When I arrived here, I had no intention of staying.
It wasn’t personal. I just saw Hartford as my next career location, a stop along the way. I wondered whether I, a young, bi-racial gay man, would feel like I could belong in the sixth oldest state by median age in the country where 67% of the population is white. I saw Connecticut as a “bedroom community” state, progressive but quietly so.
A few months after moving here, a dear mentor suggested I join a professional association. I found Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs, better known as HYPE. I’m a natural skeptic so I grilled then-executive director Julie Daly Meehan about the benefits of joining. She graciously answered my questions and encouraged me to jump in, two tactics I would see repeated many times by other great leaders in this region.
I loved HYPE and how participating made me feel. Through the meaningful connections I made, I enrolled in Leadership Greater Hartford’s ten-month leadership program, Quest (graciously sponsored by my employer, Travelers). I cannot understate how profoundly these two engagements influenced me, helped me belong and discover that I could have an impact on this community whose climate I discovered was inclusive and welcoming.
This climate created space for me to make connections which turned into leadership opportunities which turned into a robust community I am now blessed to have. I served on the LGH board of directors which led to joining other boards, adjunct teaching, and other opportunities. .
There is lots of evidence that my initial negative perception of Hartford is a common one. Why would younger people move here? And why would they decide to stay? I know plenty of well-intentioned people who – in keeping with the bedroom community moniker – come into Hartford or venture out of their suburb only out of necessity. They don’t realize that the area today is not the same as it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. And their words, facial expressions, or even energy have an impact on the prevailing culture. Make no mistake, directly or indirectly, their outdated and inaccurate views convey a negative impression on those young people the region needs to attract and retain.
But if you want to help lower the barriers that discourage the economic growth and vitality the region seeks, if you truly want to keep our emerging leaders here so that our region and our organizations benefit from their talent and energy, you need to understand that every one of us, yourself included, can impact the climate for those around us. Daniel Goleman’s research, reported in the Harvard Business Review, shows that visionary and coaching leadership styles have a significant positive impact on climate. Dr. Sean O’Connor, a leadership development researcher from Sydney, Australia, who has studied social networks, systems and group dynamics, reminds us that the quality of our conversations determines the quality of our relationships, and the quality of our relationships determines the quality of the systems and organizations where we live and work.
Creating positive climate requires active engagement! So, let’s ask the people around us: What about this region or this company do you love? Dislike? How can we make it better? And let’s offer others meaningful connections since we, as social animals, crave belonging.
I’m hopeful about our region’s future. Every time I meet a student leader or young professional attending an LGH program, I’m inspired. (And don’t forget, I told you I’m a skeptic.) These emerging leaders recognize that we have many needs in Greater Hartford, along with a plethora of talented people to tackle those challenge. Often, these young leaders help us realize that we who are more established leaders have more to give.
Ten years have passed since I relocated here, believing it was a temporary stop on my career journey. I changed my mind and stayed because of the positive climate I experienced, but I know that others may not have enjoyed the same welcoming and inclusive environment that I discovered.. So I ask you: What are you doing to create the kind of climate that will ensure other young professionals can fit in, feel that they belong and can decide to stay to make a difference?
Chris Duffy is principal of Amplify Leadership Partners and is co-facilitating a workshop on Creating Positive Climate on April 10, 2019.