CLEMSON — An initiative aimed at grooming future Clemson Cooperative Extension Service leaders is taking it to another level by giving the inaugural class members an opportunity to continue with a second phase of the program.

President Clements and Deon Leggette listen to a presentation.

Clemson University President James P. Clements (right) and Midlands District Extension Director Deon Legette share a laugh during an on-campus meeting of the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

The Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative (EELI) was inspired by the President’s Leadership Institute, a nine-month leadership development program started by Clemson University President James P. Clements. After taking part in that program, Midlands District Extension Director Deon Legette approached Extension Director Tom Dobbins and Associate Director Brian Callahan about creating a similar program for Extension personnel.

The program kicked off in November 2018 with a series of class meetings that culminated in the program’s first graduation ceremony in April 2019. On Sept. 4, all but three members of that inaugural class began the second phase of the development program, EELI 2.0, which aims to actively engage the students in problem-solving, team-building and other activities that allow them to grow as leaders.

Legette said the members of the inaugural EELI class are enthusiastic and eager to learn more about what it takes to be effective leaders, adding she is grateful to work with its members.

“They are truly a great team that has set the standard for Extension and future classes,” Legette said. “The 2.0 class sessions will allow them to explore various strategies related to what they learned in level one. In March 2020, they would have received 17 months of leadership training — this will be a remarkable accomplishment.”

Kenston Griffin speaks to EELI class.

Kenston Griffin, of Dream Builders Communication Inc., speaks to members of the Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative on challenges and pitfalls that can come with being a leader.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

Class participant and T. Ed Garrison Arena Director Chris Heintze said, “Starting EELI 2.0, which is our second-tier program, we’re going to focus on applying the knowledge and skills in level one. This will be teaching planning, implementation and using case studies to look at methods of leadership in different scenarios.”

Clemson Extension Director Tom Dobbins began the Sept. 4 session by reviewing the class’s summer assignment to shadow selected leaders and differentiate between having a prestigious title and being an impactful leader.

“With this class, more than anything what I want you to realize, is you don’t have to be the director or associate director or district Extension director to be successful or to be a leader,” Dobbins told the class. “But for you to improve and for you to make it in leadership, people have to believe in where you want to take them. Think about Extension, what is our underlying belief? To improve people’s lives. Period. Everything we do is to help farmers stay on the farm, to help young people develop, to help people enjoy what they’re doing at the T. Ed Garrison Arena — it’s to improve people’s lives and make people’s lives better.”

The class then heard from Kenston Griffin of Dream Builders Communication Inc., one of the nation’s most sought-after keynote speakers. Griffin spoke on challenges and pitfalls that can come with being a leader, such as managing expectations and juggling priorities.

Class members pose for group picture.

Members of the inaugural Extension Emerging Leadership Initiative class pose with Clemson University President James P. Clements, center, and Kenston Griffin, of Dream Builders Communication Inc.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“When you have to manage adults who you think should know better and they don’t, that is the craziest thing in the world,” Griffin said. “I would never think that, as an adult, I would have to tell you to come to work on time. That’s not how I grew up. But the sum presence of my father in the background of how I grew up (ensured I knew that). So if you were raised in a certain type of manner, then it sounds really simple.”

On time management, Griffin said, “So many times, our days plan us versus we plan our days. Even if you get thrown a curve ball and that’s the first strike, you get two more strikes but multiple pitches as long you keep fouling it off. What happens in leadership sometimes is you take the first strike and we think the game is over. Sometimes the first strike was just to see if you could stay in the storm.”

Clements also addressed the class in the afternoon on the importance of Extension personnel in Clemson’s land-grant mission through outreach and educational programming and his vision for the next 25 years of Extension.

The first session of EELI 2.0 wrapped up on Sept. 5 with a Clemson University history walking tour with Rhondda Thomas, associate professor of English, along with a leadership panel discussion with Kyra Lobbins and Max Allen, both from the Office of the President.