Wisconsin’s communities face complex challenges such as access to broadband and child care, which require effective leadership at the organizational level. However, communities face a leadership void. UW–Madison Extension’s Organizational and Leadership Development Program fosters leadership that is rooted in inclusive processes and drives purposeful action to benefit Wisconsin’s communities.
Extension delivers leadership development programs that advise on curriculum design, facilitate learning, and evaluate outcomes — in 2022, Extension delivered 12 comprehensive programs, which reached 328 current and emerging leaders across Wisconsin. One example is the Sauk County Institute of Leadership, which one participant described as a “catalyst for connection to those around us” that “really changes and influences your life.”
In addition to building skills, these programs generate a sense of belonging that bridges divides. The Local Government Leadership Academy serves elected, appointed, and employed municipal and county government officials. This nine-month program helps leaders develop professionally while building the capacity of local governments, which ultimately leads to intra-agency improvements such as increased staff morale and more effective decision making.
Additionally, Extension has pioneered new approaches to leadership development by centering community members in the co-construction of programs that prioritize culture, language, and lived experiences. Elevando Wisconsin elevates personal and community leadership skills and builds a network of leaders across Wisconsin. Tribes Lead! integrates Indigenous and non-Indigenous leadership perspectives and practices through interactive activities.
The result is increased confidence in leadership skills and stronger networks of leaders across Wisconsin. Participants have reported improved attitudes toward people who are different from them and have even referred peers to these programs upon completion. Participants have gained knowledge and awareness of the issues most important to their communities, as well as how government functions. In fact, several participants have reported that this knowledge has helped them take action to address complex challenges facing their communities.
A consistent theme that has emerged is the importance of connecting individual leadership development directly to the organizations they are a part of in order to benefit the communities to which they belong.