Chambers Build Community Leaders

The Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce kicked off its 26th class of Leadership Grand Traverse last month. These 25 leaders join the more than 750 alumni of the program. That's an extraordinary number of people exposed not only to leadership training, but also the peer-to-peer interaction that helps connect the dots on the inter-dependencies that exist within communities.

Participants in the class come from all sectors, including private, nonprofit and government. Each brings a unique lens through which they view current events and regional dynamics. In the end, they each begin to realize their lens provides just one view of the environment in which they work, live and play.

As potential members of area boards, commissions, elected bodies, or in their own workplace, they need to understand the many aspects of an issue and the various repercussions of a decision. It is a time-consuming and intense process that carries with it a level of humility for the graduates, regardless of what stage of leadership they had already attained.

In 2010, the Traverse City Area Chamber took a one-year hiatus to revisit its flagship leadership program. With the help of consultants Barbara Jordan Ellis and Dr. Lori Kerwin, the Chamber surveyed LGT Alumni, business sponsors, leaders that had never been through the program, and others including focus groups, one-on-one interviews and other techniques. The objective was to determine whether the program was still relevant and the operating model still valid.

As a result, several changes were made to the program. Many addressed format and the value of time for participants. The most notable outcome was to clarify why the program exists and to place it in the context of a continuum of leadership opportunities that address specific needs of leaders, from emerging young professionals to seasoned CEOs. To learn more about the Chamber's leadership continuum, visit its website at

The Traverse City Chamber's story is not unique. Outstanding programs to develop community leaders exist throughout Michigan – some of the most successful are in our own backyard. Leadership Cadillac, Leadership Charlevoix, Leadership Little Traverse (Petoskey), Leadership Gaylord and similar programs at chambers of commerce are equally successful and continue to thrive.

The leadership lessons learned in one community easily transfer to others. So there is a common lexicon that exists among community leaders that helps advance northern Michigan's ability to work collaboratively on a large scale to address issues of economy, governance, arts, natural resources, human services, health care, education and others.

The work to develop the region's bench strength of "home-grown" leaders is far from finished. There is room throughout the continuum for improvement and even more substantive leadership development opportunities. The Northern Michigan Chamber Alliance has that as a goal for the near future. It's also part of Traverse City Area Chamber's comprehensive strategic plan.

Another priority is to better engage the alumni of the various leadership programs so that learning is life-long, and not just a stop along the way. Stay tuned for all the great things to come from each chamber as we work together to grow leadership development in our communities and across the region.

Doug Luciani is president and CEO of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce.