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Chamber develops leadership training program
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Good leaders have to capitalize on their strengths, but, just as importantly, they also have to admit their weaknesses and find ways to compensate for those. When both of those things happen, leaders thrive.

That’s the mission behind the chamber’s Leadership Newton County program, which is the second year of an evolution that’s seen it really put leadership back into focus.

The program, established in 1986, still has a large focus on orienting people to all aspects of their community and helping them network with fellow leaders, but participants now get true leadership development training led by Hunter Hall, president of the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

The process begins with an assessment of people’s strengths and weaknesses.

“And what I have found, these are generally leadership traits and not something you can get trained in. They’re often true to your DNA; these are things that are consistent in all of your life, not just the current job you’re in,” Hall said. “But the bigger issue we see is that we always want leaders leading from strengths not positions of weakness. We really work through problems and opportunities to live in strengths.”

Hall takes each year’s class through a curriculum called the Four Hats of Leadership, which is based off principles Hall picked up while reading leadership expert Barry Posner at the Harvard Business Review, as well as teaching methods used in Campus Crusade for Christ, where Hall worked earlier in his career.

The four hats of leadership are change agent, direction setter, coach and spokesperson. Leaders need to be able to move between these hats, or leadership styles, to tackle different types of programs. When they don’t, the company can’t move forward. And when that comes to fundamental business model changes, like new technologies, the inability to wear a change agent hat and shift the company’s thinking can be fatal to a business, Hall said.

If a leader can’t wear one of those hats well, then she needs to find someone who can.

Hall said one area he sees this difficulty is in the public sector, where many people become good at wearing the coach hat and become skilled at training employees in specific tasks, but struggle to make fundamental changes. On the other hand, Hall said someone like Mayor Ronnie Johnston is clearly a change agent, because he’s willing to fundamentally change things to improve operations.

However, the program is about more than simply improving a business; program chairman Scott Moore, who is the lead pastor at Eastridge Community Church, said the program is about teaching people to lead in all areas of their life.

“We’re calling it the ripple effect. Not only do they learn what they can do at work, but we tell them that every leader has the opportunity to make a difference in the community; we’re trying to get them to think beyond work,” Moore said.
The goal of groups like the chamber is to make the community a stronger place, and developing community leaders is important to that process.

Those leaders feel more empowered to lead in all aspects of their life when they admit their weaknesses, Moore said, so they can then be free to fully use their strengths to the benefit of the organization.

Covington Fire Chief John McNeil has a master’s degree in leadership, but even he said the “four hats” approach was something he hadn’t seen and helped him look at leadership in a different way.

“We talked about the different facets of leadership and evaluated ourselves…we got to do a little introspection,” said McNeil, who graduated from the 2011-2012 class. “It made me aware more of my leadership style and strengths and weaknesses and what I can do about that and how I can use the folks around me.”

Each participant is also required to examine their workplace and look for a problem, goal, objective or opportunity within the workplace and develop a plan to meet the need. This ties in a real world application and gives the companies who pass for the leadership class a tangible return on their investment.

McNeil looked at how his department could make its re-accreditation process more efficient, while Jan Loomans, director of operational services for the Newton County School System, examined how to improve school nutrition for the county’s 19,000-plus students.

However, for someone like McNeil, who came from outside Newton County, the orientation part is still important, and it still accounts for the bulk of the time spent during the program’s monthly classes. Participants spend one day learning about local government, health and human services and nonprofits, education, state government, economic development and public safety — the cornerstones of society.

Hall said the class is designed to show people what it takes to run a county.

Economic development is essentially the revenue generator of the county, as it’s the businesses that generate tax revenue, while all of the other services form the expense side.

The cost of the Leadership Newton County program is $625 for chamber members and $875 for non-chamber members, though small businesses with less than five employees can qualify for a reduced price if they can demonstrate need.
Moore said spots are already filling up for next year’s class, which will begin in late summer 2013. For more information about the program, visit, call the chamber at 770-786-7510 or contact Moore at 770-786-2048 or