There’s a big difference between knowing about something or someone and knowing that person or thing. To know requires experience, it requires getting up close, and in many cases it requires a personal connection. Those encounters shape the reality in which we live. They create our beliefs about what’s possible, expand our worldviews, and prompt us to action. If you want to change someone’s belief, try changing their experiences of that belief first. That is precisely the influence of Leadership Wichita -- it creates knowing experiences.
I’m Ryan Bond with Thrive Restaurant Group. For the past five years, I’ve had the privilege to serve on the Board of Trustees for Leadership Wichita, the last two as Chair. Each year, we as trustees spend six to eight months creating an eleven-day Wichita experience for its attendees that you won’t get anywhere else.
Whether you’ve lived in Wichita your whole life or you’re a transplant like me, Leadership Wichita exposes you to the people, organizations, and issues that are actively shaping both the life we currently live and the future of this city.
The Leadership Wichita experience is informative, immersive, and inspiring. Each day centers on one facet of life in Wichita: the economy, media, local government, not-for-profit work, economic development, and education. During these sessions, attendees are connected with the people and leaders intimately involved in these aspects of community life, from influential community leaders, business leaders, city and county council and commission members, superintendents, judges, sheriff and police to students, first responders, reporters, inmates, economists, and state-wide elected officials. Attendees are able to interact with these leaders and ask tough questions of the leaders and of themselves as they try to engage with Wichita in a new way.
Our sessions don’t take place in a classroom or boardroom; we go where the action happens, to places like Century II, the county jail, local not-for-profits, USD 259 schools, the news station, and City Hall. The sessions are underscored by up-close experiences where attendees spend a school day with a USD 259 principal and ride along overnight with a Wichita police officer, fire fighter, or sheriff’s deputy.
Not surprisingly, though, the most impactful outcome of Leadership Wichita is the relationships that are built among the class participants. I don’t mean attendees network with each other; they forge a real connection to each other based on shared experience. One way we’ve facilitated this is by changing the application process. We’ve re-focused the application to help applicants communicate more about who they are and what they believe. It’s been an important change, because we are able to select class participants that are as diverse in thought, background, and experiences as possible, but that have similar hearts for our city’s best. The combination of the transformative session experiences and the like-heartedness of the class brings the challenges and opportunities facing our community into a clearer focus. Participants of Leadership Wichita are uniquely positioned to stand in the gap and connect the increasingly divergent groups in our community to create solutions that value our differences and improve our future.
Leadership Wichita is an experience that will change the knowing of Wichita. We hope you’ll consider nominating someone for next year’s program. Nominations will open in late April. If nominated, I strongly encourage you to apply.