As director of The Leadership Institute at Columbus State University, Shana Young is responsible for a small team that works with companies and organizations large and small to help them develop leaders, assess their skills, coach them and make strategic plans.
But that's not the most high-profile task for the Columbus native, who each year works as a "speaker wrangler," seeking out top talent for the annual Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum.
It's obviously an interesting and fun event for Young, putting her in position to meet a host of famous and powerful people -- former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, retired Gen. Colin Powell, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, author Malcolm Gladwell, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and husband and wife political consultants James Carville and Mary Matalin.
Young, 37, has even taken selfies with high-tech speakers Mark Cuban and Sheryl Sandberg, those coming during last August's forum at the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau. This year's event will take place Aug. 24-25, with George and Laura Bush, and their two daughters, headlining the event.
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The Ledger-Enquirer visited recently with Young, a Columbus resident and Hardaway High grad, to discuss her job at The Leadership Institute, which is located in the Cunningham Center at CSU. This interview has been edited a bit for length and clarity, with an expanded version available at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
Why did you decide to come back to Columbus rather than moving away for a career?
I wanted to come back. I loved Columbus. I loved growing up here. We are very fortunate that both of our parents are in town. My husband's parents are at Lake Harding and mine are in town. I just always felt that I wanted to be here and continue to see Columbus grow and change the way that it has over the last couple of years.
When I left for college in '95, things downtown were still not hopping. The Loft was there and a couple of other things were there, but it still wasn't to the extent that it is now. As it started to grow and change over these last couple of years, I just wanted to be part of it. I wanted to be here in my community that I love. I wanted to raise my kids here, and I wanted them to love Columbus as much as I do.
You must have seen something in Columbus that kept you attached to it?
My senior year in high school, I did an art project where we drew all the mills downtown as loft apartments. That's in 1995, before it had really started happening. So I think all of us knew that something big was coming. Things were happening, and the Columbus Challenge (fund-raiser) was getting started and geared up. It was so exciting. But it's been great to see Columbus State get a strong foothold in downtown and really kind of bookend the whole downtown with everything that's going on now.
Under today's circumstances you may have gone to CSU rather than Valdosta State?
Yeah, I think so. I went away to school, I went to Valdosta because I just wanted to go away. I think it's probably one of the best things I could have done. I wanted to get as close to the beach as I could without losing HOPE (scholarship). I could get all of the way to the bottom of Georgia to Valdosta, and be an hour from the beach, and I was good. (Laughs.)
I wanted to go away and I thought it was the smartest thing I ever did, to gain a true appreciation of my parents and everything that they do for you as a kid that you don't really grasp when you're living at home, and to just become more sure of myself and more confident in what I was actually capable of doing.
In high school, I was just an average student. I really cared more about having a good time and having fun than I did focusing on my studies. It really wasn't until I got to college and I was on my own that I was like, "Hmmm, I think that I can do this." And it was being able to major in something that you enjoy and care about, and I wanted to make my parents proud.
But balancing all of that and for the first time in college -- and that's why I went on to get my master's -- I realized that I might actually be smart. I had never even thought about that before. It had never occurred to me before that I might actually be good at studying and writing papers. Who knew?
At that time, what did you want to be?
When I was at Valdosta State, I majored in radio, television and film media studies and I wanted to be the next Barbara Walters. I really did. That's what I thought I was going to do. And I came back and interned here at WTVM for a summer after I graduated, but before I went to graduate school. I had been accepted at graduate school, but I just wasn't quite sure if I was going to go yet.
Again, it was the confidence thing: Can I really do this? While I was interning, I realized this was a lot of fun in college. But being a reporter in an actual job, much like I'm sure you realize, is way more difficult and time-consuming and a thankless job and the pay was terrible. I was disillusioned, I guess, and I thought, well, I'll go to graduate school and see what they have to offer there and then maybe I'll come back.
In graduate school, I was awarded a graduate teaching assistantship. A couple of us who had that were teaching public speaking at Auburn. That was the first time I realized that I enjoyed teaching. "I really like this. I'm having a good time. I think I'm kind of good at it." And I got the graduate teacher of the year award my last year there. It was really great.
