LEAP Forward in Your Career

Leadership Southern Maryland Launches New Program Aimed at Professional Growth for Emerging Leaders 

Young professionals and emerging leaders in Southern Maryland now have a new opportunity for personal and professional growth that will help accelerate their careers, companies, and communities. 

At the beginning of the year, Leadership Southern Maryland (LSM), a tri-county non-profit organization, launched the LSM Emerging Leaders Program, also known as LEAP, offering a six-month educational and networking opportunity for 25 participants who live or work in the region. 

Through a series of six “experiences,” LEAP participants facilitate, foster, and refine their individual leadership understanding and abilities via structured course curriculum and a focus on self-discovery, teamwork, and networking. The program includes a capstone project where participants apply their leadership by addressing a community issue and studying the leadership skills, behaviors, and styles exhibited by people leading in their topic area. 

LEAP was developed by LSM’s 2019 Executive Program alumni as part of their capstone project. The LSM board had been discussing a way to reach emerging leaders in Southern Maryland over the past several years, said LSM Executive Director Denise Foster. 

“When I started in 2018, I really loved the idea of reaching out to the emerging leaders and felt there would be a great market for it here,” Foster said. “Many professionals in our area are being recruited from other states or counties and have a difficult time finding personal and professional networks here, causing them to leave after a few years.” 

Christina Johannsen, LSM ’19 graduate and LEAP chair, has also been invested in the growth of young leaders in Southern Maryland. After launching St. Mary’s Young Professionals organization four years ago, she still saw a need for a formal program. 

“Being part of the founding team during my 2019 LSM class that created the mission, goals, and ultimate framework for LEAP, it was so gratifying to be able to see those initial discussions come to fruition in a tangible program that directly impacts not just the development and growth of our local emerging leaders, but also boosts the attractiveness of the Southern Maryland region from a recruitment and retention perspective.” 

Having just launched the pilot program in January, LSM was forced to hit the pause button on LEAP when COVID-19 struck the area. They took a four-month break but were able to extend the program to ensure that all participants had the full LEAP experience. 

“Taking the health and safety of our participants and speakers into account, we were able to successfully pivot our July class into a fully virtual day, and are working to transition our experiences for the remainder of the 2020 program to a hybrid approach, allowing in-person connections alongside virtual interactions,” Johannsen said. “As we are half-way through our first year, I can honestly say that it has been a resounding success even with some unexpected challenges thrown our way!”

Participants of the inaugural class are already seeing benefits from the program. “LEAP has given me a better understanding of myself and how I operate in a professional landscape,” said Destiny Allen, St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Develop specialist. “How I perceive myself and how others perceive me could be completely different, so learning how to manage the relationships and how I manage working with other people has been one of the biggest things that’s helping me in my professional life.”

As the COVID pandemic continues, LSM and LEAP are among the many organizations finding new ways to conduct business and stay connected with their teams. 

“The success of LEAP is based on the engagement of each of the participants, whether virtually or in person,” Johannsen said. “We have had in-person, virtual, and hybrid experiences thus far and the flexibility of the participants, speakers, and facilitators and their willingness to utilize multiple methods of communication for engagement demonstrates that regardless of the means by which participants join in each experience, LEAP will continue to offer high-quality development sessions that directly and immediately provide benefits to all.”

Leadership Southern Maryland is designed to educate and inspire a diverse group of leaders creating opportunities for collaborations and partnerships impacting the community needs of Calvert, Charles, and St. Mary’s counties.

For more information, visit LeadershipSOMD.org/Leap.