Ed O’Malley: Redefining leadership

Ed O’Malley, president & CEO of Kansas Leadership Center
Ed O’Malley, president & CEO of Kansas Leadership Center Courtesy photo

Clearly, I was not in the room when the good folks at The Wichita Eagle first kicked around this notion of a “Progress Edition,” but I can imagine the conversation:

“Wichita’s a thriving community.”

“Many things are happening here that we simply don’t have the column inches to cover.”

“As publisher of the daily newspaper, it’s our role to provide some sort of a ‘check-in’ on positive community movement.”

“What if we gathered some of this news together and created a special edition?”

At the Kansas Leadership Center, we have a name for those kinds of conversations. We call it “diagnosing the situation,” and it’s one of four basic leadership ideas at the core of our training.

Often leadership starts with a question. We allow space for our participants to drill beneath the surface and fully grasp — very often for the first time in their lives — the exact nature of the questions and challenges they seek to address. Too often, people jump to action steps too early, and the result is ineffective.

Kansans learn these skills at the Kansas Leadership Center & Kansas Health Foundation Conference Center at the southwest corner of Douglas and Topeka in downtown Wichita. Maybe you’ve seen our building, perhaps you’ve even glanced our way and seen dozens of people inside and wondered what in the world goes on in there?

When we opened the doors in the summer of 2013, we envisioned dozens — if not hundreds — of Kansans coming here, spending time and leaving equipped to lead more effectively on difficult challenges facing their company, organization or community.

Nearly 8,000 people passed through our space last year. We’re beginning to fulfill the hopes and dreams we had when we first envisioned this space.

We operate from a statewide frame of reference, but Wichita holds a special place in our heart. It’s home.

Some of those 8,000 spent just an afternoon, many others spent multiple days here, working to “sharpen their saw” and become more effective at leading.

Five hundred Wichitans were in this camp. That’s 500 of your friends and neighbors who have redefined their concept of leadership and are putting what they learned at the Kansas Leadership Center into action.

In addition to diagnosing their situation, these 500 Wichitans are practicing new skills aimed at managing themselves, energizing others and finally, making conscious, purposeful choices around some sort of an intervention within their system — however they define “system.”

Five hundred Wichitans who have redefined their concept of leadership and are confidently moving forward.

Our tendency is to think of leadership within narrow, defined parameters of authority: The individuals at the top of the flow chart, those with the corner offices, those whom we elect to public office.

At the Kansas Leadership Center, we seek to expand and redefine that common perception.

Our training is grounded in the concept that leadership is an activity, not a position. It’s mobilizing others to difficult work for the common good.

If you’re reading The Wichita Eagle’s Progress Edition, I’ll make an assumption: I assume you care, at least a little bit, about your community. Chances are, you may have already experienced the KLC ideas and are putting them into action.

Think for a minute about your system. It may be a school, a church, a business, a nonprofit, your community. It could be a subset of one of those, like a PTO or a site council, a church board or committee, a team of middle-managers, a collection of C-suiters. It could be a compartment or group within local city or county government.

Imagine moving forward by leveraging ideas available right here in Wichita. In that brand new, state-of-the-art conference center downtown.

At the Kansas Leadership Center, I suspect we’re more attuned to the challenges and opportunities in our community than most. While we cannot and do not offer grand solutions to “solve” the challenges facing Wichita, we offer small steps forward to collectively create a more compelling big picture.

Greater progress for you, your company, your community. The type of progress that underlies the entire reason for this special edition of The Eagle.

Ed O’Malley is president & CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center, which works with individuals, systems and organizations to create cultures that equip people to lead.