Op-Ed

FIU can train better county leaders

FIU’s Chapman Graduate School of Business.
FIU’s Chapman Graduate School of Business.

One morning in 1999, Los Angeles Lakers guard John Celestand woke up excited. For once, Celestand thought he could beat teammate Kobe Bryant to the team practice facility. Bryant, who lived more than a half hour away, had recently injured his wrist.

When Celestand arrived, Bryant was already on the court — cast on his right hand and drenched with sweat.

Elite athletes like Bryant and Serena Williams understand the importance of constantly and relentlessly refining their abilities through training, practice and sacrifice.

The imperative of development is not peculiar to athletes. A 2012 study found that U.S. firms spend almost $14 billion annually on leadership development. Companies such as General Electric, Boeing, and Deloitte continue to invest in training their leaders — even through the depths of recession — because the long-term costs of foregoing that investment are much greater.

These companies are on to something. They understand that leadership is the axis on which the world turns. If a community is to realize its full potential, its leaders from all facets of public and private life must possess the tools to develop and grow.

We are determined to offer our leaders in Miami-Dade County access to such tools. This month, Florida International University’s Chapman Graduate School of Business will partner with Miami-Dade County government to deliver the inaugural phase of the Chapmanville Leadership Development Program (CLDP), aimed at training the county government’s top 300 leaders. Named after the late Knight-Ridder CEO and community leader Alvah H. Chapman, Jr., CLDP is inspired by General Electric’s Crotonville, the great corporate leadership training program conceived and implemented under legendary CEO Jack Welch and Professor Noel Tichy.

Perhaps the most ambitious attempt yet to train public-sector leaders, CLDP adheres to an innovative, eclectic and experiential pedagogical philosophy. County leaders will engage with a world-class program faculty that includes experts such as Hitendra Wadwha, Columbia Business School professor and founder of the Institute for Personal Leadership; Daniel Shapiro, founder of the Program on Negotiation at the Harvard Law School; and Tara Swart, MIT Senior Lecturer and director of the school’s Neuroscience for Leadership program.

CLDP’s methodological breadth is global in scope — we’ve consulted top scholars from universities including Yale, Stanford, London Business School, INSEAD and many others to help us craft the curriculum. Throughout the program, county leaders will apply the leadership insights of scholars from the most diverse array of fields imaginable — from nutrition to neuroscience to theater.

Academic literature on leadership indicates that while some elements of competent leadership are innate, many can be taught. Research also suggests that growing as a leader is a lifelong journey — one that requires constant self-evaluation and reevaluation of one’s abilities and goals. We aim to assist county leaders on their personal journeys — to help them become more thoughtful, self-aware, introspective and, ultimately, more effective.

Community organizations such as the Knight Foundation, Miami Foundation, Chapman Foundation and FIU Chapman Graduate School of Business have demonstrated their commitment to our cause, contributing in cash or in kind some $250,000 to CLDP.

As a public program, CLDP was designed with taxpayers first in mind. It will cost county government $350,000 — a small drop in the county’s $7 billion budget. What’s more, there will be no opportunity cost with respect to other county programs, as CLDP funds derive from a portion of the county budget allocated exclusively for development. We acknowledge CLDP’s novelty and untraditional nature, and are sensitive to potential concerns about cost-effectiveness. We expect, however, that our program’s benefits will far exceed its costs.

To further ensure that taxpayers are served well, we will conduct an evaluation of CLDP’s impact on county governance. If our assessment yields no significant results, we will recommend discontinuing. But if we achieve our desired effect, a world of possibilities will open up.

CLDP is designed to reproduce itself. As we expand to train more than the initial cadre of 30 county leaders, we will invite some previous senior participants to join the next phase of the program as faculty. Other former participants will carry the program’s leadership lessons with them, both in their official capacities and as they mentor budding county leaders.

Moreover, the evaluation will have application far beyond South Florida. The results of CLDP will lay bare the truth regarding the effectiveness of leadership development in a public context for scholars and practitioners around the world to see. Indeed, CLDP might well prove to be a springboard for further efforts to enhance county and municipal governance across the country. The outcome of our pre- and post-program evaluations will help researchers and local leaders make exactly that determination.

FIU’s Center for Leadership, founded 10 years ago, defined its purpose with the slogan “Better leaders. Better world.” Today we carry that precept with us in our effort to help forge better leaders for a better Miami-Dade.

Modesto A. “Mitch” Maidique was president of FIU for 23 years and now serves as Alvah H. Chapman, Jr. Eminent Scholar Chair in Leadership and CLDP’s executive director. David A. Nabors is an FIU alumnus and serves as CLDP’s research director.

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