Paving the way: Second-ever LEAD class graduates

Corn Belt Power, like cooperatives across the country, will lose hundreds of years of experience over the next five to ten years. Many cooperative leaders see retirement on the near horizon and that’s why training the next crop of cooperative leaders is important. 

Following the success of 2019’s Leadership Exploration and Development program (LEAD), Corn Belt Power’s second LEAD class began in 2020 and graduated May 5, 2021. LEAD is a program to help develop leadership skills in existing employees. The program was created in conjunction with Kathy Peterson of PeopleWorks, Inc. Throughout the year, participants learned about topics such as setting goals, leading change, managing stress and dealing with difficult conversations. Those in the program attend sessions about cooperative financials, generating sources, electric rates and the cooperative business model. Participants also take part in self and peer 360 evaluations. 

This year’s graduating class included (pictured above) from left, back row, Rod Stephas, assistant plant manager; Jon Myer, IT administrator; Jim Mertz, electrical maintenance foreman; Kuyper; and front row, from left, Courtney Christensen, administrative assistant; Connor Almond, journeyman lineman; and John Naber, electrical and control. Eric Hankey, SCADA technician, graduated virtually.

“This was an awesome group,” Peterson said of this year’s group. “Each LEAD participant had a strong desire to learn and improve their leadership skills. It was fun to see the appreciation they gained for each other and the work that’s done in different areas within Corn Belt Power’s system. LEAD participants grew not just as employees of Corn Belt Power, but this experience has helped them in their personal lives – as leaders within their families and the volunteer/community groups they are part of.” 

Christensen says she’s happy Corn Belt Power continues to offer the program. 

“I think the LEAD program is amazing,” she said. “LEAD celebrates becoming a better version of yourself and learning to lead in whatever position you hold. I am so thankful that Corn Belt Power offers this program, as other companies I have worked for do not offer anything close to this for developing their employees.”

She says LEAD has opened her eyes to not only more about Corn Belt Power and the industry as a whole, but also about herself. 

“I have seen several changes in myself since being a part of the LEAD program,” she said. “Most important to me is having more confidence. I have also read more books in the last year than I have in the last three years, and I’ve enjoyed it. I have a new outlook for my position here at Corn Belt Power, and for my future, all thanks to being a part of LEAD.”
Stephas echoed Christensen’s sentiments.  “The program consumes a fair amount of your personal time,” he said. “It is a great way to get to know people from other departments. It helped me understand what good leadership looks like and understand personal strengths and weaknesses.”

Ken Kuyper, executive vice president and general manager, Corn Belt Power, believes the program will help lead the cooperative into the future. 

“Our board has great vision and supports this program,” he said. “Corn Belt Power is thinking about succession planning and preparing for transitioning to the next generation of leaders. And with this group of leaders and our last LEAD group, the future is very bright.”