I just didn't know before that experience in graduate school that I even wanted to be a teacher. I taught public speaking. I taught video editing, the intro class for students. I ran the video lab and assisted in some other classes. It was such a great experience. But it also opened the door to me to the fact that maybe what I want for my career is to be in training and development, to be teaching maybe in a college atmosphere, but elsewhere as well. That's why my first job out of college was with Vital Processing Services. (TSYS Acquiring now).
Which wouldn't have been a bad avenue considering how well TSYS has done?
It was great. I was a client rep for a couple of years and then I went into the training and development piece for a little while. And it was fun. It was like speaking in a foreign language. If you talk to anybody at TSYS, you know how that is. Everything is in acronyms and abbreviated. It takes a good year to even decipher what everybody is saying.
But at that same time I was at Vital, I was teaching part-time here doing some public speaking classes, when Gina Sheeks was still here (as department head). And I was teaching some classes at CVCC and just keeping my foot in higher ed and enjoying teaching. Gina had a position come open and wanted to know if I would be interested in teaching here full-time. So I took her up on it, and that's how I got from TSYS to Columbus State to the Communications Department.
What led to this job?
Yes. I was in the Communications Department about three years and the second year that I was there, they started The Leadership Institute with Carmen Cavezza, and then (came) Dr. Ed Helton, who was the original director here of The Leadership Institute. They got off to a great start and about a year in it, Ed was like, "I need help. I can't continue at this pace by myself. I need somebody else."
So he was asking around on the campus and at that time Dr. Richard Baxter was our chair, and he said, "You may want to look at Shana. She's really got a great background in communication and you wouldn't have to hire out anymore. You would have somebody in house doing the communication and leadership. She's familiar with some of the assessments and things that we use here at The Leadership Institute."
My first year here, I went through Leadership Columbus, which is still today one of the most rewarding things that I've ever done as far as really getting to know the city that I grew up in, but kind of peeking behind the curtain and seeing how everything works. When you grow up here, you know everything surface level.
What was Leadership Columbus like?
For me, it was one of the greatest experiences. We had an opportunity given to us as a class that I guess not all the classes get. We were charged with doing the "Point in Time Count" for the homeless here in this community. We're like, "We don't even know what that is, what are we going to do?" We had a really short time frame to get it done and we pulled it off and we worked together really hard and gathered a ton of data, which we used in a statistics class here at CSU to kind of distill it all down. Out of that class and that project came the 10-year plan to end homelessness, which we wrote here at The Leadership Institute.
What are your duties as director of the institute? What do you do?
We're unique in the fact that we are a for-profit business in a nonprofit entity. We're unique in the fact that we're the consulting arm of the university, and we are charged with earning our own money. So we don't take a lot of money from the state. We only have three people in this entire building who are still on state funds and we're working toward 100-percent self-sufficiency. What we do is go out and recruit clients who are interested in doing leadership development. We want to provide leadership development to anybody who wants it.
You're recruiting companies that want to make their personnel better leaders and planners?
Yes. We have clients from Fortune 500 companies all the way down to nonprofit entities, from small business to large business and everything in between. We try to customize our leadership development programs based on the needs of the client. So when people call us and say, "I really think my staff needs a class on communication or conflict resolution," we'll say, "OK, let's talk about it first," because a lot of times we need to have a hardy discussion about what's really going on before we can customize what the group needs. We don't want anybody to just send their people to us and think they're going to come back three to four hours later and be totally different and fixed and the problem is over.
There's plenty of thought in what your people will teach?
Yes. We do leadership sessions and classes for people. A lot of those involve assessments, and we're certified in a variety of personality assessments and other types of assessments so that you get to know yourself a little bit better, and so that you can work with others that are different from you better. We do coaching. We do a lot of strategic planning, especially right around the first of the year. January hits and everybody's like, "Oh, we should probably see where we're at in our strategic planning and get something going."
How far do clients come?
We're branching out more than we used to, but we have a good client base in Rome, in Augusta, in Albany, in Macon, and we're looking to continue pushing our footprint out a little bit farther. I don't think we want to be so big because that's what is a value of what we do, the fact that we want to make it personal. If you just want an off-the-shelf, there are huge corporations out there where you can just buy it off the shelf. What we want to do is provide a leadership development program specifically for you and the people either already in your company or the types of people you're wanting to hire into your company.
Clients invite you to their places?
