Leading others equals serving others

October 27th, 2017 Posted in From Our Alumni
Klar Leadership Academy students discover what makes a good leader

by Laurie B. Davis

Why would I want to follow you?

This question is posed to a select group of University of Toledo students learning about what it means to lead and how to differentiate between good leaders and ineffective leaders.

Leadership development taught through the Klar Leadership Academy within the College of Business and Innovation challenges students to see the big picture and to think of leadership as an opportunity to serve others. These aspirations align with the very mission of UT to educate “a diverse community of leaders committed to improving the human condition in the region and the world.”

Dr. Clint O. Longenecker, Distinguished University Professor, director of The Center for Leadership and Organizational Excellence, and facilitator of the Klar Leadership Academy, introduces Antwain Peaks, a 2016-17 graduate of the leadership development program.

“I am of the school, that if you’re going to be an effective leader, you’re there to serve other people,” says Dr. Clint O. Longenecker, Distinguished University Professor and Director of The Center for Leadership and Organizational Excellence. “Servant leadership is the mindset that the leader is in place to help facilitate the success and growth of the people in their charge,” says Longenecker, who facilitates the Klar Leadership Academy.

A servant-leadership strategy delivers a win-win outcome. When the staff members within a company excel in their work because the company’s leaders support their success, the employees and the CEO win. “That’s one of the foundational pieces that the program is built on,” says Longenecker about the Academy experience. “Hearing that early in their lives is gigantically important for our students. Hearing that message from the mayor, successful entrepreneurs and seasoned CEOs, is a really big deal. For them to hear that their success is predicated on them helping other people be successful is a game changer in their leadership development. And that line of thinking is something that you don’t see enough of in a lot of companies or leadership development initiatives,” adds Longenecker.

Alexandria Hetzler, a senior who is studying Organizational Leadership and Management and is a current member of the Klar Leadership Academy, says she believes a good leader should be flexible. “I think that a good leader needs to be adaptable. Without a willingness to listen and change as they go along, they have no opportunity to learn or improve.”

Accelerated training

Steven Klar, whose gift has made the Klar Leadership Academy at The University of Toledo possible, drapes a medal around the neck of Sandy Boyd, a 2016-17 graduate of the Academy.

To develop exceptional leaders over the months of Fall Semester, which include a practicum project that culminates in January 2018 with the packing of meals for a global hunger initiative, COBI mixes students into a blend of learning experiences and methodologies. The Academy utilizes assessments, such as the DISC behavioral-based profile; formal instruction; case studies; high-profile guest speakers, including UT alumni; field experiences; panel discussions; mentoring; and community service activities.

“We try to build out a very focused curriculum because we don’t have a lot of time to do this,” says Longenecker. “They have to roll up their sleeves and work at being the best people they can possibly be. So, we’re pushing the bar up on their character and their decision-making and their leadership acumen.”

Klar Leadership Academy students use teamwork at Camp Miakonda during a retreat at the local, outdoor camp grounds. Academy students spend a weekend at the camp, where they learn to work as teammates in an obstacle course exercise and bond as classmates as they adapt to a new environment that removes them from their comfort zones.

Meeting successful alumni who have built and run companies, as well as being introduced to leaders in the military, in civic organizations, local government, the arts and culture arena, and non-profit organizations, teaches Klar Leadership Academy members to reach higher and go farther than they may think they can.

On the weekend of Sept. 15, Camp Miakonda in Toledo provided a retreat environment in which the Academy students could do some self-analysis, work together in teams and simply become better acquainted with each other. “They were spending time with people they wouldn’t ordinarily spend time with and were breaking out of their comfort zones by intermingling with students they don’t know,” says Longenecker. A three-hour Copes/Ropes Course that takes place in the middle of the woods and is cell-phone free may seem similar to the challenges designed for wilderness-based reality show contestants, and in some ways, it is. The physical skill needed to get through this obstacle course relies on the assistance of teammates.

Morgan Siegler talks about her experiences in the Klar Leadership Academy and their impact on her life.

Hetzler says her communication skills improved at the Camp Miakonda retreat because of the obstacle course exercise. “I think that through the Copes Course, my communication during a problem was strengthened. The course challenged us to think outside of the box, and without sharing ideas and working off one another we would not have completed the stations. The Spider Web, in particular, made us be very deliberate with our actions, so working through the possibilities first was essential to successfully getting through the web.”

While at the camp, the students also had a few visitors from UT’s alumni community. “They were with the mayor this past weekend. They were with a fellow by the name of Dave Wolf, who is an alumnus and is the North American president of a Swedish chemical company called Perstorp. He’s a world traveler and a two-time graduate of the University of Toledo,” says Longenecker. “We try to tie our graduates back into the Academy. We’re not just talking about people being hugely successful, but here is example, after example, after example. Our mayor went to our Law School. Dave Wolf went through our MBA program. Another visitor was Matt Aston (Bus ’99), who is president of the exceptionally successful Ground Penetrating Radar Systems, an entrepreneurial enterprise founded in 2001 and headquartered in Toledo,” adds Longenecker.

“I think this really changes kids’ confidence levels,” says Longenecker. “They see ‘UT is a good place’ and ‘I can do anything. This school is awesome. Look what these people are doing out here. They’re alums. We can compete with anybody.’”

