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Brian Wiens joins team of Wichita’s rising leaders

This post originally appeared on Wichita Business Journal.

A new class of participants in the Wichita Business Journal’s Emerging Leaders program say they are coming to the table with a desire to expand their professional networks and help define the city’s future.

What they will find over the next several months, say past participants, is the opportunity to do exactly that and to prime each other for individual successes that combine to drive successes all across the community.

“The connections gained through the program are invaluable, but they are more than typical networking,” says Lindsay Zimmerman, manager for community partnerships at Youth Entrepreneurs and a 2017-2018 Emerging Leader. “It’s bettering yourself alongside a group of like-minded professionals in a similar season of life and career. We’ve all become advocates for each other’s success.”

Gaining perspective

New participant Tiffany Morgan, of Wichita State University, says those connections are one of the biggest things she hopes to get out of the Emerging Leaders program.

“It’s definitely connections and just trying to see how we can move forward as a group,” she says.

That’s been a sentiment shared by many of her peers at the roundtable discussions held so far.

And moving forward now, participants say, feels like it comes with an added urgency with big decisions like what to do with Century II on the horizon and the ongoing issue of talent attraction and retention.

A group of program participants who met for the first roundtable discussion for the 2019-20 class in late October all agreed that the status quo isn’t going to cut it for Wichita’s future.

But what they and the group that followed them earlier this month discovered, as they shared their backgrounds and what keeps them in Wichita, is that the city’s feel of being a small town with big-city amenities is still a major draw.

That makes helping craft the city’s future a balancing act, says participant Preston Todd of Friends University.

“We’ve seen some successes with (growth),” he says. “How do we continue to do that in way that values what makes Wichita unique?”

Bringing those perspectives has already proven valuable only a few weeks into the program, says 2019-20 class member Nathaniel Martens of Fleeson, Gooing, Coulson & Kitch LLC.

“It’s developing relationships and connections outside of an area where I would normally connect with people,” he says.

Building confidence

As the program progresses, participants will also have the chance to hear from local leaders on a variety of topics in panel discussions and presentations held at the Kansas Leadership Center.

Aaron Ryan, executive director of the Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita Medical Practice Association, who participated in the 2018-19 Emerging Leaders class, says those events are also valuable.

One that resonated for him was a presentation from Valerie Wise of Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport on what it takes to attract new airlines and new routes to the airport.

“(That) sticks out as having been really informative to me,” he says.

And, says Dan Shurtz, vice president of sales and strategy at Oxford Senior Living and 2017-18 Emerging Leader, meeting with leaders like that was one of the biggest benefits he saw from the program.

The other, he says, was a collective confidence gained by having absorbed the information from those leaders — as well as each others stories and hopes — as a group.

“It was confidence that encouraged us to be bold in our voice for what we want Wichita to become,” he says. “That our voice matters and to be fearless in our efforts to make that vision a reality.”

Just do it

Shurtz joins fellow past participants Ryan and Zimmerman in underscoring the value of the connections made through their time in Emerging Leaders.

But ultimately, they agree, that what happens in the program and beyond has everything to do with what they put into it.

Shurtz says that was crystalized for him during a panel discussion that included Janelle King, local entrepreneur and owner of the Workroom, and it would be his advice to this round of participants.

“Her advice was this: ‘“Don’t ask permission,”’ Shurtz says. “If we want to make Wichita a better place, then don’t ask permission from those you think have the power to do something about it. Instead, get to work doing what you can to make it happen.”

Adds Zimmerman, who says she and other past participants look forward to seeing how this latest group helps move their companies and Wichita forward: “Put into it what you hope to get out of it.”

Ryan says that means listening and learning, and that what participants will find if they do is that they are not alone.

Changing a city is tall order, he says, and it won’t happen overnight. But that makes it even more important, he says, that each individual looks for places to do their part.

“There are lots of people in similar positions with a drive and passion for Wichita,” Ryan says. “(But) municipal changes are adaptive in nature and it takes a lot of time to move the different factions to consensus around a topic. Watch for progress, but do your part to move the conversation forward by being active and engaged.”

Let’s dive into this thing.