Leadership Training at HANDS

Four years ago, Pat Morrissy, director of the community development corporation HANDS, Inc., and Arnold Rintzler, a business consultant, marched side by side in the Newark St. Patrick’s Day parade. The friendship they began over the long parade route would eventually lead to the HANDS Leadership Institute. At about the same time, Elizabeth Jackson, a community activist in Orange, NJ was helping to organize the East Ward Action Group, a coalition of block associations and Crime Watch groups trying to influence redevelopment in their neighborhood. She was worried that it would be difficult for the group to move beyond their immediate concerns to longer range issues. Today Jackson is a graduate of the HANDS Leadership Institute, the neighborhood group is active, and she is developing a leadership training program for teens.

“Before taking the Leadership Training, I didn’t realize the importance of knowing myself as a leader first,” says Jackson. “I found the self-evaluation to be beneficial but very difficult to do. My first reaction to the training was ‘Why do I have to look so deep inside myself to lead others?'”

For fourteen years, HANDS had been building and rehabilitating homes for first-time homebuyers in Orange and East Orange, neighboring communities that border the city of Newark. But leadership development has long been on the HANDS agenda as well. “We are a neighborhood revitalization organization,” says Morrissy, “and that means that we need to go beyond housing development to achieve our goals.”

When Morrissy had the idea to start a Leadership Institute, Rintzler, who had been providing pro bono services to HANDS since the two met, agreed to facilitate two, 10-week courses in leadership development. Morrissy took the course both times, and now facilitates it with guidance from Rintzler.

The Curriculum

The Dynamics of Leadership(tm) (Resource Associates Corporation) is an intensive, 10-week long journey that is used with company managers, business owners and other professionals. “I believe leadership is the skill most necessary in today’s world no matter what the organization, and it can be learned,” says Rintzler. “Community leaders need the same skills, attitudes and professional habits that are required for success in business, so that’s what we help them to learn.” 

Dynamics moves through three phases: self evaluation, developing “success attitudes and habits,” and the goal planning process. The self evaluation identifies goals participants really care about and also their existing skills and accomplishments. The development of success attitudes and habits involves a hard internal look at which in-bred attitudes need to be changed and which need strengthening. Finally, through the goal planning process participants learn to methodically identify all obstacles to achieving a goal, develop solutions, and set a detailed timeline for overcoming those obstacles. Students learn to set goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time oriented.

Taking Dynamics requires an intense commitment – at least five hours per week, two in the classroom and three on homework. Hoping to whet people’s appetites, the Institute recently began offering a less-intense three week course entitled Planning Your Own Goals and Achieving Them, which introduces community leaders to the concepts of successful leadership and focuses on goal planning.

The Graduates

The HANDS Leadership Institute attracts community leaders active on a wide range of issues, including block association captains, PTA officers, Girl Scout leaders, police officers and even elected officials. It now has seventeen graduates of the Dynamics course and nine from the Goal Planning course. Morrissy enjoys working in community settings with Institute graduates because they share a common language and practice, and are business-like in their approach to getting things done. “We believe that attitude is the real key to success,” says Morrissy. “85 percent of top CEOs attribute their success to attitude while only 15 percent point to skills. I’m sure the same applies to community leadership.”

In addition to the training courses, HANDS annually recognizes and celebrates the work of community leaders at a Community Leadership Awards Banquet. Potential honorees are identified through a community wide nomination process, from which the previous year’s honorees select eight new leaders to recognize.

Elizabeth Jackson was an honoree in 1999. “Since taking the training, I look at leadership as a partnership,” she says. “I find that I am more flexible and a better listener. Knowing my strength has helped me to become more effective as a leader. The best thing about my training is my inner personal growth. I am still growing and willing to grow.”

Contact: Pat Morrissy, HANDS. 973-678-3110.

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