Monday, October 15 , 2018, 7:50 pm | Fair 65º


Donna Polizzi: Ever More Vibrant Leadership Santa Maria Valley Celebrates 20 Years

Harvey Firestone said the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. President Ronald Reagan said the greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things, but the one who gets the people to do the greatest things.

I certainly can’t improve on these two great quotes from these two great leaders, but I should add to President Reagan’s quote that leadership isn’t the exclusive domain of men ... indeed, women too, can be and certainly are great leaders.

Since our founding as a nation, America has been blessed with terrific leaders. From Eleanor Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan, from Dwight Eisenhower to Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

For the past several years I have been honored and have considered it one of the highest privileges of my life to participate in a local group that identifies, develops, empowers and produces local citizens who are committed to living a life of Servant Leadership and pursuing a cause larger than themselves.

It all began 20 years ago when two Santa Maria Valley businessmen, entrepreneurs and visionaries approached the then-president and CEO of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce with a proposal to start a community leadership program in Santa Maria.

The two men were Cary Gray and Jim Simmons. Gray had graduated from Leadership SLO in San Luis Obispo and was then enrolled in Leadership Santa Barbara County. Both Gray and Simmons had graduated from Bob Hatch’s Leadership Lompoc Valley program, so these two men knew that Santa Maria could benefit from a similar program to develop community leaders.

Gray also knew from his many community meetings that a dozen other local citizens had graduated from other Central Coast leadership programs. So he and Simmons asked them to become the Leadership Advisory Committee. They would serve as Leadership’s first Board of Directors during the critical first year.

The vision of Gray and Simmons was to give interested citizens from all walks of life and professions the opportunity to immerse themselves in exploring the major issues facing our community, and become more knowledgeable about its inner workings.

Their vision has not only come to fruition, it has helped transform Santa Maria by creating an interconnected community of almost 350 citizens who are doers, creators and producers. In other words, leaders.

Were it not for their vision, and their determination to turn that vision into a reality, Santa Maria wouldn’t be the great place to live, work and play that it is today.

Vision is the key to many, if not most, great endeavors. Helen Keller, who was also a great leader, said “vision” is the ability to see that which is invisible to everyone else.

Gray and Simmons saw that vision of leadership which, at the time at least, was invisible to everyone else in Santa Maria. But vision alone is not enough. As Joel Baker stressed, “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.”

An opportunity to make their vision a reality opened its door when Gray and Simmons learned that Hatch, then-president and CEO of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce, was stepping down to come to Santa Maria as the new CEO of the Santa Maria chamber. They wasted no time — in fact, legend has it that Gray and Simmons were waiting for Hatch in the parking lot on his first day of his new job — presenting their vision to him.

Hatch immediately jumped on board and started to help them make their vision a reality for Santa Maria. He promised to work with his Board of Directors to make the Leadership Program a committee of the chamber.

Hatch was and remains a dedicated and enthusiastic supporter of the Leadership Santa Maria Valley Program. And I’m very happy to say that so, too, is his successor, the current chamber pesident and CEO, Glenn Morris.

Within a few months of that day, the charter documents for the new Leadership Santa Maria Valley were signed, and the curriculum put in place. Gray and Simmons, along with 22 other citizens, many of whom became and are still pillars in the Santa Maria community today, formed the first class — Leadership Santa Maria Valley’s Passionate Class of 1995.

Vision became reality. And the cultivating of current and future leaders started and continues. It is a terrific legacy of which I am proud to be a small part.

So if leadership is something that calls to you in the deepest recesses of your considered conscience, contact the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce about becoming a member of the next Leadership Santa Maria Valley class. You will never regret your decision.

Click here for more information about Leadership Santa Maria Valley, or call 805..

— Donna Polizzi is founder and president of Keys to the Coast, a Noozhawk contributing writer and a board member of Leadership Santa Maria Valley. The opinions expressed are her own.

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