Oct. 25, the Executive Leadership Council’s Institute for Leadership Development and Research will host its 13th annual Mid-Level Managers Symposium in Washington, D.C. The all-day symposium follows the council’s Annual Recognition Dinner, where some 2,000 corporate, public policy and academic leaders gather to celebrate the year’s winners of three coveted ELC honors: the Alvaro Martins Heritage Award, the Achievement Award and the Corporate Award.
Operating quietly out of its new offices in Alexandria, Va., the Council represents nearly 400 of the most senior African-American corporate executives in Fortune 500 companies on a mission to achieve excellence in corporate, economic and public policies for African-Americans and the wider community. The symposium is its signature forum for career development and mentoring of high-potential African-American mid-level managers. The more-than 1,200 professionals who attend are immersed in professional development and leadership training. Complemented by in-depth discussions with top executives, it provides valuable insights into the upper echelons of the corporate world and what it takes to get there.
“The symposium brings in the ELC members to talk to and touch these future leaders and help them manage and think through the issues and challenges they face,” says Julia Scrivens, director of marketing and business development at Urbanomics Consulting Group and former program director for the Institute of Leadership Development and Research.
Breaking through The theme for this year’s symposium is Breaking Through: Adapting Leadership Strategies in the Shifting World. Facilitators will examine the dynamics of how African-Americans naturally shift roles between their personal and professional lives and teach managers how to strategically apply this natural ability as a style of leadership. Two critical breakout sessions complement the general sessions, one of which will explore the so-called intrinsic factors of adaptive leadership, the other to decipher the “extrinsic” factors.
“The world around us is changing as we speak. Leaders must adapt and change their styles and recognize the changes. How do we lead in a world that is constantly changing? How do we succeed in this world now and going forward? We need to think about what influences us both internally and externally, what helps us to change and what helps us to be adaptive and get out of our own way in order to be successful,” says Ancella B. Livers, the Institute’s new executive director.
“Basically, if you choose not to change, you are in danger of becoming extinct. But how do you change and still be authentic and true to yourself?” she says.
Providing answers To answer those questions, the institute calls upon specialists such as Price M. Cobbs, M.D., renowned psychiatrist, author (Cracking the Corporate Code, Amacom) and management consultant to Fortune 500 companies, to develop the symposium program, and other facilitators and keynote speakers to help carry the day.
The lineup this year includes Ella J. Edmondson Bell, associate professor of business administration at Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business; Nathaniel Irvin II, assistant dean, Babcock Graduate School of Management, and a partner in Irvin, Goforth and Irvin, a training and communications consulting firm; Don Thompson, president, McDonald’s USA; cultural activist Yvonne Bynoe, who specializes in popular culture’s influence on the way the world perceives African-Americans; and new ELC member Keith Clinkscales, former president and CEO of VIBE magazine, now senior vice president and general manager of ESPN Publishing.
The Mid-Level Managers Symposium began 13 years ago as an event for the employees of founding sponsor PepsiCo. At the time, Maurice Cox, vice president of diversity and corporate development and an ELC board member, assembled all of PepsiCo’s African-American managers for leadership training. Cox subsequently opened the event to African-Americans from all companies and brought in sponsors to underwrite the expanded format.
The first symposium boasted approximately 100 attendees, 50 to 75 of them from Pepsi. Of the 1,200 or so who attend currently, about 100 hail from Pepsi. Sixty percent of the 1,200 are first-time attendees.
Symposium impact Electronic polls taken at the symposium each year show that more than 90 percent of the managers who attend find the experience life changing.
Attendees at the ELC Institute's Pipeline Program, held in Tampa, Fla., in April
Corporations that track the progress of their managers who not only attend the symposium but also participate in the institute’s broader leadership program consistently cite excellent results. Executives at BP America Inc., for example, disclosed that its managers were “reenergized with confidence.”
The most telling testament to the impact of the Institute’s training, however, comes from the participants themselves, many of whom subsequently enjoyed tremendous success in their corporate career. “This program has far exceeded my expectation. It was an excellent combination and balance of exercises, lectures and class participation,” one participant is quoted as saying.
Ironically, the Mid-Level Managers Symposium precedes the existence of the institute by nearly 10 years. The institute itself was created in October 2003 under the direction of ELC member and board director Dennis Dowdell, Jr. BP America was its founding sponsor.
At the time, ELC wanted to find a way to impart the 200 years of collective experience that its membership had acquired. Through its members, the council also had assembled valuable data and wanted to share it with the next generation of corporate leaders. The idea evolved for a high-potential pipeline group to spend approximately one year in development, comprising mentoring relationships with ELC members, and training and research. ELC members would provide insight, lessons learned and coaching through a series of seminars and workshops.
Once the institute was established, the symposium, logically, became its responsibility.
In the pipeline The goal now is to make the institute the premiere go-to source for corporate leadership development programs and information on African-Americans in the corporate arena, specifically African-American managers, Livers says. She cites among the institute’s publications the landmark “2004 Census of African Americans on Boards of Directors of Fortune 500 Companies,” noting that plans are in the works for similar benchmark reports.
“Through the symposium and pipeline, the institute boasts significant development of African-Americans in management at different levels of the organization,” Livers says. It is working to make certain that it captures the African-American corporate experience, “so that we can learn from it, document it, teach and develop African-American managers and support their careers through the pipe line into executive suites,” she adds.
The key challenge is tracking and gathering information on such a vastly active and moving population, she says.
The ELC’s drive to develop future business leaders goes further down the institute’s management pipeline with the creation of NextGen Network Inc, a youth affiliate. NextGen Network comprises past student winners of the council’s National Business Commentary Essay Competition, Alvaro Martins Scholars, who shadow mentees and winners of the Business Case Study competition. It is through this organization, with its emphasis on networking and community service opportunities, that the ELC can reach out to recruit, inspire and mentor future African-American corporate leaders, the group’s executives say.
NextGen Network currently is headed by Susan Chapman, senior director, global real estate and finance, at Level 3 Communications Inc., operator of one of the world’s largest Internet “trunk” connections. Chapman is the first member of the NextGen Network to transition to full ELC membership.
By Renee Flagler