On a recent afternoon a local lawyer, an architect and a city employee joined a hair salon employee, MRCI staffer and dozens of others to challenge themselves and build teamwork skills on the high ropes course at Minnesota State University.
Challenging a group of people coming from diverse backgrounds has been the goal of the Leadership Institute, offered by Greater Mankato Growth for three decades.
“There’s some apprehension about doing the ropes course, but they have great experiences from it. It’s a great way to get people to push themselves,” said Shannon Gullickson, GMG Talent Program Director, who is leading the Institute this year.
Last month, 43 people began the 30th class in the nine-month program, which includes 11 day-long sessions.
Gullickson said the program has grown in participation and scope since it began. “Thirty years ago a group of citizens wanted to form an organization to help people become more familiar with the community and become better leaders. If they can see some of the issues they have a better way to tackle some of the issues.”
But since it started, several business leaders asked the Institute to focus not just on community awareness but on building leadership skills.
A number of local nonprofit leaders as well as some experts from around the country are brought in to present different leadership and local awareness topics for the class.
Gale Bigbee, a graphic communications faculty member at South Central College, went through the program three years ago. She still remembers the high ropes course well.
“It was drizzly and cold and miserable. It really put me out of my comfort zone, but it was a lot of fun,” Bigbee said.
“But now I’ve done that and don’t need to do it again.”
Bigbee got into the program because she had been focused on kids and her job for several years and been more removed from the community.
“I’d pulled myself out of a lot of volunteer efforts I’d been involved in at MSU and the Y and other places and I saw it as a way to start to do networking again and build my leadership skills,” she said.
“I thought the networking aspect of it was really good and the way it was structured it really provided me with a good understanding of GMG and the two cities and how they collaborate on things,” Bigbee said.
“One of the events was just a bus tour of the two cities and it made me more aware of all the economic revitalization taking place, all the construction and growth.”
She and the rest of the class also went to Mankato Day at the state Capitol where local leaders meet with lawmakers.
“It was a real eye-opening experience,” she said of the program.
Dan Sarff, manager of the Mankato office of Bolton & Menk, graduated from the class in 1991. He’d been in town for seven years at the time and said the president of his firm encouraged him to take the program to learn more about issues in the community.
“It was a great reintroduction to the community and what it has to offer and what the needs are as far as leadership and volunteers,” Sarff said.
“It gave me a greater depth of knowledge of what was happening in Mankato.”
Besides tours and hands-on experiences, the Institute also brings in local and national experts to work with participants.
For more information: greatermankato.com/leadership-institute