Leadership Programs Across Nation Search for Hope

There is a single word woven into the Rhode Island flag, just beneath a golden anchor, surrounded by stars. It is a small motto for the smallest settlement, yet in the time of the coronavirus crisis, its message is a critical one countrywide. The word is ‘hope.’

The Easter holiday, which normally symbolizes promise for the devout and the advent of spring for the secular, brought with it two grim distinctions in 2020. As of April 11, more than 20,000 people have died in the United States from COVID-19, more reported deaths than any other country in the world. As of the same date, all 50 states have issued major disaster declarations, a first in American history.

It is a deeply unsettling time, rife with disruption and in some cases devastation. People are struggling, anxious, and afraid. And people are doing what they often do in moments of crisis: they are looking to leaders for help and for hope.

Hope, Rhode Island’s state motto, is a core leadership trait that Community Leadership Programs across the country are providing for their communities amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Research has shown that hope is one of the basic strengths that followers say they want from leaders, especially in times of crisis. According to Gallup, an organization that researches strength-based leadership, hope is a valued leadership trait alongside compassion, stability, and trust.

Throughout the United States, Community Leadership Programs (CLPs), organizations dedicated to improving their communities by supporting the development of leaders, are responding to need on a local level by tapping into their networks to provide support for those hit the hardest. Most of them have had to disband their traditional methods of physically convening their constituencies, and are traversing new territory in the world of virtual convening.

As people look to leaders, it begs a key question: Where do the leaders look when they need help?

As it turns out, there’s no better place to find guidance navigating uncharted waters than the Ocean State. In the past two weeks, CLP staff members came together online in two landmark gatherings organized and hosted by Leadership Rhode Island. On March 23 and April 6, each with 200-plus attendees representing every corner of the country, leaders met to learn best practices, amplify facilitation skills, double down on mission, and discover new ways to meaningfully connect.

Margi Power, Executive Director of the San Mateo Leadership Program

Both sessions provided a mix of practical information and strategies, and the chance to share concerns and ask questions. Lessons were grounded in the knowledge that leadership in the current context is not simply a matter of moving programming to virtual platforms, but rather experimenting with new ways of engaging people and discovering new resources to reimagine how to push forward.

“I am deeply indebted to LRI for taking the initiative to convene our CLP community because without it, I’m not sure how I would proceed. Leadership Rhode Island is really the “rock star” program in our world and they took the initiative to get out in front of this crisis in a way that is inspiring the rest of us. I’m really in awe of their leadership nationally,” says Margi Power, Executive Director of the San Mateo Leadership Program in California.

These virtual encounters fortify a vision first advanced in 2018 for the co-creation of Leadership United States (LUS), a national organization to address societal problems collaboratively, civilly, and positively. The concept was presented to the Association of Leadership Programs (ALP) by Mike Ritz ’07, Executive Director of LRI and Michelle Carr ’14, Deputy Director.

The LUS vision calls for harnessing the strength of 750,000 leadership alumni throughout the nation to tackle local issues but also to respond to issues too complex to solve alone and too universal to be restricted by state borders.

Today, the benefits of bolstering CLPs go well beyond the institutional level. By equipping these organizations with the tools needed to connect and mobilize their networks, they are poised to make a real and lasting impact on people’s lives when they need it most, ensuring communities are healthy when the coronavirus crisis has passed.

Ashley Mudd, Executive Director, Leadership Institute of Acadiana

As Ashley Mudd, Executive Director of the Leadership Institute of Acadiana in Louisiana, says, “CLPs are more important now than ever before. Our stakeholders and program participants represent a variety of industries, economic backgrounds, faiths and geographic locations. If we continue to deploy our resources and keep our stakeholders engaged, we can help our communities to grow through this unprecedented time.”

The best and perhaps only way to ensure that stakeholders remain engaged and towns and cities remain strong, is to continue to bring people together during a time when safety measures are explicitly keeping them apart. Which is why the team at Leadership Rhode Island pivoted with unprecedented speed throughout the COVID-19 crisis to date, transitioning their hallmark creativity and connectivity to the digital space in a variety of ways. In doing so with their counterparts across the country, they also generated hope.

“Leadership Rhode Island not only leads by example; they lead with hope, giving us something to look forward to and the opportunity for us to feel like we are taking control as individuals and as organizations,” said Kelley Ann Behrens, Program Facilitator at Leadership Akron in Ohio.

Kicking off the April 6 session, Ritz donned a red cardigan and played a beloved short song that began with familiar lyrics: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor. The opening words to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood are at the core of what CLPs are doing to help communities today.

