A Leadership Shelby education

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Stuck in the middle of my videotape collection at home is one titled &uot;Leadership Shelby County.&uot;

If you pop the tape in the VCR, you will see a strange, short program – all about Shelby County. The stars (and I use that term loosely) included Susan Johnston of Family Connection, Ken Jackson of Dudley C. Jackson Inc., Kathleen Imhoff of the Columbiana Library, Tom Smitherman of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and Robin White of Alabama Power. We were a motley crew and the program is nothing if not amusing.

There are scenes of Susan and Ken, playing a happily married couple, running toward one another in slow motion. Another scene shows Kathleen as the stereotypical librarian, Robin as a passenger on a plane (actually a bus we’d convinced someone to loan us) and normally quiet Tom as Barney Fife.

The purpose of this video – other than to make us look silly – was to educate our fellow classmates on all Shelby County had to offer. We were all part of the inaugural class of Leadership Shelby County, the first group to go through the networking and leadership skills training program.

The year was 1994. Now, 10 years later, Leadership Shelby County is readying to celebrate its 10 year anniversary. They are marking the occasion with a Sept. 21 reception for alumni at Inverness Country Club.

I’m going to be out of town on that day and won’t be able to attend, but I wish I could. The group of people I met through the program and the experiences it provided me stay with me to this day.

None of us knew what to expect the first day of Leadership. The board members were charting new territory and none of the participants, many of whom did not know each other, had a complete picture of what was expected of them. We quickly learned.

During our opening retreat, we completed a ropes course that included a series of tasks designed to build our leadership skills. Some of these tasks were fun. Others were scary, including the &uot;free fall,&uot; where we stood on a platform five feet off the ground and fell back into the arms of our classmates.

That was mild, however, compared to the pole we faced at the end of the day.

The telephone pole was some 25 feet tall and had a tendency to sway a bit.

The goal was for each person – harnessed, of course – to climb the pole using the sparsely spaced rungs, and then, putting all your weight on one foot, hoist yourself up to the top where you could stand.

Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, you had to jump off the pole in an attempt to reach the trapeze suspended about three feet out from the pole. That trapeze seemed like it was two miles away and, even though you knew the harness’ ropes would keep you from hitting the ground, the prospect of jumping off the pole was terrifying. One by one, however, we scaled that pole, cheering each other on as we went. Some caught the trapeze. Some didn’t. For some, the biggest challenge was just mustering up the courage to climb the pole.

It didn’t matter what the person accomplished. It was the effort it took for them to attempt it and the support they received from the ground below that mattered.

Things got easier after that day. There weren’t any more poles, just days spent learning about different aspects of life in Shelby County.

We studied the healthcare and education systems, learned about the challenges that face law enforcement and our courts and enjoyed the area’s fine arts offerings.

At the end of the session, our small groups completed a special project. My small group, nicknamed the Sharks, produced and even starred in the above-mentioned infamous video.

That video had quite a shelf life. For several years after we graduated from Leadership Shelby County, people would come up to me and say they had seen the video at their graduation. Perhaps it was used as an example of what not to do, or only a reminder that perfectly normal people can act awfully silly when they are put together in front of a camera.

Looking back at that first class – the class of 1994-95 – it’s amazing to see what people have accomplished. There’s Allan Lowe, who became mayor of Columbiana and Barbara McCollum, who served as mayor of Hoover. There’s Karen Ream’s name, too. At the time, she was with the North Shelby County Chamber of Commerce. It’s now the Greater Shelby County Chamber of Commerce,

an organization which has done so much to help the area.

The class included businesspeople, too, including Susan Schein of Susan Schein Chrysler, Plymouth, Dodge; Pat Shugrue of Bama Truss and Components; and Carol Smith of the First National Bank of Shelby County. And, Sue Tedford, who at the time was with Shelby Senior Services, Walter Turner, then with the Shelby County Commission; and Allison Ward with Alabama Power.

And of course, there’s Ellen Corbett, the backbone of the program who has kept it and the participants on track all these years.

Leadership’s people and procedures have changed through the years but the lesson it teaches hasn’t.

There will always be value in learning more about how you can work to improve the area in which you live and learn more about the people who share it with you.

I hope the Leadership alumni enjoy the reunion and share their own memories.

And, just in case they forget, they can always call me for copy of that video – it’s worth its weight in comedy gold.

Leada DeVaney is the publisher of the Hartselle Enquirer and the Madison County Record. She is the former managing editor of the Shelby County Reporter