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Pandemic temporarily halts Leadership Academy, but also brings new lessons

Senior Editor Top Stories

ALeadership Academy Logo big part of the Bar’s Leadership Academy program is bringing participants together to work on projects, build camaraderie, and promote networking.

Sorta the opposite of social distancing.

So, it’s not surprising that the general business and social shutdown that accompanied efforts to stem COVID-19 effects put a crimp in the concluding activities for the academy’s Class 7 and the starting sessions for Class 8. But not for too long.

“This has been thrust upon us, but we’re going to have to roll with it,” said John Howe, co-chair of the Leadership Academy Committee and an alumnus of the program.

Class 7 was scheduled to have a meeting in March as well as its graduation ceremony at the Bar’s June Annual Convention, which would also be the initiation session for Class 8. That March meeting was just as state and national stay-at-home orders went into effect, so it didn’t happen. And, of course, the Bar’s Annual Convention became virtual for the same reason.

“We are determined that we are going to usher Class 7 through and get them graduated. How that looks, we’re still working on that,” Howe said, adding extra sessions are being planned for July and September.

The realities of dealing with the pandemic – and the unexpected situations it created – will likely become part of the curriculum aside from the logistical challenge.

John Howe“I’m sure we will be incorporating some of the lessons of the pandemic into some of the remaining lessons for Class 7 as well as for Class 8,” Howe said. “Safe social distancing is now a reality that we have to deal with for the indefinite future.

“That’s part of our new social reality. We have been contemplating whether there will be ways for us to create the physical networking opportunities, having a session in a room but having everyone spaced out,” he added. “The key concept is going to flexibility as we plan these things out. The number one concern is safety of everyone, and we want everyone to stay healthy, and we don’t want anyone taking any unnecessary risks. At the same time, we would like to balance that with the opportunity for the fellows to have the fullest interactions.”

Port St. Lucie attorney Stephen P. Smith, a member of Class 7, said he’s disappointed by the “pause” in academy activities but is confident “we will finish our mission once the situation is safe to refocus and meet again in person.”

Despite the delay, he’s found the academy experience “extraordinary,” including meeting attorneys from across the state and in varied practice areas.

“I have found each fellow exemplifies traits of leadership that I have observed closely to strengthen my own leadership qualities. I have bonded with people I would not otherwise have had a chance to,” Smith said.

He cited classmate Michele Rayner-Goolsby from Clearwater, whom he never would have met without the Leadership Academy and who now has his enthusiastic support as she runs for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives on the other side of the state.

Additionally, “the speakers and curriculum have been impressive to say the least,” Smith said. “I have networked and learned from mayors, sheriffs, judges, politicians, Bar leaders, and notable attorneys who have each filled my leadership bucket with knowledge and inspiration. With all the pain and challenges occurring in our country currently, I find solace in my bond with my fellows who all come from different backgrounds. We seem to have focus on our similarities and have used our differences as a strength to uplift and inspire each other.”

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