In that spirit, the session ended with Ritz posing a question to participants: “What good do you see in your community, or in the words of Mr. Rogers, your neighborhood?”

The answers were varied, but unfailingly positive, reminders of the collective good during times of isolation, and the endurance of the human spirit.

“Mr. Rogers’ hometown is supporting everyone in need and rallying around the front line workers (the helpers).” –Krissy DeShetler, Senior Manager, Outreach and Initiatives, Leadership Pittsburgh

 “A greater focus on family, and much more time for the children.” –Bernhard Heider, Managing Director, Leadership Berlin, Germany

 “The good I have been seeing is creativity, doing things in a different way for the benefit of all.” –Barbara Boone, Executive Director, Leadership Tallahassee

Inspired by the look and neighborly spirit of the iconic Fred Rogers, Mike Ritz, Executive Director of LRI donned a red cardigan and asked CLP leaders “What good do you see happening in your neighborhood?” during the April 6th virtual gathering.

“People coming together centered around questions of equity and justice.” –Tamara Myers, Program Manager, Leadership Tomorrow in Seattle

“Incredible bravery and commitment from all of our local superheroes . . . healthcare, food banks, transportation, public safety and service . . . people taking care of one another, families enjoying time together and communities providing what people need. So inspiring!” –Jess Cronauer, Program Director, Leadership Wilkes-Barre

 “Our leaders and LNH Alumni are advocating for the vulnerable population and standing up to help those who need it most while respecting the distancing protocols. People are getting creative!” – Mandy Sliver, Assistant Director, Leadership New Hampshire

 “Our town is putting up a star on the mountain to shine for hope.” – Robin McIntosh, Program Facilitator, Midcoast Leadership Academy in Maine

Jessie Baginski, President and CEO of Ohio’s Leadership Lake County and Chair of the Board of the Association of Leadership Programs

The sessions brought inspiration to leadership organizations in an innovative way, in order to make a difference in an uncertain time.

Jessie Baginski, President and CEO of Ohio’s Leadership Lake County and Chair of the Board of the Association of Leadership Programs, said, “In these dark moments, Leadership Rhode Island is seemingly uniquely able to bring stability, levity, and calm to people. LRI has risen as an organization among organizations, and Mike Ritz has risen as a leader among leaders. It gives me great hope for the rest of the world.”

It is believed that the Rhode Island motto comes from a verse that reads, “Hope is an anchor to the soul.” If the efforts of all Community Leadership Programs are any indication, hope is not just an anchor in times of strife; it is an adhesive. When battling this viral enemy, sequestered in our homes and separated by at least six feet, we are strengthened by our common purpose. Alone, yes, but together in hope.

Leadership, Virtually: Working alongside the talented and exceptionally versatile Leadership Rhode Island team on this initiative is an alumnae team with expertise in journalism, communication, digital technology, and nonprofit excellence. They are charged with chronicling this time of bringing people together virtually to make connections and offer critical support.

Luann Edwards, LRI ’19, is founder of Socially Professional, a social media marketing consultancy. You’ll find her at the intersection of communication and technology, where some of the most meaningful connections are happening. As a strategist, she meets a challenge with a plan and tenacity. She’s grateful to be a small part of the leadership that our state, and Leadership Rhode Island, is bringing to this unprecedented time.
Strategic | Learner | Context | Connectedness | Input

Jane Nugent, Ed.D. LRI ‘95, nonprofit professional in RI since 1982, believes in the power of nonprofit organizations to be the key problem solvers for society.  She has witnessed the power of Rhode Island community based groups provide the greatest good for the greatest number over a long period of time. She has worked with many groups in the state and knows that this time will be no different than difficult times past — they will rise to the occasion and lead the way.
Learner | Analytical | Individualization | Relator | Achiever

Ashley Rappa, LRI’19, founder of Human Writes Consulting and Director of Marketing & Communication at Lincoln School, is a writer at heart and a Rhode Islander by choice. At her best, she believes in the power of words to elevate our lives, and the deep beauty of human connection. At her worst, she still believes that, but likely needs more coffee.
Input | WOO | Communication | Empathy | Positivity

Carol Young, LRI ’92, After 45 fabulous years at the Providence Journal, she bid adieu to the Fourth Estate.  Ten  years later, she still has printer’s ink in her blood and welcomes opportunities to work with writers while  keeping her editing skills sharp.
Harmony | Achiever | Learner | Communication | Significance