It shouldn’t be too surprising that the CEO and president of the area’s premier leadership program has the initials A.M.O., much like the slang form of ammunition, meaning the information used to propel a debate or movement forward.
At a decade in, Aradhna M. Oliphant uses Leadership Pittsburgh — a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing a diverse group of leaders to serve southwestern Pennsylvania — to develop the region’s vision year after year.
“I have served in the role of president and CEO for over 10 years now, [and] it has been tremendous to see that the work of many leaders over many years in multiple spheres has resulted in the excitement around the new Pittsburgh we see today,” Oliphant said.
To graduate from Leadership Pittsburgh — which is accepting applicants through the end of the month — participants must satisfy required minimum credits by attending activities such as staying at an overnight retreat, taking a policy-focused trip to Harrisburg, coaching, volunteering, completing a Pittsburgh Police ride-along and attending a community meeting or two.
With more than 2,000 graduates of the textured leadership program, the alumni list sheds light on how acquired skills can translate into real life by becoming a rich resource for area nonprofit and public boards and commissions.
The leaders are at the helm of some of the region’s most-renowned businesses and organizations: There’s Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh; Temple Sinai’s outgoing director of Lifelong Learning, Rabbi Ron Symons; PNC Bank Senior Vice President Debbie Breslof; and Jeremy Shapira, senior director and HR business partner at Giant Eagle. The list goes on to include people representing brands such as the Carnegie Museums, the University of Pittsburgh, Merrill Lynch and the Fred Rogers Company.
Schreiber, who graduated from the program in 2001, said he hoped “to have a deeper sense of the challenges and opportunities in the Pittsburgh region and how to apply what I learned within my own leadership.” He said paying leadership forward was a take-home message that has not left him.
Other participants, like Symons, who graduated this year from the program, joined to be a part of a pool they wouldn’t have dipped their toes into otherwise.
“LP opened doors for me I would have never walked through on my own,” Symons said. “I better understand the challenges and opportunities facing Pittsburgh and the role I can play as an engaged member of the community.”
That newly defined role, he explained, forms because of Leadership Pittsburgh’s collaborative vibe.
“For me, the most valuable take away from LP was the opportunity to network with so many people from across the Pittsburgh community in conversations about essential issues in our community,” Symons said. “I engaged in conversations with my colleagues in business, education [and] social service about the growing gap between the rich and the poor, successful public education models, the impact of art and culture on Pittsburgh, government structures [and] the criminal justice system.”
Breslof’s eyes were also opened, and in that process she better understood the power of being a leader.
“The motto of ‘we open eyes, minds and doors’ is truly representative of the LP experience,” Breslof, graduate of the 2012 Leadership Pittsburgh cohort, said of the need for Pittsburgh to have true partnerships among business, government, nonprofits and community organizations. “The LP experience opened my eyes to this imperative, opened my mind to my responsibility to be a leader in this effort and opened the door for me to step forward with the knowledge gained in our cohort.”
Graduates take that awakening and run with it, something that Oliphant says is working to put Pittsburgh on the map for cities in the world spotlight.
“We have gained not only national, but also global recognition in areas related to turnaround and livable cities, riverfront revitalization, neighborhood-based economic development and more,” Oliphant said.
But it doesn’t stop there.
“We cannot ignore the disparities in wealth, health and outcomes that continue to plague many of our citizens,” Oliphant said. “The challenge now lies in realizing that critical choices made during these next five years will determine the story that is told in the long run about Pittsburgh and its resilience.”
To come up with solutions, Breslof gives advice to the next Leadership Pittsburgh cohort.
“Commit yourself to one full day per month away from the office, turn off your PDA, don’t check email and don’t take calls,” Breslof said. “Focus on the activity and learning opportunities of the LP day, and take the time to reflect on how it impacts your everyday life. You will be refreshed and inspired by the opportunity you have taken to learn from these sessions, and [you will] return to daily activity with much more purpose.”
Shapira said the change in perspective may not be easy but is necessary.
“My advice for Leadership Pittsburgh applicants is to ensure they are ready to enter the program with open minds and are prepared to learn as well as share their perspective on community challenges,” the 2012 graduate of the program and current board member of Leadership Pittsburgh said. “This open and sometimes challenging discourse is a critical part of developing innovative solutions.”
Applications for the 2015-2016 Leadership Pittsburgh cohort are due on May 1, and Oliphant is seeking those who can mirror the diversity of the city.
“Our region is not monolithic; its leadership should connect with each other and work on issues in such a way that a robust agenda for regional prosperity can emerge and be sustained,” Oliphant said. “It is with this goal in mind that we attempt to create as rich a mix of backgrounds in our cohorts as is possible. Uniqueness of cultural experiences and views when shared can create the groundwork for mutually trusting collaboration for the betterment of the broader community.”
For more information on applying, visit lpinc.org.
Bee Schindler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.