A group of emerging leaders in Athens-Clarke County is learning more about their community and each other with the help of UGA’s J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

The Fanning Institute helped facilitate the opening retreat for the 2017-2018 class of LEAD Athens, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce’s adult community leadership program.

Matt Bishop, director of the Fanning Institute, and Brendan Leahy, a public service faculty member at the institute, led the opening retreat, helping class members discover more about their own personal leadership styles, the leadership styles of their classmates, and how to communicate with different leadership styles.

Bishop also presented the class with key demographic and socioeconomic information about Athens-Clarke County.

“The opening retreat serves as the foundation for the entire year,” said Kevin Clark, LEAD Athens steering committee chair. “It encapsulates for the class the purpose and importance of LEAD Athens, and the Fanning Institute does a great job of leading the class through a great deal of information and curriculum in one weekend.”

The retreat allows class members to examine the type of leader they are and begin thinking about what they, as a community leader, can bring to Athens-Clarke County, Clark said.

Also, learning more about the community through Bishop’s presentation often gives many class members a new perspective, he said.

“We find that even those who have seen that information before find out something they didn’t know about Athens,” said Clark. “Then, they can process that information in relation to their leadership style.”

The opening retreat also provides a chance for the class to begin coming together as a team.

“This class connected so quickly,” said Clark. “Matt and Brendan do a great job of creating an atmosphere that allows the participants to remain engaged.”

Understanding one’s personal leadership and building relationships are integral to an individual’s leadership growth, said Bishop, and retreats such as this one accomplish both.

“Having a ‘mastery of self’ and understanding how your make-up, traits, and experiences shape your leadership style is a vital first step to becoming a better leader and collaborator,” said Bishop. “Examining that information and then bringing it to the larger group setting through retreats like this allows each class member to better appreciate their leadership abilities and begin learning how they can apply those and work with each other to strengthen their communities.”

The opening retreat was a great introduction to the program, said Johnelle Simpson, 2017-2018 LEAD Athens participant.

“Being able to learn about our personal attributes and those of our fellow team members helped everyone form a bond that will aid in discussions throughout the remainder of LEAD Athens,” said Simpson. “The facilitation led by the Fanning Institute challenged us to stretch ourselves when it came to conversations, ideas, and opportunities that are present throughout the remainder of the program.”

Overall, it was a full, energized, and exciting weekend, said Sarah McKinney, a fellow 2017-2018 LEAD Athens participant.

“I headed into the weekend knowing I would enjoy the experience,” said McKinney. “What I did not expect was the variety of outcomes the weekend provided, from increasing my self-awareness to pushing comfort zones. Over one weekend, 30 strangers met and advanced to fast friends. We learned more about ourselves, gained practical application of our own personalities and how they relate to others, and explored the possibilities of our personalities and leading, working, and following others. The retreat exceeded my expectations.”

Each year, the retreat serves as a key part of LEAD Athens, said Clark.

“I think what we do in LEAD Athens would stand up against any similar program in the state,” said Clark. “The Fanning Institute is a big part of that, and we are really blessed to have the institute as a key partner in our program.”

LEAD Athens is just one of the many adult community leadership programs in which the Fanning Institute is involved.

In FY17, the Fanning Institute implemented community leadership programming for adults in 101 communities.