Once a month, nearly two dozen city employees in Indianapolis step away from their desks and briefly set aside their tasks to spend a day focused on becoming more efficient leaders. They’re all part of the 2021 Leadership Education Accelerated Development Class (L.E.A.D.) run by IU Executive Education.
“When organizations invest in developing leaders, they can run agencies more effectively which benefits the people they serve,” says IU Executive Education Director Sara Johnson.
L.E.A.D. is one of the many consulting programs developed by Executive Education that focus on governance, organizational assessments, executive leadership and development, and/or strategic planning.
“We take pride in how well we work with our partners to develop a curriculum that best meets their needs,” explains Johnson. “Our consulting faculty are experienced practitioners with many years of real-world experience prior to joining our team. They use their experience to develop engaging programs for organizations across the country and even internationally.”
In L.E.A.D.’s case, the city of Indianapolis wanted to develop leaders within its ranks. This year, 10 agencies selected their brightest up-and-coming leaders and offered them the chance to join the program.
In 2020, 15 agencies were involved–including Josiah Johnson’s. He had recently moved from the city’s Human Resources department to the Office of Public Health and Safety.
“Working in local government, there are many opportunities provided to employees,” he says. “When I was working in HR, I sought out any opportunity to further not only my ‘pedigree’ but anything that would make me more well-rounded.”
His supervisors had taken notice of that initiative. One of them approached him in 2019 and recommended he sign up for the course—at no cost to him.
“Education is being handed out for free—that’s always a win and should be taken with the utmost gratitude,” he says.
He had wanted to make the leap to leadership but knew he would need more training to do it successfully. Johnson signed up but wasn’t quite sure what he was getting into.
“I was expecting a bland, traditional corporate training where we would spend a whole day talking about standard policies and procedures,” he admits.
But what he encountered was anything but bland.
“Not once did I feel any of the information was redundant or unnecessary,” he says. “Nearly everything I learned was completely new. Even if I had heard something before, it was presented in such a new and fresh manner that I ended up with more knowledge than I previously had.”
The L.E.A.D. program walks participants through 10 different topics during the 12-month course, ranging from diversity, equity, and inclusion to emotional intelligence, project management, and more.
Now in an OPHS leadership role as Reentry Employment Liaison, Johnson says he uses the lessons learned in L.E.A.D. to implement new systems and processes for his team.
That includes developing a project tracking template that allows them to draft reports before an event or project and simply add to it as they go along.
“It’s worked out great,” he says. “At the end of a grant, we’ve already documented all the hard work that has been put into these projects rather than having to go back and look up what we did.”
He also created a new weekly briefing process for his supervisor that highlights what happened the previous week and what his team is working on for the upcoming week.
“Now, my supervisor always knows what my team is doing and doesn’t have to micromanage us—she has the blueprint,” he explains. “It keeps her informed, gives her valuable time back, and helps me formulate what I’m going to do for the week.”
But one of the most important takeaways for Johnson was what type of leader he should be to ensure everyone around him has the opportunity to succeed.
“A leader’s mindset matters,” he explains. “Here, we’re people first and employees second. I view my team as equals. I now clearly define my team’s roles and my own, serving as both a coordinator and someone who jumps in to help do the work.”
The ripple effect of those changes extends well beyond the office and into the community Johnson serves.
“Sometimes, we get office locked and forget how to engage with the community,” he says. “When we have community service events, I use the time management, team preparation, and soft skills I learned through L.E.A.D. to better interact with the public and make their experiences even better.”
While his learnings have affected everyone around him, they also sparked a change in Johnson himself. He knew he wanted to advance into a higher leadership position within city government, but now he has an additional goal: to earn his Master of Public Affairs degree with the O’Neill School at IUPUI and, eventually, a Ph.D.
“Without the L.E.A.D. program, I would probably still be stagnant and contemplating whether it was the right move to pursue my master’s degree,” he says. “My enrollment in this program gave me the confidence to know I could successfully move into a higher educational path as well as into a more advanced leadership position within my current career.”