The Institute for Leadership Development Program Cultivates Leaders for Albany’s Future

Lauren D. Collins

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

The Albany Area Chamber of Commerce, assisted by its Leadership Development Committee, has built an impressive program designed to train young professionals, build higher business standards, and improve community involvement. The Institute for Leadership Development kicked off its first program in August of 2014 and was implemented to facilitate community and Chamber involvement and teach a range of skills participants could utilize in the work place. It is a program of foresight, built on the premise that any professional can be a leader, “Leadership doesn’t just come from the top; it can come from many levels of a business’ personnel and management hierarchy,” said Bárbara Rivera Holmes, interim president and CEO of the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce. “The chamber’s Leadership Institute is a valuable program that allows our member businesses to identify leaders within their organizations and provide them with the skills and tools they need to succeed. The chamber is focused on helping its member businesses grow, and this program is just one way in which we help our businesses do that."

The Leadership Institute is a nine month program with participants attending a meeting once a month with a minimum amount of time away from employment to make the program as convenient as possible. Each class corresponds with a chamber event which serves to promote participant awareness. Erin Hutchins, a Leadership Institute graduate and 21stCCLC Program Director of local Albany Area YMCA stated that the program really taught her, “…what the Chamber does.” It introduced her to, “businesses I didn’t know we had,” and gave her insight into their importance. “We may not have many, but the impact that they make is high and it would be a great loss to the community if they left.” 

As the youngest professional in the program, Hutchins asserts that she really benefited from the expertise offered. Hutchins explained how, prior to the Leadership Institute, she sometimes struggled in the work place because she was new to the area and young. The lessons in particular about personalities and how to deal with people in the work place provided Hutchins with the exact insight she needed. Upon graduation, she said that the atmosphere at work, “completely changed.” She explained how it helped to realize that things said at work, “are not personal. Some people take it there and that’s when things get complicated.” The emphasis the program gave on professionalism and the importance of understanding different personalities, afforded Hutchins the insight she needed to break through barriers at the workplace. Each class focuses on a different topic and gives, “insight into a variety of subjects, from networking, to political savvy, to dealing with people, to practical applications,” explained Hutchins.

However, this year will be vastly different from the previous inaugural program. Bridges Sinyard, Vice Chair of The Leadership Development Committee and Vice-President of Adams Exterminators, expressed that the emphasis this year was on refining the program to improve its overall quality. An over-night retreat has been added to this year’s agenda with several objectives in mind. The first aim of the retreat is to develop professional relationships and give the participants a chance to get to know one another before the classes start. The retreat will be held at the Albany Marine Corp Logistics Base and the event will start off by pairing a mentor and participant together based on similarities and personality. Each mentor is asked to meet with their participant once a month outside of the classes to grow the mentor/mentee relationship. “The goal here is to develop lifelong relationships,” Sinyard explained, “Becoming a leader in business is one thing but we also want to see and encourage community involvement.”

After last year’s program concluded, The Leadership Development Committee also saw the need to bring in professional facilitators. It was a natural leap to consider Columbus State’s Leadership Institute for this role, a program with over eleven years of experience, and an organizer and host of the Blanchard Leadership Forum. Their website states that, “We develop customized programs that identify, define and nurture the critical skills needed to develop effective leaders in business, government and non-profit organizations.” However, the Chamber only plans to utilize Columbus State for approximately half of the program, “In a sense, it’s a regurgitated program,” explains Sinyard, “It’s not specific to Albany.” So with that in mind the committee decided to bring in select speakers from last year’s program to teach and instruct the remaining half. The committee’s goal was to find a balance between offering a professional and effective program and one that also focuses specifically on local participation to provide the program with the essence and spirit that is exclusively Albany. As Sinyard stated, “It’s intended to be another feather in our cap…we are unique in our program.”

It is the Chamber’s hope that the program’s graduates will continue to advance in their individual businesses and eventually take part in the Chamber itself. As graduate Hutchins explained, “It’s good for the young population in Albany. The Chamber is looking for new blood and they don’t want their hard work to go down the drain,” this type of program serves to, “drive Albany forward…build young professionals in the community….and gather leaders together to make Albany a better place.”

The deadline to submit an application is June 26, 2015. The program is open to all prospective applicants, however, non-chamber members are required to pay a slightly higher tuition fee. All applicants must have employee approval. Applications for this year’s program are available at