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A new focus on leadership

The director of a fledgling Montana program was in Havre on Wednesday to talk about leadership.

Bruce Whittenberg, executive director of Leadership Montana, was the featured speaker at the 95th annual meeting of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce.

"If we're going to change Montana, going to build a new image for the state, it has to start now," Whittenberg said.

Havre Chamber executive director Debbie Vandeberg, who has been working with Whittenberg on the team designing Leadership Montana, invited him to speak at the chamber meeting.

Also at the meeting, Lance Johnson was presented the chamber's 2003 North Star Award for community leadership and service. Johnson is assistant branch manager of Stockman Bank in Havre and owner of Northwinds Athletic Club.

Leadership Montana, supported by a variety of businesses and organizations in the state, got its start during the economic summit sponsored by U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns in May 2003, Whittenberg said.

The first session starts in September. On Feb. 15, the program will begin accepting applications to participate. The members of the first class will be announced June 1.

"I hope we have a lot of applications come out of Havre for the maiden voyage of Leadership Montana," Vandeberg said as she closed the meeting.

Craig Erickson, a planner with Bear Paw Development Corp. and a former chamber president, said in an interview that developing leaders is crucial to the success of projects in any community.

"I believe a community can do pretty much whatever it wants to do - be it build a multipurpose center or downtown revitalization - if it has the leadership to step up to the plate and drive whatever the project may be," he said.

Most states already have leadership programs. The group organizing the Montana effort has been talking with people from other states as it molds Montana's version, Whittenberg said. The Leadership Montana organizers drew heavily from Wyoming's and also studied the Georgia program closely, he said.

Vandeberg was instrumental in starting Leadership High School in Havre, a partnership of the chamber, Havre Public Schools, and businesses and local government. It is now in its fourth year.

Whittenberg congratulated Havre on that program, saying many of the more than 100 students who participated are now committed to community service.

"Their lives have been changed and they in turn are changing the community," said Whittenberg, formerly publisher of the Helena Independent Record and the Billings Gazette.

The Havre chamber is now working on an adult leadership program for the Havre area, but Vandeberg said in an interview that the planning for it has been put on hold until the lessons she has learned from working on the state program can be applied to it.

The state program will accept 40 students. Whittenberg said the selection process will focus on diversity, as well as the applicants' abilities. Diversity was also emphasized when people were selected to design the program, he said.

"It's about people but it's also about diversity, about bringing people from all walks of life to not only participate in the program but also to develop it," Whittenberg said.

The first class will meet in September for an orientation, retreat and work session, and then will have six more sessions through May 2005.

The sessions will focus on different aspects of Montana's history, culture and economy, as well as strengths and challenges in areas like agriculture, education and government.

The key will be developing a network of leaders with understanding and the willingness to collaborate, Whittenberg said.

"Collaboration I will point to as the number one leadership issue of the 21st century," he said.

Lance Johnson was nominated for the North Star Award by Mike Zook, director of the Farm Service Agency in Hill County.

In his nomination, Zook credited Johnson for the success of the chamber's Agribusiness Committee and its many activities.

"If it's an Ag Chamber activity, chances are Lance is integrally involved," Zook wrote.

He also said Johnson has been a "driving force" behind the Montana State University-Northern Rodeo Club and its fund-raisers, and a longtime member and supporter of the local 4-H Foundation.


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