My experience taking the 10-month LEADERSHIP Philadelphia core class

LEADERSHIP Philadelphia is a more than 50 year old civic society development nonprofit that has been the model for similar groups around the country. Among its programs, its furthest reaching is the annual Core Class, which selectively takes 110 mostly mid-career candidates from corporate, philanthropic, institutional and community groups and takes them through a 10-month program about Philadelphia, leadership and civil society.

Since 1993, Liz Dow, the well-connected, well-regarded, clear leader has been the nonprofit’s executive director, and I was blessed to come to know her in the past three years. It’s through that very meaningful relationship, with someone whom I have come to consider a confidant, that I was offered the chance to apply for and be accepted into the 2013 Core Class.

As the next class gets settled, I wanted to digest what I learned from the experience.

leadership philadelphia junto 11 class photo girard college
Leadership Philadelphia Junto 11 Class of 2013 at Girard College from left: (front row) Nathan Norstrud of Vanguard, Theresa Singleton of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Kelly Herrenkohl of the Vetri Foundation, Megan Pinto of WHYY, (second row) Craig Zappetti of Saul Ewing, Christopher Wink of Philly, Bob Steinke of Janney Montgomery Scott, (third row) Leah Avery of Sunoco Logistics, Rich Chapkis of Comcast and Mark Haas of PECO.

[Full Disclosure: LEADERSHIP’s Core Class has tuition costs, some of which for me were offset by scholarship and in-kind web strategy advising I am offering Dow and her team. I also paid a portion. I have disclosed this also in my reporting.]

From the first class at Lincoln Financial Field in September 2012 to our final class at World Cafe Live this past June, we met once a month, mostly in smaller 10-person teams, put together carefully by Dow and her staff, at locations throughout the city. The point was very much that these smaller teams were a mix — ours included people coming from corporate, nonprofit and more creative roles. We were meant to learn from each other.

My top goal for the class was to better acclimate and connect myself to a corporate community of which I know very little. I wanted to mature some, too, both of which I felt came during the long-period of infrequent but intense, day-long interactions with teammates coming from different backgrounds.

I brought a kind of passion, entrepreneurial attitude and Philadelphia connectivity that many of my peers lacked, and they gave to me a kind of learned, corporate culture that is still very strange to me. My time helped me better understand what my place is and could be in Philadelphia and, by extension, broader life.

I’m not entirely sure what I can and can’t share since the classes are meant to be officially off the record, so I won’t go in to too much detail about the program itself, except to say that, with great sincerity, in what could very easily be a very boring, very manufactured and inauthentic corporate seminar run amok, Dow and her team create a far more interesting experience than you might imagine. They are surely challenged with taking 110 people, most of whom likely have very little understanding or even appreciation for the city that they may or may not work in, but they put together a program that makes me proud our future business leaders are taking.

I am very honored to now be a LEADERSHIP Philadelphia Core Class graduate, which could in a past generation seem like a closed-door, un-Democratic, boys club, but which Dow is continuing to shape 20 years into her tenure. Our class was diverse, in industry and religion and race and age and experience and more, and she is hungrily on the look for how Philadelphia is changing — which is why there were a few technology community representatives in the class, no doubt.

At a recent lunch, we also talked about how entrepreneurship could have a stronger presence during the class, an example of Dow continues to shape the class to reflect broad trends and local priorities.

The 110 members and staff of the 2012-2013 Leadership Philadelphia class at Girard College in September 2012.
The 110 members and staff of the 2012-2013 Leadership Philadelphia class at Girard College in September 2012.

