City-led leadership programs offer us the chance to fully immerse ourselves in our communities. Leadership Iowa (LI) takes this a step farther by letting our team get involved and learn about state-wide issues. Architect David Hofmann shares his take on the program in part two of this three part series.

Leadership Iowa is a program of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry (ABI) Foundation. The mission of the program is to educate, inspire and grow a network of informed leaders and to encourage their ongoing local and statewide engagement to create a better future for Iowans.

My LI experience consisted of eight sessions with one optional class-organized session. Classes were hosted in rural and urban communities across Iowa. Sessions covered important topics such as Agriculture & Renewable Resources, Education, Government, Manufacturing & Community Vitality, Economic Development, and Healthcare.

Each session was a whirlwind two-day affair offering facility tours, panel discussions and meetings with those deeply connected to each topic. Social activities (breaks, evening meals, and after-hours fellowship) allowed us to connect on a personal level. The final session and graduation were to coincide with the annual ABI conference, but the pandemic forced some changes to the final three sessions.

Through a visioning exercise the first day, our presenter asked us to look deep within and identify what each of us wanted from life. Then we would share individual goals on what we would accomplish alongside our LI experience. Feeling apprehensive in front a roomful of as-yet strangers, many struggled to share this personal realization. As I am sure many others did, I held back, offering an admittedly weak answer having something to do with gaining “career clarity.” It must have worked because I3. joined the INVISION team before our 5th session. Despite what many would describe as a painful experience, it had the desired effect — bonding the group by sharing our vulnerabilities. After this day, we moved forward as a team with the wish to help each other live our best lives, accountable to each other and ourselves.

Despite not being able to tour Waverly Health Center (an INVISION client) during Session VII, the class heard from CEO Jim Atty as part of a panel discussion on managing a health crisis. Naturally, this was dominated by COVID-19. At this point, providers and public health officials were still frantically trying to get a handle on the situation. We had the unique experience to hear from those on the front lines early in the fight, and to understand how healthcare systems, already under strain, quickly adapted to the new viral reality. We also spoke of what changes to healthcare delivery and policy might be made to improve overall community health and to better manage future public health crises. For me, the session was timely as INVISION was in the midst of schematic design for the UnityPoint Health Marshalltown Hospital.

By the time of our postponed graduation, many of us reflected on day one and suffering Impostor Syndrome – the sense everyone in the room was more accomplished and we didn’t belong in such elite company. Realizing this feeling was common among our peers highlighted a great lesson of leadership: We are often our own worst critics and feel unworthy of leadership/taking command. Knowing so many others feel this way should give us confidence in taking on challenging roles, facing down tough decisions, and outlining a future vision for our communities, organizations, and families.

The benefits of the LI experience are personal as much as professional. Aside from the challenges of COVID-19, many classmates experienced career changes, life changes, natural disasters, and personal reckonings, all of which were shared among our “weird little family” knowing they would be met with empathy, respect, and kinship.

For myself, the LI experience bolstered my courage to lead, to offer expertise, to be empathetic, and to take on challenges outside of the daily routine while forging deeper connections to my state and community through a new network of resources and friends.