Gainesville hosts the country’s fourth oldest Chamber Leadership program. Leadership Gainesville, which runs annually from August to May, brings members of the local business community, government and other professionals together to better understand leadership dynamics.
Coming up on its 45th class, the program teaches its students how to connect with others and use those connections to “create a better community by working hard for that community” in an inclusive way.
Participants in the Leadership Gainesville program learn how policies, regulations and government institutions interact, so they know how to deal with the crucial intersection of people and institutions.
A true leader knows they must be able to lead no matter what socio-economic background they or their staff has come from. This knowledge is reinforced on the nearly legendary first day of Leadership Gainesville, when new classmates participate in the classic SIMSOC exercise.
Born in an age perhaps even more turbulent than todays, the exercise is amazingly relevant to the challenges leaders face today. SIMSOC, which stands for “Simulated Society,” was developed in the 1960s and teaches various aspects of sociology, political science and communication skills. Players grapple with the challenge of governing society, confronting issues like abuse of power, justice, diversity, trust and leadership as they negotiate their way through various challenges. Success or failure that day depends upon decisions made by players and the creativity of the group.
The exercise wouldn’t be as impactful if I gave away all the challenges that participants face, but I can say that by asking students to walk in the shoes of others, it clearly demonstrates the rewards of empathy and understanding. At the end of the day, students walk away with a much deeper understanding of the impact your socio-economic background has on your life.
Being a leader is not just about being in charge. It’s not all about “my way or the highway” decisions. It’s about surveying the situation and making the best decision at that moment, for that moment and for the future.
The environment in which these decisions are made is shaped by many factors, including our upbringing and economic situation, and of course those of the other parties affected by the decisions.
I am a proud graduate of Leadership Gainesville #26. The experience helped shape me into the person I have become and has provided me with lifelong friends who I still call upon today. It taught me things about myself I did not appreciate beforehand, and reminded me not only of my strengths, but also showed me the areas I needed to improve.
The SIMSOC exercise was one of the most valuable parts of that experience. The simulation presents numerous obstacles you must overcome. No matter which means you choose to overcome each obstacle, there is a cost involved. True leaders know their strengths and weaknesses and understand the costs of their decisions to everyone involved.
As our Leadership Gainesville graduates will attest, walking in somebody else’s shoes will undoubtedly leave you with blisters. It’s not meant to be an easy exercise, nor should it be, but it offers lessons that are invaluable in today’s society. That’s pretty impressive for a 50-year-old idea.