We travel light. (Laughs.) We can go anywhere. There are some clients where we go once a month and do sessions. There are some clients where we'll go and stay for several days over a conference or a retreat that they're working on. We have consultants that work with us that are based out of Florida, Alabama, Georgia. There's a lot of people locally that we try to incorporate into what we do as well, so that we're all working together.
Your role is to keep everything running smoothly. Is that difficult?
No. (Laughs.) My strength area is organization and execution. Actually, I thought one of my titles would be the executor, but Ed didn't like that. (Laughs.) My strengths as far as what I'm good at is organizing and planning and thinking ahead strategically, trying to make sure we're headed in the right direction, and taking other people's great ideas and putting them into action and making sure that they happen in the way that the client wants.
The job of organizing and keeping up with everything is really in my wheelhouse. It's the creative side that I struggle with sometimes, which is why we have (assistant director) Kat (Cannella), who is very creative. So while she can hypothesize and dream, when we hit on something that we're all like, "That's good, we should do that," then I'll make it happen.
What's a typical day like for you?
It depends on what day it is. Every day is different. Some days we're on the road and going to clients to facilitate some leadership development or strategic planning. It can be a day where I'm at my desk and I'm working on, for instance, consolidating all of the data gathered at a particular session into some sort of report format that I can give back to the client and we can work through and talk through. I can be working on presentations for other clients. So there are days when I'm at my desk.
And there are days when we do leadership action activities, where we can be down on the whitewater. We can be zip-lining. We could be out at the National Infantry Museum, the Coca-Cola Space Science Center, taking some of our clients through team-building activities based on what their team is hoping to become better at and learn.
So you use community facilities, activities and recreation spots to train folks?
Yes. We really try to use Columbus as part of our leadership development process. I think because of whitewater and the work that's being done downtown and everybody's efforts, Columbus is becoming more and more attractive to people who want to get away for their company retreats or they want to get out of the office for the day and ride over and do whitewater and do some leadership development with their team. We have so many things that we can do with them now that allow for them to get that individual leadership development piece, understanding themselves better, understanding each other better, either through an assessment or through a session. And then we spend the afternoon going, "OK, now that you know this about each other, let's see how you do whitewater rafting or let's see how you do zip-lining. Let's see how you do in value sessions." We like to walk through the National Infantry Museum and the 'Last 100 Yards' (exhibit), and right when you walk through, they have all the military values right there. It's a really powerful experience for a lot of people who are trying to come up with their own company or organizational values.
What's the most challenging aspect of your job as director?
I think the toughest part of it for me is the responsibility that I feel towards my employees and the responsibility that I feel towards the clients that we have. It's tough in that sense because we are like a small business inside of this non-profit institution. Every penny that we earn, every dollar that comes in, goes towards paying our salaries. So I feel an immense responsibility to make sure that we're going out and recruiting the business and maintaining the business with our clients in order to pay these wonderful people their salaries and keep these people employed. That's a responsibility I take seriously and it has been hard.
The other thing that's really hard is when you train clients, you become really attached to them. You want them to be successful and you want them to be able to put into action everything that you have taught them, and sometimes you have to watch them not do that.
The worst thing is to give them strategy training and then see them struggle?
Right, or put that strategy on the shelf and never look at it again after we leave. I cannot implement it for them, and we can't stand over their shoulders and make them practice the skills they have learned. That's hard because you know the information that you're giving them is great and if they would just try it, their lives and the lives of the people they work with would be better, and business would be better.
So a little slice of you takes it personally?
Yeah, because I think what we do is awesome. When a company or organization invests in leadership development or coaching or the assessments or leadership action or strategic planning -- all of these things -- they're investing in their employees and they're investing in us. They're saying, "I'm trusting you to give them the skills and the information that they need to come back and be better employees or to make us a better organization." So, yeah, personally you want them to do well and to be better and make it. Some really do and they're all in and they do it together, and some don't.
Talk about being the "speaker wrangler" for the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum. Are you always thinking about that since it's an annual event?
Yes, we're always thinking about the forum, and this year is the 10th anniversary as well. We're already working on the 2016 lineup of speakers, so it's always top of mind around here because it has become such a phenomenal event.
