Training the Next Generation of City Leaders

single-meta-cal January 25, 2017
Pictured above:  Mayor Tommy Battle greets the City’s fourth class in its Leadership Academy by telling them “You’re what our future needs.”

It’s a big building — a bunch of buildings, really – with a lot of moving parts and a lot of people.

The City of Huntsville has more than 2,000 people involved in so many diverse roles, sometimes making it difficult to understand the roles of fellow employees.

Enter the City of Huntsville’s Leadership Academy.

It’s designed to bring some of those moving parts closer together, educating more deeply the program participants about the city government and the city itself.

“It helps us come together as a team,” says Byron Thomas, the City’s Director of Human Resources. “The most important part about the Leadership Academy is to learn about other departments and what they do. It helps build morale and it leads to better customer service.”

To wit: One day, Thomas got an urgent phone call from an acquaintance who knew he worked for the City. Though Thomas couldn’t help, “Having met a guy in another department through the Leadership Academy, I knew exactly who to call.”

“People get to know each other,” says Mayor Tommy Battle, who created the Academy in 2009. “That helps us as we interact with the public and it gives us some synergy within.”

Leadership Academy is loosely based on the work of Leadership Huntsville and the other community leadership groups across the country. It works to build those bonds among people who may well have been strangers or casual acquaintances, and exposes them to a broad variety of experiences and experts in the city.

You’re in your own bubble right now. This will get you out of that.”

On the morning of Jan. 18, 25 employees with varying responsibilities and terms of experience with the city gathered in the Council Chambers as the fourth class of the Leadership Academy. It’d be shorter to list City of Huntsville departments that weren’t represented rather than those who were. Typical of such a gathering, the people gravitated toward the seats in the rear of the auditorium, and there was an air of anxiousness into the room. Just what have I gotten myself into?

“You’re going to have eight months together and you’ll learn different things and build leadership with each other,” promised Kimon Washington, who is leading this class.

Battle greeted the class, praising them and encouraging them simultaneously as being “the foundation blocks who make this city work. To make it be a safe place, a great place to live, a great place to build. You’re important to the City of Huntsville with what you do every day, you’re the foundation blocks. You’re what our future needs.”

After the brief indoctrination, the participants climbed aboard a trolley bound for their first stop. They arrived at Redstone Gateway, making a visit so behind-the-scenes they snaked through the kitchen of a restaurant before journeying around the still-feels-new property.

Thus began their magical mastery tour that will last the next eight months. The group will meet one Wednesday each month. Following this year, an Advanced Leadership Academy awaits, as does participation in an alumni group of the three previous classes.

“You’re in your own bubble right now,” Washington told the Class of 2017. “This will get you out of that.”

They’ll know each other. They’ll know their city better. They’ll know their employer better.

And they’ll know who to call.

Image of leadership trainees

Members of the City’s fourth leadership class take a field trip to tour the new Redstone Gateway development. Jeff Grimes serves as an attorney in the legal department and engages in some good-natured ribbing with his class trainer Kimon Washington and HR Director Byron Thomas.