Learning From Local Leaders

With the advent of the internet, it’s never been easier to connect with big-name leaders. Guys like Michael Hyatt, Jeff Goins, or Guy Kawasaki are a website away.

But with this in mind, don’t forget about your local leaders. Those doing wonderful things in your local community. There are just as many great leaders in your town as there are in any other.

The great thing about these leaders? You can normally sit down and converse with them in person. I won’t lie, there’s nothing like connecting in person.

Sometimes I forget how many great leaders there are locally too. So don’t worry if you have this problem. It happens, especially with all the glitz and glamor you see associated with the big names.

That’s why I was excited to see the Muskegon Chamber of Commerce honor 15 young and upcoming leaders in my city with the new Future 15 award.

Their talents and industries are as varied as can be. It may be creating killer sandwiches or composing music or helping the community. It didn’t matter.

If they were leading, they had a chance to be honored.

The 15 leaders given this award were:

Jen Wolters Cross – She is the owner of a small boutique called Continuity located in the downtown Muskegon area. She also has a position as a board member of Downtown Muskegon Now and the co-coordinator of Muskegon Young Urban Professionals (YUP), a young professionals networking group.

Brett Gilbert and Jera Cook – Brett and Jera own the best sandwich shop in Muskegon, Fatty Lumpkins.  They’re also helping to bring a new artistic picnic and garden area to the city.

Nick Bessinger – Nick has been involved in quite a few projects in Muskegon. He’s the executive director of the Muskegon Festival Group which is bringing the Coast West Music Festival to Muskegon. Nick’s also been a part of the Greater Muskegon Jaycees and Michigan Jaycees.

Merica Dobry – Mercia is an attorney at Westshore Law Offices, PLC. She gave up a career at JP Morgan Chase in New York City to live in Muskegon.

Carla Flanders – Carla is the founder of CMF Marketing. which specializes in promotion and event coordination. She has done marvelous work in the marketing arena and has promoted various West Michigan events, including the Seaway Run Expo and the Tulip Time Festival. She has taken the role of festival director for the new Lakeshore Art Festival.

Chad Lawie – Chad is the founder and CEO of Longerdays.com (Use my affiliate link and get 2.5 hours of free assistance). Longerdays.com is a Virtual Assistant company doing work all across the country. Chad is has also volunteered and worked for the Greater Muskegon Jaycees.

Andy Price – Andy is the president of McKenzie Price Insurance Agency in Norton Shores. He has served on various committees for the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce.

Josh Silvis – Josh works at Shoreline Insurance. He plays a vital role in helping the commercial insurance needs to West Michigan businesses. Joseh is a member of the Rotary Club of Muskegon, a committee chair at the Michigan Irish Festival, and a Parties in the Park board member.

Brett Thorsen – Brett runs Lakeshore Carpet One for the past three years. He took on this role after his father passed away. After he took over, he has doubled the company’s sales volume and continues to grow the company.

Katie Trzaska – Katie is the manager of the Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall. She has helped increase the number of events at the playhouse.

Kris Collee – Kris is the executive director at the Child Abuse Council of Muskegon County. She has helped with the Irish Music Festival, Muskegon Rotary, and the Chamber of Commerce. She’s also an alumni of the AmeriCorps.

Lou Jeannot – Lou helped found the Muskegon-based record label MuxRec. They promote local artists and put on great concerts.

Andy Maciejewski – Andy is a part of Revel, a marketing agency located in downtown Muskegon. He is oversees the video department.

Lisa Rose – Lisa is a service line leader of orthopedics, neurosurgery and rehab at Mercy Health Partners.

Luke Sass – Luke is the creative director of the Watermark Center. He helps bring entertainment events to the area.

I had the pleasure to touch base with 9 of these leaders and get their insights into leading within the community and in a larger sense. In this post, I want to share with you one question I asked the leader and their answer. I hope you enjoy hearing from the leaders of my hometown.

Q1: When times are tough, how does a great leader keep his team calm and focused?

Andy Price: I don’t know if I can be considered a “great leader” but when times are tough for us we take a step back and reevaluate as a team. Sometimes communication is the answer, others require a new plan but if things start to slide out of control it is better to stop and let your team know that you are confident in your decision and in control of the situation.

Q2: How does a leader keep their organization fresh and exciting?

Andy Maciejewski: We are an advertising agency with a staff of creative people who are often driven by deadlines. Being fresh and exciting is expected in our industry. Like many, we encourage people to take advantage of professional growth opportunities, but our most effective tool is taking the time to talk and appreciate one another. It’s a simple idea, but ask yourself how often you actively dedicate time to connect and learn from your peers?

We make time for unstructured collaboration.

Every Friday we host a “Revelation” meeting. It is a casual, happy hour format where everyone can share what they are working on, personal accomplishments for the week, and invite group feedback. There is not a set agenda. The conversation is driven by the participants. The lack of structure leads to open dialogue, sharing ideas, and ultimately some of our best innovation moments.

Q3: You’re one of many young leaders leading the charge to revitalize the downtown area. What does it take to get a community to latch onto a vision for improvement?

