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  • Writer's pictureCameron Cochran

Training Program Relaunches as Wilson Leadership Institute

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Posted Monday, September 2, 2019

By Brie Handgraaf, Wilson Daily Times

Wilson’s leadership pipeline program has received a makeover and organizers are now searching for members of the next class.

The Wilson Leadership Institute debuted in 2015 as the Impact Initiative — a collaborative program put together by three organizations with the goal of training locals in the roles and responsibilities for nonprofit and public service leadership positions.

“We’ve observed the need for a new wave of leaders to serve in these roles,” said Wilson Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Simons. “As some of our current leaders get ready to hand the baton off to others, they want to feel comfortable there is a pipeline behind the next generation to enable them to confront the needs facing the community in the years to come.”

Wilson Forward, the chamber and Wilson Economic Development Council partnered to create the curriculum to address the void in leadership training. In addition to half-day classes covering a gamut of topics every other month for a year and a half, the program tasks participants with picking a research topic that affects the Wilson community and putting together a white paper. The 15 graduates in the first cohort decided to study unemployment.

“The first class focused on unemployment and developed a white paper to address some of the challenges identified through interviews in the community,” Wilson Forward Executive Director Paula Benson said. “That paper and study has been referenced in many conversations and initiatives since they graduated.”

The latest class studied career exploration and readiness among middle school students. The findings will be presented Oct. 10 at the Wilson Forward annual meeting.

“This class has focused on what we can do downstream to address some of the issues that arise upstream,” Benson said. “They evaluated how we as a community can support positive outcomes for youth.”

While the participants took a broad look at the community, organizers evaluated ways to improve the program for the cohort that will start in January. Simons said pulling together alumni, current participants and the original advisory board provided insight that led to some changes.

“Part of the reason for the name change was to be more descriptive about the program itself. The chamber’s Dynamic Leadership program was never designed to deploy leaders to service opportunities, but for leaders within those organizations to become more informed about the community,” Simons said. “The Leadership Institute is different in that participants have already demonstrated a leadership skill set, but we want to expose them to opportunities they might not have been open to before and prepare them for those roles.”

Benson said the newest cohort will undergo a more thorough inventory of leadership interests that can ultimately help match them with community opportunities. The curriculum also will incorporate a public speaking component and a crash course in the differences between various leadership appointments.

“One thing that came up over and over again with alumni of the program and community leaders was to explain the differences in responsibilities and expectations for various roles,” Simons said. “Service on a small charitable nonprofit board is different from a regulatory board like the planning board or a community impact appointment like with the chamber or Wilson Forward. Each role has different requirements and necessary skill sets.”

Benson and Simons said they’re optimistic that the changes will ensure talented Wilsonians are prepared to take on leadership roles and better the community. Applications are available today for locals interested in taking part in the third iteration of the program with finalists undergoing interviews in October.

“This is a selective process, so not everyone who expresses interest should assume they’ll be selected to participate,” Simons said. “We’re looking for highly skilled potential leaders who could benefit from some polishing of their abilities in order to serve the Wilson community going forward. This shouldn’t just be resume fodder for someone who wants to go through the class and move on.”

Visit for more information about the program or to apply.

“I don’t think we’ll ever reach a point where the program is perfect and can’t be improved upon,” Simons said. “We’re constantly evaluating and ensuring it delivers high quality leadership, so while our name and logo got some window dressing, the purpose and objective hasn’t wavered.”

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