Rather than say much more about how the program worked, instead I wanted to share some of the biggest lessons that I am keeping with me from the speakers and panels and discussions and readings:

  • “Commerce happens where trade routes cross and they cross at airports today,” said Tom Morr of Select Greater Philadelphia.
  • “Yes and,” the staple of improv was introduced by the Philly Improv Theater, but its utility in organizations is a valuable lesson. Always try to build on what your team says or wants to do, rather than always start with no. This also means bringing solutions, not just asking questions.
  • In 1960, a third of Philadelphia jobs were in manufacturing, now that’s less than five percent, said Center City District chief Paul Levy in a presentation reminiscent of another tax-focused discussion I reported on. What new industry could replace the 300,000 jobs lost in that time? Our tax structure is still structured from when a company like Baldwin locomotives or Disston Saw Works couldn’t afford to move their large physical footprint, but now businesses move.
  • “You can’t lose or gain weight living in Center City,” said Levy, in a cheeky way of describing successful city downtowns, with varied restaurant culture and walkable density.
  • Economic growth can either come with more engines or you can take off breaks on the caboose, said Ahmeenah Young of the Convention Center.
  • “Food banks are the ER of the food system” said Bill Clark, the founder of Philabundance. In 2001, it took $0.14 to deliver a pound of food, and now it’s $0.50 because of a higher cost of acquisition and a focus on health, which means fresher, more expensive foods.
  • Highlight good work — Though it’s something I’ve taken an interest in before, I made a clearer committment to thanking people around me and highlighting good work, letting them know I appreciate their time and effort.
  • “A brand is the promise of an experience,” said Ed Tettemer.
  • Impact is a small pebble thrown into dormant water.
  • Education institutions are protecting industrial era teaching for authority and singular skills at a time when massive change should be undergone, said Penn professor Ted Hershberg. Charter schools were celebrated by famed teachers union executive Al Shanker as a way to experiment and then incorporate those lessons into schools. Instead. charters are seen as a privitization path breaking teachers unions — for example, if 86 charter schools in Philadelphia, just four had unions as of fall 2012. I shared more notes from Hershberg here.
  • Achievement scores reflect family income, while growth in scores reflect teacher impact.
  • Attribution error — we judge ourselves by our intentions judge everyone else by the impact.
  • Relationships people and results people: Do you care more about human interaction or professional outcomes? They are different and when you understand who is who, you can work and supervise better

In addition to those big lessons, there were also clear, meaningful and fun experiences:


  • I am an ENTJ — For the first time, I took the noted Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test and defined my personality type a bit. ENTJs have a natural tendency to marshal and direct. This may be expressed with the charm and finesse of a world leader or with the insensitivity of a cult leader. The ENTJ requires little encouragement to make a plan.”
  • I’m internally focused — As depicted above, consultancy Hay Group assessed my answers to a ‘picture story exercise’ in which I wrote narratives for given generic photos and charted my prioritizing ‘achievement,’ affiliation and power compared to my classmates. As was also assessed in an emotional quotient test, I tend to be much more focused on output than on feelings. Yeah, that’s true.
  • First impressions— On the first day of class, all 110 class members gave a one-minute introduction to themselves. It was long but interesting. We took notes on our first impression of each person, which I recently reviewed and I’m interested that so many people mentioned fathers, but far fewer mentioned mothers as a source of inspiration. Most class members were from out of the region and many were very new, clearly sent by their companies to get up to speed on the region. There also was a fun game in which all of our smaller 10-person teammembers had prepared a one line story of something surprising and unique about themselves and we had to guess which was from whom.
  • I got to ride in a police helicopter during a shift and talk about their experiences.
  • I really enjoyed the ‘Pay It Forward’ project all teams had to execute.
  • I sat in on a board meeting, which helped prepare me to join the board of the Pen and Pencil Club.
  • We were offered tickets to the orchestra at the Mann Center and though I couldn’t attend, it did spark me to go to the beautiful outdoor venue for the first time.
  • At each class, we did quick three-minute drills, in which we just wrote what we were currently thinking about. I only wish we received all of them at the end of the class. I’d love to look back and see how my thoughts advanced.
  • The second day of class was a corporate team-building style adventure day outside at Girard College, which was fun and beautiful.

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