Mean Green Leadership Machines


Early training and support for young professionals and high potentials is a crucial investment. The first few years of anyone’s career are an unanticipated and critical point of transition. Young professionals move out of the structured and predictable world of education and enter the professional landscape, with heightened responsibilities. To equip the rising leaders in our community during the first five years of their career, Southwest Michigan First designed FIRST UP. One such leader and participant of this year’s cohort is Komal Razvi from the YWCA Kalamazoo.  “I’m at a new point in my life where I finished my graduate program and thinking, well what now?” said Komal. “My director recommended that I participate in this program because he identified me as a rising leader, which is incredibly daunting.”   

A key benefit that Komal identified from the program right away was that it was held locally. “This isn’t a national leadership development program where people don’t know you or the context of what community you live in and the challenges of access you experience,” said Komal. “I’m able to develop and learn with the other leaders in my community, This program is homegrown and with people that I will see out in the community.”

Transitioning from a small firm to TowerPinkster, Cassandra Ritchie was eager to begin the program. “I was having trouble navigating my way of how I can be a leader when I’m not in a management role,” said Cassandra. “I’ve learned to adapt to the thought process that you don’t have to have a title to be a leader.” 

While the program is held virtually this year, Cassandra has already developed a new community of professionals that she already finds support from. “Sometimes it’s easy to get discouraged, but having other people to talk through the thought process who are also dealing with the same challenges, it makes it more attainable and natural,” said Cassandra.   

To equip young professionals with the “Guts, Grit, and Go-To’s” needed to lay a strong foundation, participants of the program are guided through different exercises to develop their leadership. While reflecting on the program, Derek Miller from Wightman appreciated the chance to identify leaders he admired from his inner circle. “I’ve learned you have to go outside of your comfort zone and be truthful to yourself to be a real leader,” said Derek. 

The tools and concepts covered in the program helped Luis Rodriguez from Depatie Fluid Power Company to set more intentional goals. Luis said he sees himself using his new-found skills regularly. “On a day to day basis I am interacting with leaders across the board,” said Luis. “As a company as we keep growing and making acquisitions, I see myself using these skills every day through every project I complete. I’ve already put some things in place.” 

While the program will conclude in the coming weeks, the impact it will have had on our community’s emerging leaders is sure to last for generations. 

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