Leadership Focus is written by Deke Copenhaver, Principal with Copenhaver Consulting LLC. The former mayor of Augusta, a triathlete, writer and runner, Deke is focused on transforming great ideas into great actions.
In today’s world of multi-tasking and instant gratification it can sometimes be difficult to take the long view in a leadership role when you’re constantly putting out the fires in front of you on a daily basis. We’ve all been there and done that as life does come at us at an expedited pace these days. However, I’m now at an interesting place in my life where I’ve actually been able to see the seeds I’ve focused on planting through the years begin to come to fruition. I’m also beginning to fully realize how much taking the long view in leadership positions pays off over time.
At the beginning of the year, I was invited to go to Atlanta with the Leadership Augusta Class for "Augusta Day at the Capital." During the trip I addressed the class on leadership and my book which was yet to be published. During the trip, I had the opportunity to begin to build relationships with many of the class members and the bonds of friendship continue to grow stronger every day. As we walked towards the Capitol that morning, a wonderful young lady named Ashley Strong-Green shared with me that I was the first person she ever voted for when I first ran for office in 2005 and how strongly she felt a personal connection to that initial campaign fourteen years ago. Needless to say, I was moved and Ashley, who currently serves as an English and Humanities Instructor at Augusta Technical College, is an amazing example of the quality of Augusta’s next generation of leaders.
During my remarks to the class I took the opportunity to encourage them to consider a run for local office. On the bus ride back from Atlanta that night, I was approached by another member of the class named Sean Mooney. Sean proceeded to tell me that he was considering a run for office and that he needed me to be his “Sherpa”. I immediately agreed and throughout this year I’ve had the great pleasure of getting to know Sean, a thirty-two-year-old entrepreneur and small business owner, and now consider him a close friend. In October Sean announced his candidacy for the Augusta-Richmond County Commission and I am proud to have the opportunity to support him in his pursuit of becoming a true public servant.
Another close friend I made on the trip to Atlanta is a young lady named Kimberly Stewart who serves as Audience Manager for Augusta Magazine and Savannah Magazine. Several months ago Kim and I had lunch to discuss my book as well as the state of leadership in Augusta. We both share the same mindset that it is time for a new generation of leaders to take the helm in our community in order to help put a younger, fresher and more diverse face on our city. In the course of the conversation Kim shared with me something I had never known until that day.
In my book, I shared the story of how the first church I was ever invited to speak in was Macedonia Baptist, a historic African-American church here in Augusta. I went on to write of how it felt to connect with and welcomed into a church I had never attended and how much that meant to me. Over the course of our conversation Kim said “You know how you talked in your book about speaking at Macedonia and what that meant to you? Well, that’s my church. I was young and I was there that night. Before that, I had never cared about local politics or government but that night you became my man and I wanted you to know how much that meant to me.” I was floored to think that the words I had spoken that night fourteen years early had such an impact on a teenager who has now become a leader in our community as well as my friend.
During my time in office, and since I’ve returned to the private sector, I’ve taken every opportunity possible to speak to and encourage young people. I remember being asked on a regular basis by people during my time in public service why I took so much time to speak to kids because kids didn’t vote. However, having taken the long view and making the effort to help plant seeds with the young people who I knew would become leaders in our community is now paying dividends five years after I left public office. To see these seeds coming to fruition as I enter mid-life is undoubtedly one of my life’s greatest blessings.
As local elected officials serving cities throughout the great state of Georgia, we have perhaps one of the best leadership platforms available to set an example for the next generation of leaders as to what true public service looks like. In serving in leadership positions it’s always a good thing to consider that the next generation is out there and they’re watching. As a firm believer in the power of local government and the positive impact local elected officials can have on their communities, I’m hopeful that each of you have the opportunity to see the seeds you’ve worked hard to plant come to fruition in your communities.