Leadership Toledo aims to nurture new generations of servant leadersWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Perhaps some of us are born leaders, but even those who seem to be predisposed to leading others can benefit from a nurturing process. Leadership Toledo has made it its mission to provide that service, from youth and continuing into adulthood.
The organization has become known for its programs like Youth in Philanthropy Encouraging Excellence (YIPEE), Youth Leadership Toledo and Students in Action, as well as its adult program Community Leadership Toledo and its annual fundraiser Restaurant Week Toledo.
This year’s adult and youth programs are in the midst of a nine-month series of classes, tours and brainstorming sessions aimed at offering Toledoans of all ages the necessary tools and knowledge to better serve their communities.
Leadership Toledo Executive Director Dave Schlaudecker, a former lawyer for Owens Corning, has been with the organization for 13 years. He described the humble beginnings and transformation of the small group that is now a formidable community presence.
“Leadership Toledo started over 35 years ago, when a group got together at a restaurant, My Brother’s Place, above Trinity Episcopal Church on Adams Street, where our offices are located today,” Schlaudecker said. “They thought that there should be some opportunity to get together and learn more about Toledo, and figure out how to serve it.”
The lunches turned into half-day sessions, and by 1980, it developed into a full-on “servant leadership” program called ToledoScape, which was later renamed Leadership Toledo.
“That turned into a bit of the model that other cities used in taking participants through eight- or nine-month programs that expose them to all kinds of different aspects of the region, [like] the history of the region, issues facing the region, things that need help, areas that work well, poverty and criminal justice,” Schlaudecker said.
The organization started looking for those who wanted to become involved in the community, especially outside of the political arena.
Schlaudecker noted that Leadership Toledo seeks out those who want to become involved with nonprofit organizations, raise funds and look for opportunities to volunteer for community projects.
“A hallmark of what the program has with it is the opportunity for each classmate to be involved in a project in the community that would benefit a not-for-profit,” he said.
Schlaudecker said Leadership Toledo has served 80 different nonprofits over the years, helping with issues like identity, branding and mergers.
“It teaches [people] how to work with a nonprofit, and to work with each other in a very different setting.”
In the hierarchy of a nonprofit, everyone is essentially equal, so one must find ways to become a “servant leader” of the organization, Schlaudecker said.
Tony Ruth, area director for N2 Publishing, initially became acquainted with Leadership Toledo by consultation.
“They needed some help with some things, and they reached out to me because I had some expertise with printing and a few other things,” he said. “Long story short, I fell in love with what they were doing, and I decided to become a member of the 2013-14 class.”
Ruth said that although he was excited to jump into the program, he was not sure what he was getting into.
“I literally had no clue. As soon as I found out what they were really about, I couldn’t wait to get involved, primarily because I love Toledo. I’m passionate about Toledo.”
Ruth’s passion for his city helped him recognize the importance of programs like Leadership Toledo.
“If we support an organization like Leadership Toledo, and we put sincere energy into educating our business leaders through this program, in the long term, it can really change the psychological dynamic that is in this town.”
Ruth added that the “energy is right,” but there is still a need for investors to help take Downtown and the city to the next level.
“We need to get over that hump to where we can get significant investors. We do have some who have already put their money where their mouth is and have done what they can do to redevelop real estate into beautiful establishments. But on a large scale, we’re still not there yet.
“Hopefully, the youthful energy that has come in as of late will continue to get over that hump,” he added. “Leadership Toledo, in my opinion, plays a vital role to achieve that end.”
Ruth said the session on servant leadership was one of his favorites so far.
“Instead of dictating from the top down how things are going to be, it really takes a new approach and asks the question, ‘How much more successful can we be as a community and in our personal lives, if we look at leadership as an opportunity to serve those who support us?’”
Sarah Beavers, executive director at the Eastern Maumee Bay Chamber of Commerce, found out about Leadership Toledo through a fellow board member, who invited her to a leadership breakfast.
