships that will add a richness to your life, that you can benefit from learning more about the community where you live and/or work, then I encourage you to apply for the Leadership Long Beach Class of 2011 (link below). Who knows, maybe we'll meet as part of your interview for the program.

Click here for an application for the Leadership Long Beach Institute.

If you know a high school student who would be interested in the youth leadership program applications are being accepted for that program as well. Click here for Youth Leadership Long Beach application.

Or for more information contact Executive Director Peter Bostic or Program Director Jeff Williams at 562-997-9194.



Bob Schilling said...

You're yet one more person with high praise for LLB. I had a chance to work with them some years ago, and was likewise impressed. The program is a real asset to Long Beach, and I hope it continues for many years.

colleen bentley said...

Dennis -- you said it all so well. Thank you for everything that you have done over the years for our city, LLB, your family, and all of your friends. I am proud that you and I met through Leadership Long Beach.