• Taking the Lead: Cultivating the Next Generation of Leadership

    When you think about the characteristics of a strong leader, a picture will emerge of how this person behaves and presents themselves to others. As part of this mental image, does age come into play? For many, the perception of a strong leader is someone with an abundance of experience; an older individual. However -  many employers, city officials and young professionals in the community believe leadership can (and should) come from people of all ages. For many, cultivating the next generation of leadership in our community has become a major priority.

    For the City of Santa Maria, developing emerging leaders is instrumental to their succession plan.

    “The next generation can and will make a difference in local government,” explains City Manager Jason Stilwell. “We are all in this together, and encourage our emerging leaders to get involved and help improve the quality of life in Santa Maria. The next generation should definitely consider a career in public service, as there are always opportunities to make long-lasting impacts on the overall community. The challenges facing Santa Maria are meaningful to all of us. That means we all need to pitch in.”

    Stilwell says the City provides a number of opportunities to help their employees  with their professional development as emerging leaders.

    “We offer internships, team projects, consistent feedback, tuition assistance with professional development education, and promotional opportunities,” Stilwell said. “Further, the City offers all types of trainings, a mentoring program, a Speaker Series providing employees with opportunities to hear from an array of speakers from both the public and private sectors, Speed Coaching, its own Toastmasters club, and an internal professional development association called Shaping Hardworking Innovative Professionals (SHIP).”

    The City is not alone in seeing the importance of developing leaders from within their own organizations.

    “We are always looking at succession planning and our next level of future leaders.  It is extremely important that those that want to advance and grow into leadership positions be given that opportunity,” explained Sue Anderson, President & CEO Marian Regional Medical Center.

    “We have leadership programs within Dignity Health, where future leaders are educated and attend quarterly professional development programs. Additionally, we give staff opportunities to lead projects so that they get that experience and we are a large enough entity that we encourage staff to look for options in other areas of interest,” Anderson said.

    “At our Y, I’m a firm believer in both succession planning and empowering employees to excel, whether it is here or anywhere they may go from here,” said Shannon Seifert, CEO of the Santa Maria Valley YMCA. “Our younger staff are our future leaders-and they’re amazing in their innovative styles of the work force, progressive thinking and community.”

    Seifert says the YMCA invests heavily in training for employees, and are very specific with their SMART GOALS, which provide a clear map for both the employee and the employer when developing career, developmental and  monetary goals.

    And for those young professionals looking for leadership opportunities, having a work environment supportive of their own professional development is key.

    “One of the things I value most about the leadership in the Santa Maria Chamber is their willingness to invest in professional development opportunities,” said Molly Schiff, Marketing and Communications Manager at the Chamber. “For me, this shows that the organization values my goals and development as a leader, and their willingness to invest in me makes me want to invest more of myself back into the organization.”

    Taz Dougherty, who handles Member & Visitor Services at the Chamber, says working for the organization has given him multiple opportunities to develop as a leader. “Developing strong and positive leadership skills at an early age can open up the door to increased self-efficacy, Dougherty said “in return that increased self-efficacy can help with the ability to set goals and achieve them, stress management, and the ability to quickly recover after failures or setbacks.”

    In addition to providing professional development for their staff, the Chamber has made it a goal to diversify the leadership within their own organization, and have younger leaders as part of their Board of Directors.

    Cameron Stephens, one of the Chamber’s past Board Chairs, brought innovation to the organization as a young professional. While serving as Board Chair, Stephens helped streamline Chamber programming and transition the Chamber to a tiered dues structure to help generate more revenue. 

    “I feel young leaders are very important because they are tomorrow’s future,” Stephens said. “They are the people who will own, run, manage and prosper in the coming years and decades. I love getting others involved in their 20’s and 30’s so in their 40’s and 50’s when they ultimately have more of “the say” in their business they can positively affect change and hopefully repeat the cycle with the younger generation that will eventually take their place. That’s how we sustain long term success.”

    “I got involved with the Chamber Board because I saw the importance of local businesses supporting each other and the impact that has on our individual business growth,” Said Edgar Gascon, Chair Elect for the Santa Maria Chamber Board of Directors. “The more our community grows, the more vital it is that we strive to enhance our resources and network to provide better service and products to our consumers; both locally and regionally.”

    At 29 years old, Gascon says he feels having diverse ages and background serving in leadership roles is valuable for organizations.

    “An important part of diversity includes mixing the knowledge and opinions of those that have different view points,” Gascon said. “Whether it be a social or business issue, our background and work expertise shape who we are and how we conduct our businesses in our community. I hope that as a young professional in a leadership position, I can bring some new ideas and a different perspective to the Chamber Board.” 

    Outside of their own organization, the Chamber is investing in emerging leaders through Santa Maria Connect, a group created specifically for individuals under 40 that provides professional development and networking opportunities.

    “I joined Santa Maria Connect to help me develop my professional networking skills,” said Elise Fuentes, who serves on the steering committee for the program. “It has helped me become more confident approaching new people. Having this confidence will help me develop and grow my personal network.”

    The program not only benefits the young professionals who attend, but also the employers these individuals work for.

    “At Community Bank of Santa Maria we have long-term business plans that require continuity of leadership. Although we have a great environment and culture for developing leaders, we look to organizations like Santa Maria Connect to help us supplement that development,” explained Janet Silveria, President/CEO of Community Bank of Santa Maria. “The program provides opportunities for our staff to engage with other industries, observe other leadership and communication styles, and grow their personal network.”

    Anderson agrees it is important for emerging leaders to seek out opportunities like Santa Maria Connect, and make their professional development goals clear to their employers. 

    “Take every opportunity given to you.  Network through organizations. Volunteer if you need to or take a lower level position to get your foot in the door,” Anderson said. “Make it known to your management that your interest is in growing and expanding your responsibility. Show them that you are worth investing in and taking a risk on.”

    Leaders in government, local CEO’s, community organizations and young professionals in the community all see the benefit in the continued development of our local emerging leaders.

    “Now is the time, at every organization, to set up the next generation of leaders for success,” Stilwell said. “We need to provide interaction and mentoring, network opportunities, internships, and encouragement. Anyone can stand on the sidelines and complain. Others get involved and make a difference. By helping others in need, being a catalyst, this is what instills a sense of pride in your community.”