I will never forget the first time I met Barbara Boone. She was a legend in my mind even though I had never laid eyes on her. I had heard my Dad speak about his Leadership Tallahassee experience and felt like there was no way I was ready to be a part of such an elite group. Regardless, I took a leap of faith and listened to the advice he gave; Take the questions seriously. Many revisions had led to delay and I was rushing to the Chamber before the noon deadline. There, I burst in at 11:55 to meet the woman who humbles bank presidents and elected officials alike. She was typical Barbara, efficiently sitting at the lobby gathering the applications of lost sheep like me. That was my first LT friendship. It wouldn’t be my last.
I don’t think I have ever been involved in a group where I felt more comfortable. Since the day I got my acceptance letter, I made friends every time I met an LT member or alumnus. I think as adults we lose the childhood skill of easy fun and friend making. Everyone in LT is an accomplished adult. You wouldn’t get in if someone didn’t see a light in you. Whether emerging or established, someone told you about it and suggested you take the time to apply. Ironically, this professional success creates a thirst for REAL friends. We have had enough of sycophants and networking. We are looking for peers who will challenge our assumptions and empathize with our struggles.
It all started on the bus. I had to introduce a watermelon queen from Monticello. She was in the construction business and we had never met, yet I humiliated her in true LT fashion. Then, I roomed with a banker who continues to lead Springtime Parades acting like anything other than a financier. We buried one of my biggest influences. Kay Freeman (LT 23) yelled at us about homelessness and recognizing just how quickly we could be sleeping in the street. I have been to churches throughout the community with my LT family. I have had the honor to watch the Battle of the Bethels and know the love and commitment of a member saying “My Pastor” is the greatest. Whether at a happy hour or seeing them in the street, LT 23, Leadership Through Diversity, continues to warm my heart as a group of friends not “like” me, but who I like.
Perhaps it was euphoria of good friends that lead me to running for State Attorney. I had been around politics my whole life and thought I knew what to expect. I was wrong. The time commitment is extraordinary and the feelings of insecurity and isolation can shake your resolve. It was during this process that my Leadership Tallahassee family was essential. As a candidate, the key is meeting the folks you don’t already know. If you know everyone you are with, you should go somewhere else!!! That is where the countless conversations with my LT family paid off. “You say you work at FSU. Do you know my friend Edward Acoff (LT 23)?” “Why does the State Attorney matter to the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce?” The answer sprung from the integration exercises a year of LT had fostered.
Now that the campaign is over, the new challenge of leadership leads me back to LT roots. I have been blessed with CEO’s from across the community who ask me to breakfast or lunch. We discuss management challenges and strategies. All leaders need coaches and trusted confidants because our success isolates us from those we lead. Leadership Tallahassee opens up a network of such peers with fresh ideas and sage wisdom. Their generosity of time and talent is essential and I try to pay it forward. I can’t say no to Barbara Boone and suggest you don’t do it either. The future of our community rests on “a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens.” Leadership Tallahassee is filled with such world changers and it is up to us to see it grow.