By Crayton W. Webb
My original attitude around getting involved with Leadership Dallas was lukewarm. I remember thinking that I was certain to make some fantastic new contacts, but I was doubtful there would be much about the city I would learn I didn’t already know. I had previously covered Dallas City Hall as an investigative reporter and had later served as chief of staff to the mayor. It seemed there were no secrets left to uncover. My arrogant predictions were both proved false. Not only did those “contacts” actually become deep friendships I hope to have for the rest of my life, but I learned so much about our city – its issues, its neighborhoods and people, its history and struggles, its treasures and even its aspirations – I could not have begun to presume to understand before. In fact, I’m such a convert and avid support of the program that for the last three years I’ve served on the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas Alumni Board and this year have the honor to lead it.
Not only have I benefitted tremendously from the experience, but my company has as well for its support of me and those it sponsored both prior and since. I can think of few other corporate investments – whether it be Leadership Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio or anywhere in between – that demonstrate a more tangible contribution to the community by lending its up and coming executives, on largely company time, to an experience meant to develop and groom the future leaders of the city – both in civic and non-profit engagements. So, why would they do this?
First, good companies know to keep their top talent, the best and brightest want to know they’re working for a company that’s committed to giving back and will help connect them to the community. To clarify, most of those who participate in one of the Leadership programs are not fresh faced recent college grads in their first job, or even their second perhaps, wanting to learn how to volunteer or get involved. Most are seasoned in their careers and community engagement – having served already on non-profit boards, even as board chairs in some cases. Leadership Dallas is not the place to “learn how to be a leader,” but instead, to prepare to help tackle the most difficult and troubling issues of a community. Good companies have the foresight to understand their top talent’s loyalty comes not by chaining them to their desks but by giving them opportunities to get involved outside the glass tower on the company’s behalf.
Second, good things happen for corporations that invest properly. What I mean is this: the best companies know their brand’s reputation is directly linked to their image, locally, nationally even internationally, as a good corporate citizen. The building and maintenance of that reputation starts in the headquarters city. And nothing demonstrates a corporation’s dedication to the betterment of its hometown than its willingness to offer up its executives as volunteers on civic boards and commissions and with local non-profit organizations. Graduates of the Leadership programs are the ripe talent pool. Any company can write a check, but not all will hand over the time of their talent. Over time the investment builds up “goodwill in the bank of public trust.” When regulatory, legal or reputational issues come up – something that could negatively impact the reputation of a company – local regulators or elected officials are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt and second thought to the company that is known to be engaged in the community’s issues – and so will the general public.
Third, Leadership graduates serve as a company’s best front line for vetting its corporate non-profit contributions. When companies write a check or provide volunteers, it has to be a fit with the company’s culture for the relationship to be long lasting. In other words, the company’s investment should focus on a critical community issue tied to the company’s core values and mission. And, corporate philanthropic budgets can sometimes run tight. Graduates of Leadership Dallas and similar programs throughout Texas already are or will be the volunteer leaders of a community’s non-profit organizations. Likewise, those graduates are perfectly positioned to guide their company on where best to invest its corporate citizenship capital. They can effectively ask and answer the question, “what problem or need in the community has an inherent fit with the mission of my company that will allow us to help solve the problem in a way no other organization can.” Now, that’s a competitive advantage in the “bank of public trust.”
In hindsight and in looking at those who have recently graduated from Leadership Dallas and those who will soon join, I’m humbled and frankly, a little astonished that I ever made it into the program. But it’s not surprising to me that one of the most popular activities among current class members is their class volunteer project. This year’s class raised over $100,000 and was able to build a reading advancement center for a local Boys & Girls Club. One of the most popular activities for Leadership Dallas alums – more than any forum or cocktail party we regularly hold – are the opportunities for us to volunteer together with local non-profits. The best companies who are civically minded and strategically aligned with local non-profits in helping solve the community’s greatest issues will be led, or already are led, by graduates of one of Texas’ premiere Leadership programs.
Crayton Webb is Director, Corporate Communications & Corporate Social Responsibility for Mary Kay Inc., and is the current Chair of Leadership Dallas. Crayton is the former Chief of Staff for Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and was a reporter at CBS 11, KVTV, Dallas-Fort Worth.
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