The Land of Leadership Opportunity
By Major General Robert W. Mixon, Jr. (USA retired)
“I believe there are three distinct advantages we have here that can provide us with an edge to grow and sustain leaders.”
Having lived in the Rochester area since my retirement from active duty in late 2007, I’ve worked in and observed a number of companies here. From those experiences and observations, I have come to believe this area of western New York offers tremendous leadership opportunities – if we choose to seek them out and develop them. But, like most opportunities, they are not just there for the taking. It’s far more challenging than that.
The post – Kodak environment I came into over a decade ago was soon in the grip of the 2nd Great Depression, and like the rest of America we had to persevere to survive. We did, and now we are in an economic boom where the unemployment rate in the Rochester area is at historic lows. “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere you look. In every company I work with, they tell me one of their biggest challenges is they cannot find enough good people to fill the jobs they have open.
So, what’s the leadership opportunity in this environment? Seems on the surface we are all being successful these days, and we can succeed with just about anyone in leadership roles.
As the old saying goes, “Nothing could be further from the truth.” We are in the most challenging leadership environment in my lifetime, dominated by the emergence of the Information Age. More than ever perhaps we need leaders who get it. And if we commit to the journey of becoming more adaptive, innovative leaders, the opportunities are extraordinary.
What’s in western New York that provides us with unique leadership opportunities to grow these leaders? I believe there are three distinct advantages we have here that can provide us with an edge to grow and sustain leaders who will lead successful companies and organizations into the Information Age successfully:
- We have a community of tremendous diversity.
- We have a core of committed business, academic and community leaders.
- There is significant potential here for cultural growth.
Let’s address each of these advantages in more detail, because they may not seem obvious at first look. However, in my travels across the country I’ve had the privilege of seeing a number of communities of similar size, and in comparison to many of them we do indeed have some genuine opportunities.
First, we have a community of tremendous diversity. Merriam-Webster defines diversity as “the condition of having or being composed of differing elements.” Let’s think about ourselves in this context. We are diverse in a number of respects – not the least of which is the business diversity of our greater Rochester community. Manufacturing, services, construction, medical, technology, education – these are but a few of the key components of our local economy. Many communities I have observed are far more one or two dimensional in their economies than we are.
Second, we have a core of committed business, academic and community leaders. Beneath the surface of political rhetoric and hand-wringing that we are constantly bombarded with in social media, there is a dedicated team of professionals in every segment of our community. Dozens of local business, university and community leaders are fully committed to being successful here in the Rochester area, in every sector of our economy. They don’t want to go anywhere else; they want to see our community grow and prosper.
Third, there is significant potential here for cultural growth. I cannot think of a similar size community in America where there is more untapped potential than the one we live in. We have far too many neighborhoods and schools where we are failing to provide people with the opportunity to grow and succeed. Think of what we could do if we raised the high school graduation rates by 10 or 20% across the Rochester metro area, for example.
What does this mean for leadership opportunities here? Quite simply, it means we can learn from each other, and apply best practices to different organizations efficiently. We can share good ideas, develop leadership tools and techniques that work, and benefit from the success of different organizations and their leadership programs.
The proverbial “$64,000.00 Question” (that’s a term from a TV game show long ago) is: “How do we make these opportunities come to life?” The answer lies in our ability and willingness to form a leadership development coalition across the business, academic, and community sectors in the Rochester area.
This coalition will need champions to make it successful. These champions are leaders who understand the proven benefits of leader development as an enabler of economic and cultural growth. The Rochester Leadership Digest is an important first step in identifying who these potential champions of the coalition might be. And the Global Leadership Summit is a tremendous forum to exchange leadership lessons from experienced leaders around the world. We already have a number of established organizations promoting opportunity here in the Rochester community. They can become more focused, though, on leadership development as an opportunity. That’s where we can take advantage of our advantages.
I don’t believe opportunity knocks at your door – you have to find it. The great innovators and entrepreneurs of this country went out and found opportunities, which were sometimes “hiding in plain sight.” Our leadership development opportunity may well be one of those hidden gems. Who will be the champions of the Rochester leadership development coalition? This is your chance to be one of them!
Robert W. Mixon, Jr. is a retired U.S. Army Major General, former President of a manufacturing company, EVP of a diverse, innovative not for profit company, and Leadership Consultant. He serves as a faculty member at the Thayer Leader Development Group at West Point and various premier business schools including The Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester, The Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, and the Cox Business School at Southern Methodist University. Throughout his work Robert is inspiring audiences, motivating teams, building better leaders, and creating cultures of excellence.