Privileged access

Trevor Cox (Bus ’16) graduated from the first Klar Leadership Academy class in 2015. His opinion of the Academy experience echoes that of the many students’ whose testimonials fill the program’s website. “The main aspects or components that really stood out about the Klar Leadership Academy were the impactful speakers and the fun interactive events,” Cox wrote in an email. “The fact that these speakers took time out of their busy schedules to help influence us as leaders, really says a lot about their character as leaders in Toledo.

“What makes this academy special compared to other programs is the hands-on experience all the students gained from practicing servant leadership in the community and from attending professional workshops. Overall, this program was powerful, and I personally believe it will continue to make an impact in students’ professional and personal lives.”

Steven Klar, at left, talks informally with students during his visit to campus in February 2017 for the Klar Leadership Academy graduation.

The Academy bears the name of Steven Klar (Bus ’69), the program’s benefactor since 2015, when he made a gift specifically to establish The Klar Leadership Academy. Klar has credited The University of Toledo and his education in COBI with providing a solid foundation for his business career. Klar is the president of The Klar Organization, a diversified real estate development, building and brokerage firm. “Steven Klar’s gift has had a profound impact on our students lives and career trajectory for which we are exceptionally grateful,” says Longenecker.

Now in its third year, the leadership academy has proven itself as a success. “I like the tone of the program and the quality of the student population,” says Klar. When the Academy first began, he wondered how the program was recruiting the “cream of the crop” top UT students. Klar says when he saw that professors and academic counselors were giving students recommendations, he realized the program’s potential to shape the next generation of leaders. “Students have shown me they’re really interested in being a part of this.”

Gary Insch, dean of the College of Business and Innovation at UT, speaks to the graduating class of students in The Klar Leadership Academy in February 2017.

The Advanced Leadership Academy, a program Longenecker created nine years ago, was a precursor to the Klar Leadership Academy. At that time, only the very best graduate students in the College of Business and Innovation had access to a leadership development program. COBI Dean Gary Insch envisioned an undergraduate leadership development program and was a stalwart advocate for The Klar Leadership Academy. “Without Gary Insch,” says Longenecker, “none of this would have happened.” The program is open to all undergraduate students across UT’s colleges. “We provide X number of slots per college,” Longenecker says, which are given to students who excel in their chosen academic fields. Each college’s administration decides which students to recruit.

Longenecker loves giving students the chance to interact with Klar whenever he visits—such as Klar did this past February for the 2016-17 class graduation—but also via frequent phone calls. Recently, six students got to interact with Klar on a conference call in Longenecker’s office. “I allow students to volunteer for this interaction so they can benefit from having time with him. He coaches them, telling them to think big, don’t be afraid to take risks, you can do anything you set your mind to do.” Klar says he stays connected to the program through these monthly talks with students and advises them on ways to build on their leadership qualities.

Students in the Klar Leadership Academy are exposed to many leadership development skills during the program that begins as classes commence for Fall Semester. A visit to the 180th Ohio National Guard Air Base exposes to students to an avionic team that keeps the planes flying through dedicated team efforts

Klar says all of the program’s activities have the kind of skills development that emerging leaders need. “The camp is bonding,” he says of the Miakonda retreat, adding that, “whether it’s going to the art museum for some training, or going out to the Air National Guard base to talk with the commander, each thing they do is starting to help them feel more confident, and leaders need to be confident. And they need to know about teamwork and networking.”

Transformational experiences

“We give them formal instruction, awesome networking opportunities, the opportunity to interact with senior leaders from a wide spectrum of organizations, and then we take them places and expose them to cool things, like when we take them out to the 180th Ohio Air National Guard Base to talk to the commanding officer, to stand in the flight line and see planes take off, eat with the crews who do maintenance on them. To be there with the people who are the avionic specialists to talk about, as a team, how they keep these planes flying,” explains Longenecker.

The Klar Leadership Academy concludes with a practicum that engages students in all of the phases of coordinating and implementing a Feed My Starving Children meal-preparation event. The goal this year is to package 160,000 meals to ship to a Third World country where they are distributed by humanitarian agencies.

The students’ experiences with teams of people who rely on each other to get a job done transfer over to some hands-on practice in the students’ community service projects. They include two food-based initiatives to address hunger. They work at the Cherry Street Mission in Toledo to prepare 2,500 Thanksgiving meals to feed local neighbors who don’t’ have the means to purchase and cook a holiday meal. And, as part of the program’s practicum requirement, students are responsible for the planning, fundraising, staffing, and implementation of a Feed My Starving Children event, with a goal of producing 160,000 meals that will be sent to a Third World country.

Klar says he is always impressed with the students’ drive and output during a Feed My Starving Children event. “It’s gratifying to me and it’s exhilarating to them,” to accomplish this task. The results of the Klar Leadership Academy illustrate the program’s value. “The leaders of tomorrow are coming out of it,” Klar says.

“At the end of the day,” says Longenecker, “this is really about helping our terrific students see a bigger picture. They begin to realize their behavior, attitude and energy can have a transformational effect on other people if they know how to channel it. So, what we’re doing is teaching our young people how to think bigger, how to know themselves, and how to take control of their lives, and in doing so, they’re going to be in a better spot to go out and change the world and improve the human condition, which is our UT mission.”

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