Jenn Cross – Oh, that’s a toughie! There are so many things that need to change & improve in Muskegon. But, to an extent, that’s our strength. We have more untapped potential than any other city I’ve ever been to. We have all of these amazing “core competencies” such as recreational amenities, proximity to the fresh water & other larger metro areas, wonderful people, relatively low crime, affordable housing & cost of living, etc. etc. Now we just build from there. We really have come a long way in a short period of time, downtown. It is all about re-building & revitalizing. Now, I think aside from everything else, the one thing that is holding us back is our own negative perception. We have low self-esteem. What we need is LOVE. It sounds lame & cheesy, but it’s true. Everything thrives with love – yourself, your family & children, your pets, your house, your job, even your plants – they all can bloom, be who they are, feel confident, and do their thing with love. To be honest nobody has ever really said they love Muskegon. They may say they love the beaches, or people, or certain businesses…but not openly & forwardly say they Love Muskegon! I believe this is the key right now. Many things will start to develop & fall into place in the coming years. But we must support, encourage, & nurture ALL the ideas, developments, & progress that is positive & forward.

Q4: What one piece of advice would you give to a young leader?

Kris Collee: The one piece of advice I would give young leaders is to get involved in their community by volunteering through causes they truly care about or through groups, like the Jaycees or Volunteer West Michigan. I learned valuable leadership skills through service, such as project planning, promotions, and even building a professional network.

Q5: What does it take for a leader to be innovative today?

Katie Trzaska:For me, innovation is about:

 1. Hard work: Nothing ever gets done by just sitting back and waiting for stuff to happen around you, as much as that would be nice…

2. Setting goals: Setting short and long-term goals forces you to figure out how to achieve them, even if they seem ridiculous right now.

3. Continuing to learn about your field-and others, too: Great ideas are everywhere, and I believe in not reinventing the wheel. You can take ideas, practices, guidelines, events that others have put into motion and mold them to your needs, or they might spark a completely new idea! I also try to learn about interesting things going on in fields other than the arts, because I never know what will inspire me or what I can adapt to my own needs.

4. Creating partnerships: Partnering with other organizations can bring a wealth of knowledge to the table, as well as creative minds that can do more together than apart. When ideas, resources and know-how can be combined, amazing things can happen!

So… that’s what I have to say. I am a person of action and I don’t like band-aids. If something is wrong, fix it correctly the first time so it doesn’t come back to bite you. I don’t really know that I am innovative, but just a problem-solver and hard worker.

Q6: Why’s it important to go above and beyond the expectations of your role as a leader?

Carla Flanders: I think part of the role of being a leader IS exceeding expectations. I tend to go above and beyond because that’s just how I’m wired. I take great pride in doing what I do. I always put forth my best effort to complete a task in a timely manor, with great accuracy and significant strategic planning. My hope is that by operating with this mindset, I will exceed expectations which in turn reflects positively on who I am as a person as well as my business.

Q7: How does a leader choose which projects he or she should take on?

Luke Saas: The projects that are closest to my heart are the projects that get my attention. As an event creator and promoter, if I am not interested in the project fully I don’t think I can do my job creating interest within the population correctly. If I am selling you a ticket, I 100% believe you will enjoy the ride.

Q8: What can a leader do to promote an environment of innovation?

Josh Silvis: In response to your question: I agree that innovation is critical, especially to a community that is experiencing resurgence like Muskegon. We need innovators in the business community, local government and the community in general. I feel like a large percentage of people in our area are not inclined to deviate from what has “always been done” because it’s familiar and comfortable. Innovators that are willing to question why we have “always” done something a certain way, and are willing to change if they don’t like the answer, keep a community fresh and vibrant. It’s up to community leaders to connect those innovators, find forums to keep those conversations going, and help find ways to make the ideas reality. By being willing to listen to new ideas and get behind the ideas they feel make sense for the community, leaders can create an atmosphere that is friendly to innovation. The more often this happens, the closer we get to an actual environment of innovation.

Q9: One of your company’s ideals is community reinvestment. Why should leaders encourage their companies to reinvest in their community?

Chad Lawie: I wouldn’t presume to know why leaders should encourage companies to invest in their community. Everyone has a different reason, and any reason for community investment seems just as good as the next to me. You’re essentially asking “why should you be a good person?” Because it feels good when you’re nice, and it feels bad when everyone thinks you’re stingy.

At LongerDays.com, the morale of our staff is very important. I love being a virtual assistant, and the point of growing the company was to provide others with the opportunity to feel good about the place they come to work at everyday. One way to do this is to invest in community events and programs that are important to our staff. People feel good to know they aren’t just working for a paycheck, they are doing some greater good at the same time. This improves staff morale (happy people are productive people) and retention (stability), both of which help the bottom line. Insert Gorden Gekko quote here.

Wow! That was quite the series of questions, wasn’t it? I hope you’re able to see that local leaders are doing great work, just like national leaders. Don’t neglect these guys. And don’t be discouraged if you’re one of them.

If you’re leading, and leading well, you’re impacting your community and the world. Keep working hard and doing work that needs to be done. The world needs you.

Question: Who’s a local leader in your area? What are they doing and why’s it important? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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