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Seventeen community members graduated from Leadership Emporia last week. This was the 34th cohort of the program.

Leadership Emporia graduated its 34th class Friday, continuing a tradition of growing and developing a civic-minded community.

Emporia Area Chamber of Commerce president Jeanine McKenna said the 17 new graduates were added to the program’s list of alumni. Participants successfully completed a challenging — yet rewarding — seven-session course on “adaptive leadership.”

“Technical issues are easy to fix,” she said. “You break an arm, you go to a doctor and fix it. If your car breaks down, you would go to a professional and get it fixed. Adaptive is different because it requires change within us and change within other.”

McKenna said we are constantly looking for that “quick fix.” While those fixes may help for awhile, it’s not truly a long-lasting solution. Leadership Emporia teaches people to look beyond that “quick fix.”

“Because society wants those quick fixes, we try to fix those adaptive challenges with technical things,” she said. “It might help for awhile, but do you truly see the change? That’s what Leadership Emporia does.”

Participants are asked to bring a challenge they’re working on, whether it’s a work-based issue or something more personal. Through the course of the curriculum, McKenna said participants go back to that challenge and look at ways they can use the tools they have been picking up to reframe how they look for solutions.

Leadership Emporia began in 1989 as a traditional leadership program, where different sectors — such as government, business and service — were discussed on different days.

The development of the Kansas Leadership Center in 2005-06, however, began to change how the course was handled.

“We’ve always tried to continually evolve to help our program to be better,” McKenna said.

She said businesses and organizations that continue to send their employees to the training is proof that it is a valuable resource.

“We have a lot of businesses that continually send because they do see when the employee comes back that there is growth within them,” she said. “It does create a better work environment; we’re getting that feedback back. Businesses send people through when somebody’s moved up to a new position, so there may be new management or a new working environment where they’re the boss, where before they weren’t.”

McKenna has personally received calls from past participants as they have received promotions over the years, or made the decision to go back to school. One call came from someone who decided to get their master’s degree because of Leadership Emporia.

“People have really embraced it,” she said. “It’s something you have to practice because we all go back to our default of learning those quick fixes. It’s something you have to be aware of.”

Leadership Emporia also tends to have its “own language.” McKenna said those who have been through the program, or through KLC’s leadership trainings, recognize the language.

“When you’re sitting in a meeting and you start asking questions that are Leadership Emporia-type questions, you’ll see in meetings where people will kind of go, ‘Oh, I know where she’s going with this. I know why she’s asking him,’” McKenna said. “They’ll start asking questions and you start getting that synergy of the group. Everybody starts catching on, even if they don’t ‘know’ the language.”

Applications for the 2022 session will open up in July and August and the next class is scheduled for Sept. - Dec. 2022.

“We try not to just do the same curriculum every year,” McKenna said. “It’s intense, but good. We just are trying to get people to think differently, because how many times have we all said, ‘I’ve tried everything’? That’s just one extreme to another.”

Leadership Emporia is open to anyone in any sector. Scholarships are available to help offset the cost of the program.

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