Graduation Thoughts for Class XXVIII
It’s the unique resources that make up Akron’s sense of place; and they’re part of the reason Akron has set the pace for growth among Ohio cities in recent decades. Many know that with investments ranging from Goodyear’s new headquarters to new companies in the Global Accelerator, Akron performed better through the recession than our counterparts in Ohio, and continues to outperform its peers post-recession. Why do you think Akron is doing better? I’ve heard many suggest that it’s a matter of fortuitous size, that Akron is large enough to have many of the resources you’d want in a big city, but small enough to be a place where problems aren’t intractable and you can get things done. That is certainly part of the answer, but if that were the whole explanation we’d see cities like Dayton and Toledo doing just as well as Akron.
There’s something more to the story, and it’s something intangible—re-arrange our name and you’ll be onto it—you might describe it as Akron Leadership. If you had to define Akron’s character of leadership in just a word or two, what would you say? In fact, just take a few seconds to think to yourself, if you had just one or two words to characterize leadership in our Akron community, what descriptors would you use? How many of you had the word collaboration or something like it, maybe teamwork or working together? In just that little exercise we captured the most prominent feature of Akron leadership. We collaborate.
In Akron, more than any community that we know of, leaders are in the habit of looking at problems, opportunities, and situations not just through their own organization’s lens, but through the lens of the whole community. When a critical mass of leaders see the world with this way, it creates a culture ripe for collaboration. And if you read Laura Ofobike’s column in the Akron Beacon Journal a few days ago, you saw how Leadership Akron fosters this mindset for each year’s class. It’s the kind of vision that can transform our urban core in University Park. It’s the kind of vision that can quickly replicate a breakthrough approach like Bridges out of Poverty in social service agencies across the city. It can turn an old run-down building into a hub for creativity at Summit ArtSpace. And it’s the kind of vision that Goodyear showed in creating a win for Goodyear and a win for Akron when they broke ground on the new headquarters now underway. These are just a few examples of the powerful results of Akron Leadership that Class 28 saw this year.
We’ve heard a lot of late about a community’s sense of place in attracting talent and investment. A sense of place has to do with geography and history, with landmarks and topography and yes, even weather. But it’s more than that, extending to what it’s like to be in a place, and how leaders relate and work together. The University Park Alliance notes that “we have a spirit of collaboration among civic leaders that enables progress through teamwork. Added to that, we have community members who understand their civic responsibility.” At a national level, Brookings fellow Bruce Katz notes that cities are thriving by “networks of leaders who tend to put place over party and ideology.” He notes the importance of what he calls a “pragmatic caucus of civic leaders who prize collaboration over conflict and solution over dogma.”
Class 28 has spent their year immersed in this ethic of Akron Leadership. They’ve seen what can happen when leaders look at the world both through the lens of their organization and through the lens of their community. They’re now ready to demonstrate the collaboration that comes from seeing the world this way, and to reinforce this perspective in their own organizations. As they do so, they’ll strengthen what continues to define Akron Leadership, the factor that continues to make Akron a pace-setter among our peers.
To Class 28 I know I speak for the whole staff in saying how much we’ve enjoyed seeing you grow from 34 individual leaders into the Great 28. We’re grateful to each of you for the Akron Leadership you have brought to this year and will bring to building our community as graduates of Leadership Akron.