The American Leadership Forum (ALF) is a national non-profit organization, with nine autonomous chapters nationwide, whose mission is to join and strengthen diverse leaders to better serve the public good. The Tacoma/Pierce County chapter does this for the county through its annual Fellows leadership program and through Senior Fellows activities to keep the network of leaders connected.
The American Leadership Forum was founded in 1981 by attorney Joseph Jaworski who left his successful law practice to address what he increasingly saw as a crisis of leadership taking place throughout the country. Jaworski's vision was to establish a national organization dedicated to bringing together diverse leaders from various sectors in communities across the country to develop their leadership skills and capacity and to strengthen their commitment to work together on community issues.
Local leaders in Pierce County also recognized that organizational and community vitality requires a steady stream of empowering, motivated and connected leaders. Although other leadership programs exist locally and regionally, these programs are focused on training leaders in business or other areas, and do not focus on cross-sector leadership development. The ALF program fills that critical need, bringing diverse leaders to the table to learn, reflect and practice leadership for the common good.
ALF's purpose is to enhance individual leadership skills, to increase each participant's lifetime commitment to community leadership and service and to create a growing and diverse network of leaders with the skills, trust and relationships to work collaboratively for the public good.
ALF connects leaders across eleven sectors, increases an understanding of racial, age, gender, religious, sexual minority, ethnic and political differences, and weaves a new tapestry of strong relationships so that our leaders can call on one another to work together. Using an outcomes-based evaluation process, recent ALF classes have demonstrated statistically significant increases in participants' leadership capacity and community commitment.
The ALF Fellows Program provides a year-long training program for 20-24 influential leaders in the community. Participants reflect a cross-section of the community's cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, political, religious, sector and geographic diversity. To date, twenty two classes of 20-24 diverse leaders have completed the program and there are 481 Senior Fellows (graduates) in Pierce County. Class XXIII is in progress. The one-year leadership program is administered by the Executive Director under the direction of the ALF Board and its committees.
While the year-long leadership experience can be life-changing for the participants, the true value of the program is the building of a critical mass of leaders who have learned the dynamics of collaborative leadership and who are committed to serving the community. ALF graduates hold critical roles in many of the civic projects and organizations that have shaped Tacoma/Pierce County's economic and social development.
ALF recognizes that leadership development is not so much about teaching leadership as it is about creating an environment for individual learning and insight. ALF convenes a diverse group, provides the container in which they come together, and sets up some experiences and parameters that help to build trust and a willingness of participants to move out of their comfort zones. While the curriculum does include textbook learning, it is also about facilitating learning from and among participants. Much of the learning that participants gain indeed comes largely from others in the program via experiential learning.
The curriculum is based on providing participants opportunities to learn, practicing and reflecting on the topics of collaboration, dialogue, ethics and other leadership topics. Through the Fellows Program, participants broaden their perspectives about key issues and consider how leadership for the common good can affect the community and its future.
The core program begins with an orientation to acquaint participants with program expectations and outcomes. Early sessions include group behavioral assessments, understanding and appreciating differences, the creative use of dialogue, and how these topics influence leadership and decision making. These initial sessions are followed by a 6 day Community Building Lab in Plain, WA designed to build self-reliance, trust and teamwork. The Community Building Lab transforms participants' perceptions of personal abilities and strengths and adds new dimensions to their visions of what, together, they can do. Participants deeply explore the intersections of difference and eight critical leadership skills to better partner across these differences. This is the centerpiece of the ALF program, combining the tools of leadership theory with hands-on experiences in collaborative leadership and problem solving. Upon returning from the lab, class members continue to take part in a series of monthly seminars that examine and analyze the complex challenges facing today's leaders. Seminar topics include collaborative leadership, understanding diversity, systems thinking, and ethical dimensions of leadership. Sessions are led by prominent consultants and facilitators who specialize in the many facets of building community. Much of the learning comes from the interaction among class members.
The ALF program also includes a leadership (ALI) in action project in which the class defines a community need and an effective way to resolve it. Designing the ALI creates a learning laboratory for collaborative leadership using the skills and bonds developed by participants over the year.