With roots in community collaboration, Leadership Springfield began as a response to leadership development needs. In the early 1980's, volunteerism was at an all-time low in Springfield. The city had undergone Council recalls, and there was a general thought in the community that a program to train leaders was greatly needed.
Formation of Leadership Springfield
About 1984, the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Junior League of Springfield, and United Way of the Ozarks joined forces to research a leadership program for Springfield. Andy Montebello represented the Chamber, Karen Sweeney represented the Junior League, and staff representation from United Way was provided. One of the primary resources utilized to form Leadership Springfield was the National Association of Community Leadership Organizations, currently known as Community Leadership Association.
The Chamber, Junior League and United Way may have contributed small amounts of seed money to form the organization. Beginning with Class I, 1985-86, the tuition income supported the program. The original board of directors included two people from each of the three organizations named about.
Management Services Agreement
Leadership Springfield entered into a Management Services Agreement with the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. In return for the annual management services fee the Chamber provided salaries/benefits for staff to coordinate the program, building space, and overhead operating expenses.
Program Formation & Facilitation
Once the program format was determined, Leadership Springfield contracted with Bob Barefield, Drury University, to be the facilitator for the Leadership Springfield annual class. Bob facilitated the program through the first nine classes. Debbie Snellen facilitated the retreats from 1994-2012. From 2012 to present the Leadership Springfield curriculum committee has provided content for all programs offered by the organization, utilizing a community leadership framework model in which successful community leaders are able to frame ideas, build social capital and mobilize resources.
Leadership Springfield currently operates three distinct programs: Signature Class, Leadership Academy, and Access Class. The Signature Class is Leadership Springfield's flagship program for local adult professionals seeking increased community engagement and impact. For 35 years, the program has familiarized leaders with the community's opportunities, needs, problems and resources.
Established in 1990 as way of expanding Leadership Springfield's reach to a younger generation, the Academy is open to juniors from nine Springfield public and private high school as well as homeschool students who reside within the Springfield Public Schools district. Rotary clubs in Springfield provided the initial seed money for start-up. Thirty-two students are selected each year for this program that is modeled after the Signature Class. The Academy program is provided at no cost to area students, families or the district.
Affiliate of the Chamber of Commerce
Leadership Springfield remained an affiliate program of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce from 1984 to 2018. During that time, Leadership Springfield graduated more than 1,000 alumni into the community. Since its inception, volunteerism has increased significantly, and Leadership Springfield continues to demonstrate excellence in leadership, supporting the mission to inspire, develop and connect leaders in the community.
In 2015, Leadership Springfield conducted strategic planning with over 60 participants including representatives from Leadership Springfield's founding partners, the Chamber, Junior League of Springfield, and the United Way of the Ozarks. This session determined that continued leadership growth in the community was essential. Over the next few years, the Leadership Springfield Board of Directors and alumni conducted a review of other leadership organizations throughout the country. In 2017, the Leadership Springfield Board updated the strategic plan and determined that the board led/staff supported structure of Leadership Springfield was preventing the creation and growth to meet community needs.
An Independent Organization
A committee was launched to explore options for structuring Leadership Springfield to better support the needs of the community and scale programs and services. The committee recommended the implementation of a staff led/board supported structure that would start with 3 staff members. The committee also recommended that the staff be employed directly by Leadership Springfield. Leadership Springfield became a full independent organization on July 1, 2018, after three decades as a proud affiliate program of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce. Leadership Springfield hired the first Executive Director, Carrie Richardson, a graduate of Signature Class 25.
In 2018, Leadership Springfield responded to years of requests from local employers to provide a shorter course on our community to help leaders get up to speed quickly with the area's key contacts, industries and opportunities for engagement. Modeled after other successful programs around the country. the Access Class program was launched in 2019 as a two-day crash course in our community. The Access Class is offered quarterly with registration available anytime and serves as a tool for retention, much like a community orientation. Custom Access Class programs are provided on a requested basis with community partners. For example, Springfield Public Schools runs two custom SPS Access Classes annually, allowing teachers to make actionable connections between the community and the classroom to support local students and families.
Alumni membership is vital to the continued operation of the organization and an essential part of the continued Leadership Springfield experience after graduation. Alumni are invited to join or renew membership annually and receive a variety of benefits focused on the four impact pieces of our mission: inspire, develop, connect, serve.
Looking into the future, Leadership Springfield will continue to grow in spaces where our mission meets community need while remaining focused on core program services and a commitment to inspire, develop and connect leaders to serve the Springfield community.