Leading for the common good

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By Colleen Killen-Roberts

I recently wrapped up an intensive program at the Great Lakes Leadership Academy (GLLA) — one that challenged me on a lot of fronts.

Part of Michigan State University Extension, GLLA’s mission is to encourage leadership for the common good. More specifically, the organization brings together individuals from different industry sectors to promote positive change, economic vitality and resource conservation and to enhance the quality of life in Michigan. GLLA offers two key programs, one for emerging leaders and the Leadership Advancement Program (LAP), which is the one I completed.  No speedy seminar, this course involved 12 sessions (a total of 40 days) over the course of 18 months.

The big takeaway for me was the opportunity to meet and get to know professionals from many different walks of life. However, 40 days away from work and home (many of the sessions included travel and overnight stays) was a big hurdle to overcome.  I am grateful to both my work and home families for tolerating my regular absence.

Other takeaways include:

Appreciative inquiry. The LAP curriculum revolves around a concept called appreciative inquiry, which approaches problem-solving from a positive framework. The idea is to identify what’s working well so you can do more of that — rather than dwelling on the negatives and preventing problems from becoming larger. Although this methodology wasn’t new to me, it reinforced behaviors and practices that I already had in place.

The value of being vulnerable. There weren’t many business people in my GLLA cohort, which was sometimes uncomfortable for me. Yet I realized that my ability to be open and not guarded was directly proportional to benefits I would receive from the sessions.

Gaining clarity. Attending the GLLA sessions gave me some time and space away from my regular work life — a break that helped me think about what inspires me at the Edward Lowe Foundation (our mission, the freedom to innovate, the leadership and the people). I gained an even greater appreciation for the foundation and realized how much fuel I get from my job.

My amazing GLLA cohort. The people I met through GLLA were from different walks of life, different professions and different industries. In fact, one member of my sub-group said it was like we were from the Island of Misfit Toys. Yet despite all our contrasts, we learned how to collaborate effortlessly. We moved from feeling awkward and odd to having a genuine sense of belonging.

Being around these smart, capable, witty people has inspired me on a number of levels. They have forever changed my perspective on how I will see others in the future, teaching me not to have assumptions and to be more curious.

In the end, 20 strangers became my friends. They gave me room to be who I am, believed in me, accepted me and challenged me. And I’m better for it.

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Colleen Killen-Roberts
Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship
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“Entrepreneurs need a bridge between their dreams and reality,” says Colleen Killen-Roberts, Divisional Vice President of Entrepreneurship at the Edward Lowe Foundation. “And that’s where operational expertise comes in. Operations is about creating the necessary infrastructure to take the entrepreneur’s ideas and make them happen.” In this series of articles, Killen-Roberts shares insights gleaned from more than 25 years of operational and fiscal management experience at second-stage companies.