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American Express Leadership Academy in Washington, DC

November 28, 2011

Two weeks ago, we hosted our first American Express Leadership Academy with our partner organizations, the Corporation for National and Community Service and the Center for Creative Leadership. 48 high potential leaders from the education and veteran's affairs sectors engaged in a week-long training program that was highlighted by presentations by American Express board members Charlene Barshefsky and Ted Leonsis as well as Arne Christenson, senior vice president for American Express Federal Government Affairs.

Ambassador Barshefsky opened up the Academy with a lively presentation of her top 10 questions that leaders should ask themselves regularly. They are:

  • Who are you?
  • What are your values and how solid are they?
  • How do you manage people?
  • Can you set a clear direction for your team that everyone can follow?
  • Do you communicate effectively?
  • Do you motivate people and empower them?
  • Can you make things happen?
  • How do you measure success?
  • Do you focus on what matters most?
  • Can you inspire people?

Later in the week, Ted Leonsis talked about the "pursuit of happiness" as a personal and business imperative. He suggested that happy employees make happy customers which leads to success for companies and organizations. Ted outlined five ways that people and organizations can strive for happiness:

  • You are active participants in multiple communities of interest.
  • You have high levels of self expression.
  • You have high levels of personal empathy.
  • You get out of the "I" and into the "we."
  • You are in pursuit of a higher calling.

Ted suggested that the higher you score on these indices, the more self actualized you will be and the more successful your organizations will be. Check out Ted's blog at for more insights.

Finally, Arne Christenson spoke about how to be a sustained Influencer in a changing world. Arne used Aristotle's concepts of logos, ethos and pathos to suggest that be an influencer in a sustained way requires having:

  • A compelling need.
  • A cogent argument.
  • A credible messenger.

Arne gave the group of emerging nonprofit leaders some pointers on being a credible messenger for their organizations:

  • You must consistently meet expectations.
  • You must connect on a personal level.
  • You must create the impression that you want.
  • You must be both understood and felt.

The 48 Leadership Academy participants had a busy week, but they all left Washington, DC armed with more self awareness and action plans for self improvement as leaders.

This wrapped up our "Nonprofit Leadership Month" at American Express, but we'll be sponsoring more Leadership Academy programs in the coming year, including a Leadership Academy Boot Camp for Social Entrepreneurs. Watch for details on those programs in a future posting. .

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