Leading the way in cultivating local talent

Darren Martin, production manager at MK Martin, is one of the participants in the first year of Leadership Woolwich. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]

Often, we think of leadership as a natural-born talent – something that shines through an individual innately, under the right circumstances. But, just like with public-speaking or playing a musical instrument, the qualities that make a good leader are ones that can be learnt and practiced and taught.

At least that is the idea behind the Leadership Woolwich program. Co-sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Elmira, in partnership with The Achievement Centre (TAC), the program is designed to teach universally applicable skills in management and self-governance that extend beyond just the business world.

“There are 12 lessons, so we meet once a month for a year. And it’s designed to help individuals become better leaders on a personal level, so become more personally responsible, set goals for themselves, motivate themselves, understand people and how they work,” explained Wayne Vanwyck, past-president of the Elmira Kiwanis chapter and founder of TAC.

The lessons are structured with a heavy emphasis on getting real and distinct results, says Vanwyck, whether that’s in a professional or in a personal capacity. Participants are encouraged in the earlier parts of the program to identify the results they would like to achieve, and then work towards realizing those goals.

“Our goal is to find ways to help them to get, at least, a four-to-one return on investment. So we’re not looking at just training people or educating people or giving them knowledge. What we really want them to do is help them to get better results,” he said.

For Cheryl Fisher, general manager of Kiwanis Transit and a key figure responsible for the creation and operation of the rural transit service, the convenience of having the program based in the townships has been immensely helpful. Fisher has been with Kiwanis Transit for 26 years in a leadership capacity, but nonetheless found value in joining the program’s inaugural session, which launched last year.

Cheryl Fisher, another participant in the program, has been a key leader behind Kiwanis Transit service in the townships. [Faisal Ali / The Observer]
“It’s been amazing,” said Fisher. “First of all, it’s a very high quality training session which is something that I was looking for. Secondly the fact that it’s local: I originally was looking at maybe having to drive into Mississauga or into Toronto once a month or a couple times a month. And having something like this local was perfect.”

The timing of the program’s creation was ideal, says Fisher, as the Kiwanis Transit has recently undergone an expansion in services, including the addition of a new bus route to Elmira. Classes covered subjects from dealing with stress to providing performance evaluations of employees, but Fisher notes that, for her, the biggest draw of the program was its results-oriented approach.

“We’re expanding here, and we had some staff changes going on, and I really want to have something that was results focused, and I think that’s really the key word there: results.”

Darren Martin was another local professional to join the leadership program when it launched last year. A production manager at MK Martin, an Elmira-based manufacturer of farm equipment, Martin is the grandson of the company’s founder, Melvin Martin.

“I decided to join that course because I wanted to build my skills at leadership and become more efficient with my own time management,” explained Darren Martin.

Like Fisher, Martin too appreciated the program’s focus on setting and fulfilling goals, as well as the lessons on time management and interpersonal skills.

“I found it very helpful, it was a great experience. It’s given me a chance to grow and also be more confident,” he said.

The Leadership Woolwich’s first year of programming is almost at an end, and the program will be restarting in October for another year. They will also be offering two free introductory classes on September 10 and 13 at the Council Chambers at the Woolwich Township office in Elmira.

The program acts as a fundraiser for the Kiwanis Club as well, with proceeds being put back into the community.

“There are certain things that people do naturally, I think, that would indicate that they’re natural leaders,” said Vanwyck. “But there are a lot of people you wouldn’t think are natural leaders, but they do lead very well. And part of that is their ability to communicate effectively and to understand people, to be personally responsible. And those are all things that can be taught.”

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