Ted Carroll, President of Leadership Greater Hartford, spoke with Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about the many ways the organization has made a positive impact on the Greater Hartford community.
PRICE: Leadership Greater Hartford was established in the late 1977. How did it come to be?
CARROLL: We are in our 40th anniversary year. Leadership Greater Hartford was actually founded by the Greater Hartford Chamber of Commerce, which is now a part of the MetroHartford Alliance.
In the mid-1970s, leaders in the business community recognized that the nature of leadership was changing and needed to change some more. In those days, the leaders in business and industry were referred to as “the bishops.” They knew they needed to identify a cadre of leaders in their organizations to get involved in the community, but they also recognized it couldn’t simply be leaders from the corporate community.
At that time, we were still in the wake of a lot of civil unrest in the Hartford area. There were continuing protests. Neighborhoods were becoming more segregated racially and ethnically and there was tension and competition among neighborhood organizations. There was a lot of instability, suspicion, and mistrust. It’s hard to build community or flourish your businesses in that atmosphere.
The bishops recognized that the nature of leadership had to be much more diverse than it once was and it had to be much more collaborative in its orientation—but there was no precedent for how to do this.
PRICE: Right, so how do you start fixing those problems?
CARROLL: The bishops did some research on models around the country. They looked at cities like Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Savannah, which had all experimented with community leadership models. They replicated those experiences and came up with Leadership Greater Hartford.
The organization was initially a class of about 50 people—half from business, half from the government and nonprofit agencies, men and women, black, white, and brown—all interested in learning about the community and stepping into leadership roles in the community.
Leadership Greater Hartford launched its first class in 1977. It got some of the bishops at that time to oversee the program, including a guy named Worth Loomis, who was head of the Dexter Corporation back then. He exemplifies the spirit of leadership that once was, but also the kind of leadership that he has helped to create: Again, more diverse, more collaborative, more participatory in its nature.
PRICE: How has Leadership Greater Hartford evolved since the 1970s?
CARROLL: We recognize the issues we face today are way more complex. We need the collective talents and perspectives of everyone in the community. How do you bring those folks together? Well, through community leadership programs. This is where—in a safe place—they get to exchange ideas, learn about some common challenges, share their different perspectives, build trust, build some rapport, and build partnerships. And, they often leave the program better prepared and more inspired to address some of these challenges.
Leadership Greater Hartford has done that now for 40 years. We recently put together our 40th class, again there were 50 people, all rising leaders from different parts of the community. Today we have way more women than men in the class. In the beginning there were far more men than women. But the classes always represent the racial and ethnic and economic diversity from the region.
PRICE: How and when did you become involved with Leadership Greater Hartford?
CARROLL: I was in the ninth class, which took place in 1985. I was running a community service organization at that time here in the South End of Hartford and was invited to be a participant in the Leadership Greater Hartford class. By the way, we now call that program Quest to distinguish it from other programs we offer.
At the end of my experience in 1985, the job of president had been vacated. I was invited to apply and, to my surprise and delight, they selected me. I was at a point where I was ready to move on and do something else. I saw some opportunity to grow the organization and to create greater community impact and I’ve been able to do that over the last 30 years.
PRICE: Tell us about some of the contributions you’ve made since you became President of Leadership Greater Hartford.
CARROLL: Leadership Greater Hartford has grown from one program to about a dozen programs. We now serve people in their high school years and in their college years. We actually created the precursor to Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE). It was called Access Hartford. We did that for five years, put it to bed, and then the MetroHartford Alliance picked it up and rebranded it as HYPE. They have done a great job.
Leadership Greater Hartford has done a lot of work with young professionals. A lot of our work is at the executive level, a lot of it is with retirees. Sometimes we work with select groups like neighborhood leaders, parent leaders, or Latino leaders.
Our purpose and our stated mission is to develop, connect, and engage a diverse array of leaders to lead strong and vibrant communities. The way we translate that is, we want to make sure that anyone in our community—regardless of their background, educational level, age, or circumstances—anyone who wishes to develop their skills, capacities, knowledge, or relationships in ways that serve the common good, we want to bring them in. We have one program or another that might be of service to them. And then we connect them to each other.
The support we have received for these programs and services shows that Hartford is really far ahead of most of the cities in the country. We get people to respect and listen to one another. We get them to build relationships with one another and we get them to cultivate common ground. So that’s kind of our mission, our reason for being. Fundamentally that hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. The programs and strategies we use to achieve that goal keep growing and diversifying.
Leadership Greater Hartford now has 6,000 people who have graduated from our various programs. There are probably about 10,000 people in our overall network.
PRICE: Can you describe the people in the Leadership Greater Hartford network?
CARROLL: It’s a dynamic, diverse, talented, engaged citizenry that honestly distinguishes the Hartford area from almost any other community in the country. Every sizable community—and even some small communities—has leadership programs, but we are as large as any of them and certainly more diverse, which, in my mind, signals the very deep longstanding interests the Hartford area has in community, leadership, and collaboration.
PRICE: What drives you in this environment?
