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'Leadership Palo Alto' to return in 2012

Program for training future leaders, on hiatus since 2003, seeks applicants

After a hiatus of eight years, Leadership Palo Alto, a 10-week course that aims to produce local leaders, is back, with former CEO/President of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce Paula Sandas in the roll as interim director. Sandas said she is "enthusiastic about bringing the program back to the community."

Originally launched in 1988, Leadership Palo Alto educated enrolled students in skills that were meant to raise participation in the community as well as in the workplace. The program eventually expanded to include Menlo Park, East Palo Alto and Stanford University. With broader geographical coverage, the group changed its name to Leadership Midpeninsula. In 2003, Leadership Midpeninsula suspended its classes for 2004 and never returned. The decision came in conjunction with Program Director Sharifa Wilson's departure from the program. At the time of its hiatus, Leadership Midpeninsula had more than 400 alumni active in 500 community organizations.

Back with its old name and new vigor, Leadership Palo Alto will begin classes Jan. 12, 2012. Classes will vary in structure and will include lectures, panel discussions, workshop activities and interactive exercises. Each class will have a different set of speakers to fit the individual focus of the session.

Among the first speakers will be Carol Isozaki, executive coach and strategic brand adviser of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Barry Posner, professor of leadership at Santa Clara University and co-author of "The Leadership Challenge." Class locations will vary for each session.

The first class will cover "leadership itself," Sandas said, defining what makes an individual a leader and how others perceive that title. A large portion of the program involves local government.

"We want our students to understand how their city operates," Sandas said, explaining that one of the first steps towards leadership is knowing how and where to begin. This can mean getting into contact with council members or even running for office many years down the line, she said.

Though the program starts with public affairs, students are not expected to limit their leadership roles to city and state levels. Involvement in the private sector is urged, as well, and graduates often take this route, she said.

Over 10 classes, students will learn about media relations, community awareness and issues, and where leadership is needed most. Another class session will concern Stanford University and the relationship it has with Palo Alto.

"The students are a large part of the city and they can't be ignored," Sandas said. "So many exciting things are happening there that we need to be aware of."

Within Silicon Valley there is a constant need for new leaders, but there isn't a clear path for them, Sandas said. Leadership Palo Alto can be the "conduit" for greater participation that is needed in the region, she said. Sandas said that interest may have "fizzled out" many years ago, but alumni and members of the chamber have always discussed the eventual return of the program.

She said the program has become especially pertinent with stagnant unemployment rates and increased concern for financial security in the future. With the "foundation of the chamber now back in place," now seemed like a good time to restart, she said.

Leadership Palo Alto's alumni include Barbara Gross, general manager of the Garden Court Hotel and recipient of the ATHENA leadership award, Daryl Savage, chair of the Palo Alto Human Relations Commission and former Palo Alto Weekly columnist, and more.

"These upcoming graduates should have the same devotion as every class before them. These are people who care about their city enough to become a part of it," Sandas said. Sandas said she is "confident that the program will be a great benefit to both fellows and community."

The program costs $1,200 and this year the Chamber of Commerce will not offer financial aid or scholarships. Sandas said that she hopes this will be different for next year's sessions. Space is limited. Applications are available at www.paloaltochamber.com.

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