Speaking to some of the speaking bureaus, they're just like, "There's no other conference in the U.S., maybe the world, that has this many well-known speakers in a day and a half in the same room with you." At a lot of other conferences, you pay thousands of dollars to travel there, you get there and you have one keynote (speaker) on the first night and then you have one keynote at the end and everything in between is just small breakout sessions with people you've never heard of, which I'm not knocking. But I'm saying our particular forum, the Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum, that the Leadership Institute puts on, you're never going to find that many top-name keynote speakers in one spot.
How hard is it to get top talent or speakers lined up?
It depends. Mr. Blanchard has a lot of friends. So that allows for a lot of relationships, and being able to make some phone calls and ask some people to come and speak. Other speakers are paid as part of the sponsorship of companies for the event. Some are paid, some come as friends of Mr. Blanchard and just know his reputation and who he is and just want to, as a friend, come and speak at his event.
This year he's bringing the entire George W. Bush family?
Yes. And the daughters are going to interview Mom and Dad. That's how we're going to set it up on Monday night. So it will be a really great back-and-forth between Mom and Dad and the daughters and how those relationships were in the White House, how they've changed and progressed outside of the White House. I'm really interested in knowing the girls' side of things, since we've heard from George and Laura. I think it's going to be interesting to hear from their perspective what all of that was like.
Has the family done this together before at such an event?
This will be the second time they've done it as an entire family.
What's the favorite part of your job? What do you like about it the most?
I think my favorite part of the job is the strategic planning that we do, and being able to sit down with an organization or business and help them plan where they're going. I get to roll up my sleeves and really dig in and learn about the organization. As an outside consultant, I get to ask questions that either nobody wants to ask or people don't think to ask and allow them to mull over and think about some things, and start heading in a solid direction. That is the most rewarding thing for me.
What does the future hold for you? Do you have higher ambitions other than this?
I really enjoy being here in the university atmosphere in this particular job. I think the only other thing I would like to do is, maybe one day, I would like to be mayor.
Yeah. Just because I love Columbus and I want to keep seeing it grow and be everything that it can be. I think it's wonderful.
Have you talked with Mayor Tomlinson?
We've worked together a lot on the homelessness plan, obviously, and intercity trips and things like that. So I know her pretty well. ... Her heart is in the right place. She's got a thick skin so she can deal with all of the backlash and nonsense that comes with holding a position like that. I think that is probably the toughest part of the job, knowing when to respond and when not to respond. But she's really got the best interests of this city at heart. She loves this place, and she wants to see it do well.
Are you cut out for politics?
I am not cut out for politics. That's the hard part, yes. I'd like to be mayor without running for office. (Laughs.) I don't know if that would work.
You've got some learning to do and some soul searching?
Yeah. It definitely would have to be after both of my girls are away at college somewhere, so I could be ready to brave all of the political side of what it would take to do it. I do think it's something -- if we're talking big dream aspirational -- that would be one of them.
Name: Shana D. Young
Current residence: Columbus
Education: 1995 graduate of Hardaway High School; earned bachelor of fine arts degree in media studies from Valdosta State University in 1999; earned master of arts degree in communication from Auburn University in 2001
Previous jobs: Vital Processing Services (now TSYS Acquiring) in client services and corporate training, 2001 to 2004; assistant professor of communication at Columbus State University, 2004 to 2007; assistant director of The Leadership Institute at Columbus State University, 2007 to 2013
Family: Husband Donnie and daughters Parker Ruth, 9, and Camryn Ann, 5; and a 5-month-old pet pig named Savannah
Leisure time: Enjoys spending time with her husband and girls, and their friends and their kids; also spends time at Lake Harding during the spring and summer
Of note: She was listed on the "5 Under 40" list by Columbus and the Valley magazine in 2012: is on Columbus Symphony Orchestra Board; is a Home For Good Advisory Board member; is a 2009 graduate of Leadership Columbus; works with the Junior Service League of Columbus; wrote the "10 Year Plan to End Homelessness for the City of Columbus;" is a certified human behavior consultant
Part of my job is to be the "speaker wrangler" for The Jim Blanchard Leadership Forum each year -- because of that I have met many famous and powerful people in the world of leadership -- Former President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, General Colin Powell, Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Astronaut Mark Kelly, Author Malcolm Gladwell, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, James Carville & Mary Matalin, and many others! Got to take selfies with Mark Cuban and Sheryl Sandberg