Leadership Edmond: A backstage pass to your city

Leadership Edmond gives participants a backstage pass to all the moving parts of their community.
Leadership Edmond Class 34 touring STEM building on higher education day

Every city provides necessities like public safety, street maintenance, and water services, but excellent cities take it a step further. From an extensive public art program to new trails through town (and more to come), Edmond has proven itself to be a community that invests in its people. Leadership Edmond (LE) gives participants a backstage pass to all the moving parts of their community. 

Leadership Edmond is a nine-month program designed to build skills and support the development of emerging leaders in the community. For nearly 36 years, the program has helped develop an ongoing source of diverse leaders who are prepared and committed to serve as catalysts and sustainers of positive change in Edmond. The program has adapted with an ever-changing city to identify critical issues and meet the needs of the community.

Ryan Featherstone arm wrestling with a senior during the Leadership Edmond scavenger hunt (Photo provided)

The program first got its start in 1979 and then took a brief hiatus before kicking off again in 1984 with Leadership Edmond Class II (2). Former Mayor Charles Lamb graduated that year and began enthusiastically advocating for the program.

“I would venture to say there are very few mayors around that would spend two full days with a group of people,” said Leadership Edmond Director Amanda Bowen. “He had such a passion for the program.”

Lamb died in 2018, but his legacy lives on through the program. It was his idea to begin the program with two sessions dedicated to informing participants about how the city works. One of the sessions includes a mock city council meeting that allows the class to work through a city council agenda and act as both the city council and Edmond citizens. For many, it’s their first time stepping foot into the council chambers, but it’s usually not their last.

The program has earned a reputation for producing top-notch leaders like Lamb and other former mayors, including Saundra Naifeh and Randel Shadid. Walk past the wall of LE graduates at the Edmond Chamber of Commerce and you’ll see other Edmond greats like Sherry Jordan, Janet Yowell, Avilla Williams, Nick Massey, Josh Moore, and Darrell Davis. The list continues with leaders at the state level, including State Sen. Adam Pugh, State Rep. Mike Osburn, former State Treasurer Ken Miller, and Vice Chairman of the Oklahoma Tax Commission Clark Jolley. You would have a difficult time finding an organization or committee in town that doesn’t include an LE alumni member. 

Although it’s modeled after leadership programs across the nation, Leadership Edmond has spent almost four decades fine-tuning the program to focus on issues important to Edmondites. “I had no idea Edmond did that” is a common expression heard from LE participants as they’re informed about the planning behind capital improvement projects or meeting the people controlling the city’s stoplights. Each session brings a wealth of knowledge and no topic is left uncovered.  

It was an amazing experience to learn all about he facets of our community. I was able to connect personally and professionally with the speakers and felt immense pride in my hometown.

Jennifer Seaton, LE Class 35

Leadership Edmond Class XXXV (35) graduate Jennifer Seaton had lived in Edmond for years but had never worked in the community until she accepted a position as director of Visit Edmond in 2019.

“It was an amazing experience to learn all about the facets of our community,” said Seaton. “I was able to connect personally and professionally with the speakers and felt immense pride in my hometown.” 

The program takes those who are already interested in community leadership and gives them the knowledge, connections, and resources to make it happen. Ask any graduate and they will tell you; nothing will prepare you to be a civil servant like being a participant of Leadership Edmond.

Leadership Edmond Class 34 on the Francis Tuttle culinary tour (Photo provided)

“The best part for me was the breadth of information and industries we covered in both class content and participants,” said Class 35 graduate Phil Klutts. “It was a huge benefit to connect with other leaders who are passionate about Edmond.”

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic Klutts, Seaton and the rest of LE Class 35 viewed their final session from home via Zoom. Forty participants and nearly a dozen speakers joined the call, including Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and most of the Edmond area state representatives and senators. “Adaptability helped the class finish strong in the midst of unprecedented pandemic restrictions,” said Klutts. “I am confident Leadership Edmond will continue to be a benefit no matter what the ‘new normal’ looks like.”

After completing the program, graduates can join the Leadership Edmond Alumni group where they have access to continuous networking and educational events. 

The Edmond Chamber is now accepting applications for Leadership Edmond Class XXXVI (36). The program begins with an overnight retreat in August where participants get to know their classmates through team building. The remaining eight, one-day long sessions are held once a month from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Each session focuses on a specific community topic including city government, education, state government and volunteerism.

Applications are available at edmondchamber.com/leadershipedmond and are due by 5 p.m. on Friday, July 24.

Leadership Edmond Class 34 touring STEM building on higher education day (Photo provided)

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About Brittany Willison

Brittany Willison is the Director of Communications and Marketing at the Edmond Area Chamber of Commerce where she helps members gain exposure, connect with the community and attract business. She also leads the chamber’s young professionals and diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Brittany graduated from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2016 where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Media. Originally from Owasso, she calls Edmond home now with her husband Matt and rescue pup Avery.