The encounter prompted some research, and soon, Beavers asked the chamber to back her in applying for this year’s class.
“My overall impression is that this organization is such a well-oiled machine,” Beavers said. “Dave and his staff all have such a wealth of knowledge that is immeasurable.”
Like Ruth, Beavers said her favorite session so far was servant leadership.
“I found it very insightful, seeing that I report to a board,” Beavers said. “I learned so much of how I need to communicate in order to make my board and organization thrive.”
She added that Leadership Toledo provides benefits for participants on both a professional and personal level.
“Professionally, it is helping me guide my chamber in the direction I feel is needed. It has given me ideas that I never would have considered prior, and has inspired me, personally, to want to give back as much as I can.”
Aaron Phillips, a program director at the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, saw Leadership Toledo as an opportunity to reach out and develop new relationships in the community.
“I was actually looking for networking opportunities, and after a meeting at home, and then looking them up online, I submitted my application, and was accepted as their first student for the class of 2013-14.”
Phillips said his initial goals for the program were quickly reached.
“I thought it was pretty cool. There were enough people in the program that I knew several people in our class walking in, but I [quickly] made a dozen connections with people I never met before.”
Phillips said he enjoyed the day-long session dedicated to health care because it pertains to his field, but noted another session that benefited him, personally.
“The tour of Toledo was a really fun day. We started at the top floor of the Fifth Third building, and got a visual tour of how some of the neighborhoods in Toledo were created,” Phillips said. “We [also] visited some spots in Toledo I never even knew existed.”
Schlaudecker said the tour is always among the most popular days and one of his personal favorites as well.
“It is just a fascinating day. We talk about the great leaders of our community, and what they did,” he said.
The tour highlights some of the original great Toledo families like the Secors, the Trilbys and the Stranahans, as well as lesser-known families like the Gunckels, who started the Boys and Girls Clubs of Toledo.
“We bring that around to current people who are doing wonderful things in the community,” Schlaudecker said. “Those are the kinds of things that open people’s eyes to what is going on right now.”
Participants will also get the chance to experience a poverty immersion program provided by the United Way.
“You get a huge feel for the desperateness of the super-poor, without it being overdramatic,” Schlaudecker said. “It is reality based.”
Schlaudecker added that the variety of topics tackled in Leadership Toledo sessions are what makes it effective.
“At the end of the day, what I want is for a class member to say, ‘Wow, I really learned something about Northwest Ohio, our problems, our opportunities, and this is somewhere I want to put my efforts into,’” Schlaudecker said. “That is why we try to offer a really broad spectrum in our programming.”
According to Phillips, friendships and connections have been a great benefit of the adult program, but the youth program, which follows a similar curriculum, is a primary strength of Leadership Toledo.
“That is really what the program is about — supporting the youth leadership program, and meeting some of the talented students, spending the day with them, and having great conversations with them,” he said.
Schlaudecker was also eager to praise the youth program.
“About 17 years ago, the people in Leadership began to ask, ‘If this program is working so well for adults, shouldn’t we be trying to do something for the youth?’” he said.
Youth Leadership Toledo participants are high school sophomores from 30 area high schools.
“[Sophomores] are acclimated to high school, and if we hit them [then], we still have two more years to help them influence their high school,” Schlaudecker said.
One of the strengths of the youth programs is they are tuition-free and open to any student from any high school associated with the program. Annual fundraisers like Restaurant Week Toledo help cover the costs.
Participating schools nominate students by various processes, then send names to Leadership Toledo for review. One or two students from each school are invited to apply.
“We’re not looking, necessarily, for the president of the student class,” Schlaudecker said. “We love to get those who have so much potential, and they haven’t quite hit it yet, so we can help bring them up to the next level.”
Schlaudecker said this type of nurturing will help to form a new generation of servant leaders in Toledo.
“All this is based on service to our community,” he said.
For more information, visit leadershiptoledo.org.