LaForge guides Leadership Mississippi group

Participants in 2014’s Leadership Mississippi (LM) from the Mississippi Economic Council received guidance yesterday from a special alumnus of the program during the group’s visit to Cleveland and Delta State.

Delta State University President William N. LaForge is a graduate of LM’s inaugural class, a program that began 40 years ago. He spoke with this year’s group during their visit to campus, Cleveland and several nearby landmarks.

“Leadership Mississippi was an inspirational opportunity for me,” said LaForge. “One of the biggest benefits of this experience for you will be the networking. It will likely be as valuable to you as the leadership lessons you’ll take away from this.”

LM is an annual program of the MEC conducted by the M.B. Swayze Foundation. Participants, selected by a committee of LM alumni, work together in a training program that combines individual study, group sessions and project experience in using leadership skills.

With sessions across the state, the program presents exciting opportunities where the class can see the strategic, long-range planning and changes that are occurring in Mississippi.

LaForge explained he got his foot in the door with the program thanks to Delta State’s fourth president, Dr. Aubrey Lucas, who was asked to chair the first class.

LaForge’s connection with Lucas formed in 1971 when he became Delta State’s new president, the same time at which LaForge, a student at the time, was the university’s student body president.

“Leadership was something I began to value as a student, and I learned a lot of valuable lessons here at Delta State,” added LaForge. “I’m thankful that Dr. Lucas and Leadership Mississippi allowed me to be part of the first class, enlarge my views about leadership and rub elbows with the pros. The experience has come full circle.”

It truly did come full circle for LaForge, 40 years later when he interviewed to become Delta State’s eighth president. The chair of his interview committee — Alan Perry —was a colleague of LaForge in the inaugural LM class.

“There will be some symmetry in life for what you current leaders are doing today, and what you will be doing later in your careers,” said LaForge.

The president closed his remarks by passing down leadership wisdom he’s learned throughout his distinguished career.

“Don’t let leadership be something you take for granted or leave to guess work,” he said. “What you are doing today is helping to nourish, cultivate and develop your own leadership — especially at this stage in your career.

“Many people think you close the books when you’re through with school and you don’t ever learn things anymore. Constant learning is really important for life.”

One of Delta State’s current staff members can speak first hand about the life lessons learned in LM. Robin Boyles, director of the Office of Institutional Grants, is one of four Clevelanders taking part in this year’s training.

“It’s an honor to have been selected to participate in the 40th Leadership Mississippi class and represent Delta State this year,” said Boyles. “Having President LaForge talk with the class about his experience in the first class 40 years ago exemplifies the long-lasting opportunities that it can bring.

“It’s great to have Delta State’s leader be an alumnus of Leadership Mississippi and show how our university has ties with such a meaningful program.”

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