SC Johnson College brings professional development series to Ithaca city employees

By: Erica Ellis
City employees attend leadership training as part of the LEADBold series.

City employees attend leadership training as part of the LEADBold series.

The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business has partnered with the City of Ithaca to launch a free professional-development series that will focus on leadership skills and workplace issues in a yearlong pilot project for city employees.

The initiative grew out of discussions that SC Johnson College administrators held with Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick and other city officials last winter. The collaboration is part of the college’s focus on engagement in the community.

“We have committed to making an impact on the community and being inclusive,” said Rohit Verma, the college’s dean of external relations. “This program creates natural connections between our faculty and our community.”

The LEADBold Professional Development Series launched this fall with three sessions presented by Cornell business faculty members on topics including management communication, effective listening, and building appropriate relationships with employees. Held at the Tompkins County Public Library, each session has attracted about 30 employees from various city departments.

“The people of Ithaca rely on our staff every day of the year,” said Myrick, a 2009 Cornell graduate. “That means that investing in our staff—providing them with the tools and skills they need to be successful—is one of our highest priorities. This partnership will boost those efforts.”

One goal of the series is to help city employees develop their leadership capacity within city government, said Leslie Moskowitz, manager of organizational development for the City of Ithaca. “It’s not just for our senior staff,” she said. “It’s a way to have topics that potentially develop everyone to be a leader in the organization.”

The SC Johnson College offered to organize the series because leadership skills are a core element of its curriculum. “If you look at the topics that the staff members in the city are very interested in—financial planning, leadership skills, and teamwork—they all fall within the college’s expertise,” said Candace Maxian, the college’s assistant director of public engagement.

Judi Brownell, a professor of management and organizational behavior and the author of several textbooks on communication, gave the second talk in the series in November. The session, which focused on using emotional intelligence to improve listening skills, attracted staff from both the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Brownell explained to the group that using effective listening can make organizations better places to work. “It is absolutely true that every one of you here has a huge impact on your organization, no matter what position you’re in,” Brownell said. “Your behavior affects other people, and that’s a choice you can make that will make your whole work environment a better place.”

After the talk, Christine Barksdale, an investigator with the Ithaca Police Department, said effective listening skills would be helpful to have in crisis negotiations. “When you’re negotiating with people, if you’re having a bad day and you don’t feel like listening to them at that moment, it could really go south,” she said.

The LEADBold series, which stands for “leading, engaging, anticipating, and demonstrating boldly,” will continue in the spring with four sessions on topics ranging from handling fiscal stress to planning for retirement. Based on feedback on the pilot project, the college may expand the program to other municipalities in Tompkins County.

Verma noted that the initiative resonates with the college’s five core values of excellence, inclusion, engagement, community, and impact. Verma credited Soumitra Dutta, dean of the college, and Christopher Barrett, its dean of academic affairs, with launching the program.

“We are pleased to have this opportunity to be of service to the Ithaca community,” Verma said. “The LEADBold project is a natural fit with our college’s aims and expertise. We hope to keep doing this for a very long time.”