CARROLL: It’s one of the gifts the Hartford area offers to people like you and me, people who have some talent and energy. Hartford offers us opportunities to act on things that we care about.
We articulate a vision of what might be possible, and as long as others can see it too, it is possible to actually see that vision get realized. I have found that if you can imagine something, and if you can articulate your vision and listen to what others yearn for, you can often enroll people to act together.
This is a community that’s open enough, generous enough, and capable enough to form alliances. With those alliances you move from beyond what might be a hallucination to a shared vision.
This gets to one of the questions I think you wanted to ask: Why Hartford? We have found that nearly everything we have imagined can be done here. I don’t know whether or not you can do that in a big city, but it is possible here in Hartford.
The need is here to be sure. As long as you’ve got the ability to imagine something and the persistence and the perseverance to stay with something, I have found that all things are possible. So you can actually see change happen. You can be assured that your work matters. At the end of the day, that’s what we all seek.
PRICE: In what ways is Leadership Greater Hartford helping to foster that mentality of people wanting to make a difference?
CARROLL: I think by providing people with an opportunity. When they come participate in our programs, we give them the freedom to think about what they want to do and challenge them to think about what they can do to help make this shared community of ours a better place.
During the course of a program they work with people from different areas of the community, they agree on an issue they want to address, they determine a way to address that issue, and they go to work. It’s not always easy to reach decisions. It’s not always easy to execute what they hope to do, but the feeling of seeing something happen that you had envisioned is a powerful feeling that doesn’t go away.
When people leave any of our programs of course we want them to leave more skilled and more knowledgeable about this community. We also want them to have forged some beautiful relationships with people who they would’ve never otherwise met. And yes, we hope very much that they get something done while they’re working together, but more importantly, we want to know that they will leave the program feeling more empowered and more hopeful about doing more of this work in the future. We are less interested in measuring our success within the program than we are with trying to evaluate our overall significance in the community.
So when you add it all up, how many more civic entrepreneurs have we been able to generate as a consequence of our programs? How many more collaborations have we been able to help forge as a result of our bringing people together from diverse places? How much more hopeful are people in the power of one and in the power of diverse groups to bring about change? How much more hopeful are they in the future of our region? And how better positioned are they to help bring about a greater Hartford?
PRICE: You offer many different programs. Can we talk about Encore!Hartford?
CARROLL: About 10 years ago, we undertook a study that examined the phenomenon of nonprofit organizations needing to be more entrepreneurial. At the same time, we looked at the phenomenon of seasoned people leaving the business community, but in part because they wanted to do something they were more passionate about, something that was more in line with their values.
We did a major study on that trend and we saw opportunity. We talked to the University of Connecticut about that opportunity and together we fashioned something called Encore!Hartford. UConn took the lead on that and some other groups joined us. We are responsible for helping to find participants for Encore!Hartford, creating internships for individuals who are enrolled in the program, and teaching some of the courses.
Encore!Hartford is currently in its seventh year. We typically take 20 to 25 people, mostly coming out of business, mostly people who are in their late 40s, 50s and older who are ready to transition into a more mission-based opportunity, one where they can exercise their leadership skills. It’s kind of moving from business leader to community leader and from business entrepreneur to civic entrepreneur.
We help program participants understand the landscape and the agencies or organizations with which they might affiliate, the specific opportunities where they might be able to use their skills, their knowledge, their talents in ways that help to build social capital in the community. We’ve been able to place about 80% of our graduates in the nonprofit leadership realm, and we put together another class that began in early March and will continue through early June.
PRICE: The work you do is obviously very fulfilling. What do you enjoy the most about it?
CARROLL: It is very fulfilling. I have a colleague who uses a great expression. He says, “I run to work.” So do I.
I love what we do. I love the people we serve. I love the people I work with. I love the support I get from my board. I love the response we get from our community.
I guess I personally enjoy seeing individual people grow. I love seeing people experience “a-ha” moments. I love seeing people discover what they really care about. I love helping them find ways to act on their passions and on their values. I love helping to connect people to one another. I love what can happen when passionate, values-driven people find each other and find other community partners—I love what’s possible when that happens.
PRICE: That’s a lot of love.
CARROLL: There’s a lot to love. It energizes me every day. I’ve often said I have the best job in town because Leadership Greater Hartford is positioned to bring positive people into our system, into our network, into our family. They discover one another, and all these really good people bring out the very best in one another.
How can I not be hopeful about this community? All I want to do is make sure that we invite as many community-minded people to come in and then help them make as many connections as they can. We hope that they discover things about themselves and about group process and about this community that help them to be all that they can be.
We don’t try to control any of that, we just see what happens when you spread that many seeds. If you cultivate the ground, spread the seeds, and provide some tender-loving care, wonderful trees will sprout forth.
There’s a quote, “Leaders plant trees under whose shade they may never enjoy.” We have planted trees that we may never see take root and that may provide shade and comfort to many in our community. It’s a kick; however, when we occasionally hear about them. And we hear enough about them to believe that what we do is making a difference. That’s what keeps us going.
To learn more about the programs and services provided by Leadership Greater Hartford or to become a member, visit. www.leadershipgh.org.