WINCHESTER — Area residents were given the opportunity to learn about what makes a great leader and what leadership looks like on a local level during a virtual leadership event Friday.

Typically hosted at the George Washington Hotel but held virtually this year, the Live2Lead event featured both national and local speakers.

The event is held as a a fundraiser for Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity, which services Frederick, Clarke and Shenandoah counties and Winchester. Blue Ridge Habitat for Humanity has $1.7 million in construction projects currently underway. It also offers a repair program from homeowners in need of home repairs in addition to its ReStore, where folks can find home improvement items.

Local speakers during the daylong event featured Shenandoah University’s Dr. Montressa Washington, Berry Global’s Earnie Bliss and American Woodmark’s Cary Dunston.

Each touched on a different topic of leadership, with Washington opening the local portion of the event by discussing how SU helps develop leaders by focusing attention on conversations.

Washington, who is co-director of the school’s Institute for Entrepreneurship and is an assistant professor of management in the Shenandoah University School of Business, said it comes down to being authentic, speaking the truth and articulating the vision for an organization.

One program at SU, called Shenandoah Conversations, helps both faculty and students use reflective structured dialogue to engage in conversations that may be difficult, may have some level of controversy or may not be comfortable.

“If our students leave the university and they are able to speak their truth but also be able to sit with and understand the truth of others, my, won’t this world be a better place,” Washington said.

Building leaders at the university level and even younger could help the business world grow. But with that growth comes stress that every leader will have to endure.

Bliss, the plant manager at Berry Global in Winchester, spoke about that point and offered practical techniques to help manage stress.

“Sooner or later, you’re going to have some sort of negative event,” Bliss said. “It’s a leader’s job to define a path through tough times and tough events.”

Bliss said that leaders are made during difficult times. He noted that you’re going to have stress either way, so you have to choose the stress of either being successful or unsuccessful.

To help with this, he said it’s been a practice of his to implement stress management into leadership training.

His tips for managing stress are to relax, think, focus on making progress with what you have now — and if you’re sure you’re right — then stand your ground but accept consequences that come with it.

Having heard from local leaders as well as national speakers such as author and leadership coach John Maxwell, COO Kat Cole, author and pastor Craig Groeschel, former Ford executive Alan Mulally and entertainer Steve Harvey, former American Woodmark CEO Cary Dunston poised a question.

How do you know when you have become a successful leader?

Dunston said it’s not as easy as just checking boxes or by looking at your house, your car or your title. Only an individual can decide if they’re a successful leader, he said.

But, for him, it came down to knowing how to both give and receive appreciation.

“We see our role (as a leader) as to give. But when you only give, you struggle to receive,” he said. “And you’ll never fully understand the impact that can have on you.”

Dunston said caring about others is what leadership should be built on.

“Impactful leaders in life will have more stories about those around them than about themselves,” he said. “The simplest of actions or simplest of words can make all the difference in the world.”

Sharing your appreciation through actions as well as words can make a big difference as a leader.

“If you want to become a great leader, open yourself up to receive just as much as you give,” he said. “In life, we all have to learn to follow as much as we learn to lead.”

— Contact Matt Welch at mwelch@winchesterstar.com

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