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Learning To Lead

November 28, 2020 2:37 PM | Dana Morris-Jones

John Shorb co-authored this post. 

Great leaders are not born with mystical qualities.  Leadership is about the ability to take advantage of opportunities to develop yourself and rise to the challenges you are handed. Contrary to conventional wisdom, leadership is not about ambition, charisma, or gaining power.

Hallmarks of an Effective Leader

Effective leaders have certain tried and true qualities in common:

●        Self-knowledge: Awareness of personal predispositions and preferred styles, use of self-knowledge to inform choices and decisions, being open to feedback

●        Culture: Understanding the importance of culture, ability to create organizational culture based on values, and establish consistent practices and policies to reinforce it

●        Alignment: Clarity about the organization's purpose and values, ability to align structures and practices with values, and build relationships across and within all parts of the organization in support

●        Motivation & Engagement: Understanding what motivates people to do their best work and ability to create culture and practices that create those conditions

●        Building High Performing Teams:  Ability to align mission, goals, roles, practices and relationships to maximize team effectiveness

●        Leading Change: Recognition that change is constant and having the ability to adapt, able to engage others in accepting and implementing change including communication and conflict resolution

Leadership is learned…….

Jim Collins, a highly regarded expert in the leadership field, says under the right circumstances – with self-reflection, a mentor, a significant life experience – the seeds of leadership begin to develop. The problem is, how do you create those circumstances if they have not come to you?

……Therefore, it can be taught.

This was a question posed by alumni of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs’ business development programs.  “Business founders who had gone through other MCE programs were telling us ‘It’s lonely out there’, says Skip Bates, Senior Vice President of Bangor Savings Banks and Director of’ Main Street Banking. He joined the MCE board last November. “They need trusted colleagues confronting similar issues, and access to leadership expertise.”

“MCE’s programs are designed to offer a continuum of care from early-stage startups to national distribution,” according to Tom Rainey, Executive Director of MCE. “A leadership program was an obvious next step for us.” At the same time as these ideas were forming, staff of the newly launched University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center (Maine Center) wondered how they could best support growing businesses in Maine and provide development opportunities for their leaders. The Maine Center brings together programs in law, business, policy, and public health to provide interdisciplinary educational opportunities for graduate students and Maine professionals.

The Visionary Leadership Program (VLP) is a collaboration between MCE, Bangor Savings Bank, and the Maine Center and launched in early October. Through monthly virtual meetings, the VLP builds a strong peer group for emerging business leaders, develops leadership skills and tools for today’s business challenges, and introduces participants to experienced Maine business and thought leaders. Facilitated by Skip Bates and Alexa Dayton, COO at the Maine Center, the sessions feature a lineup of leaders from the Maine business and leadership communities. The pilot cohort has 16 members representing a range of sectors and businesses from across Maine.

 “Strong leadership drives the economy, and leadership can be cultivated through a combination of information sharing and experience sharing,” said Alexa Dayton. “VLP is an approachable program, designed for growing Maine businesses. It’s responsive to what the participants need to know to be successful Maine leaders and for their businesses to excel.”

Learning through Experience

The experiential aspects of the program are critical. One goal of the VLP is to help each participant take advantage of their current situation to move closer to that ideal by exchanging past experiences with one another and continuing to use one another as a sounding board as they apply what they have learned. Participants work together to apply concepts as well as complete assignments related to their own business situations.

Marada Cook, General Manager of Crown O’ Maine, participated in the first Cultivator class, and accepted the invitation to be in VLP’s pilot cohort. Crown O’ Maine is a Kennebec County business distributing product for a network of independent, small to mid-scale food producers from Maine.  “We care a lot about our employees’ experience. I’ve learned more about the different strengths people are showing through their actions, and how to interact with those people in ways that enhance their natural strengths and talents. 

“My classmates’ experiences are also valuable because our businesses are quite different.  We do one-on-one meetings with another business leader between the sessions.  Crown O’ Maine is a wholesale distributer, but other businesses in the program are retailers. Our customers are retailers.  This is a good opportunity to explore my customers’ perspective through the eyes of a business owner/manager.” 

 “I am honored to be part of this conversation,” says Kerem Durdag, President and CEO of GWI, guest presenter at the November session.. “The pilot group members share experiences, work together to solve real problems, and have volunteered their businesses as classrooms.  They are forward thinking, candid, and are experts in their fields.  VLP provides tools, space, and expertise to help them grow.  I believe, firmly, that theirexperience here will put them in a position to address larger socialchallenges. They are the business leaders we need.”

Learning to Lead is a Continuing Journey

Becoming a strong and effective leader is a lifelong pursuit that is never complete. The opportunity to explore and reflect on what that pursuit looks like for oneself, along with a cohort of other leaders, is invaluable. This pilot program will be the first for Maine business leaders who want to further their growth toward leadership greatness, with more to follow.

Dana Morris-Jones and John Shorb have been principals of The Delphi Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting firm, since 1998.  They will be VLP guest presenters in February 2021. Reach them at or, or 207 883-2333.

Other Visionary Leadership Program presenters include Kim Pope, David Pease, and Bob Montgomery-Rice from Bangor Savings, Tara Jenkins of Conscious Capitalism, Richard Bilodeau of USM, Steve Musica from Lean East, and Sam Fratoni of Maine Angels.

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