Leadership LB works

The 2016 Leadership Long Beach class gathers for a picture during a cleanup for the Martin Luther King Jr. Service Day.

Where do the leaders of Long Beach, or any city, come from?

What qualifies people to step into leadership roles in business or charity or public service? How would someone prepare to run for public office here?

One path with a track record of success is Leadership Long Beach. A group of civic leaders got together 30 years ago to find a way to prepare the next generation to take over, with a year-long introduction to the way Long Beach works the result.

"Most cities have something like this," said Leadership Long Beach Executive Director Jeff Williams. "Of course, we think ours is the best. We're bringing along the next group of leaders for our community."

Leadership Long Beach's flagship program is a year-long class of 25 to 35 people meeting for a full day once a month. There's also a weekend-long retreat as the year begins in September, and each class takes on civic projects in addition to the classroom work.

"I think what Leadership Long Beach does best is connecting leaders with each other with the same outcome: improving the city as a place to work, play and live in," said longtime supporter (and class of 1996 alumni) Rich Archbold, public editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram. "I have seen so many people going to their first retreat in the mountains as strangers and leaving as friends ready to make the city of Long Beach a better place."

Each class is made up of a broad and diverse group of people, Williams said. City departments, including the police and fire departments, often are represented, as are prominent corporations and nonprofits.

"It's always been a program with access to all areas of Long Beach," said Ryan Rayburn, currently in his second term as board president and a class of 2013 participant. "We look at the problems throughout the city. And you're meeting people who have the same passion for the city as you do.

"Participating has also helped my business (as a commercial real estate broker) through the connections you make, but that's a side benefit. As an alumni, you definitely continue to care — about the organization, and about the city."

Leadership Long Beach's full course proved its value early on — but not everyone could make the time or financial commitment. That was, and remains, especially true for younger community members, so programs were created for them.

The Youth Leadership program, normally presented in partnership with other Long Beach entities such as the Aquarium of the Pacific, Southern California Edison, the city and others, is patterned after the full program — a weekend retreat, followed by eight months (the school year instead of a full year) of once-a-month meetings, and a class project.

Another program for 18- to 26-year-olds is the Leadership Foundations. A more retreat-oriented program, it works through six of the Leadership Long Beach principles — Vision, Personal Responsibility, Respect, Integrity, Courage and Commitment.

Finally, the Executive Leadership Series has taken root and grown. For six weeks, acknowledged leaders meet every Thursday and delve into leadership principles as well as discover lesser known parts of the city.

"It's a way to help leaders be better leaders," Williams said. "It's a chance for them to speak with their peers about issues they face. We like to say it sharpens the saw."

There now are more than 1,500 alumni of the Leadership Long Beach program, with classes boasting elected officials — Mayor Robert Garcia was in the class of 2003 — business leaders and more.

So Saturday, June 8, Leadership Long Beach will throw itself a 30th birthday party downtown, and is inviting the public. Called Night of a Thousand Lights, the party starts at 6 p.m. Saturday, at The Streets, a new event area off the Promenade between Third and Fourth streets.

The evening will include a 1,000-light canopy to symbolize the LLB alumni, unveiling of a mural calling everyone to Be a Leader in Long Beach, food from local restaurants, entertainment and more. Tickets, $100 each, still are available at leadershiplb.org.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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