ABLDP class of 2017 at opening reception and launch at Plaza de Armas.
ABLDP class of 2017 gathers at their opening reception and class launch at Plaza de Armas. Credit: Courtesy / Winslow Swart

Recent headlines have been full of news about up and coming and established leaders who all have one thing in common.

Javier Salazar was elected Bexar County Sheriff, Alberto Altamirano developed the smart-city app Cityflag, Desi Canela and Demonte Alexander joined Christian Archer at OneSA to successfully promote the $850 million City Bond campaign, Ruth Morris is the incoming chair of LOOP, and James Chandler, along with a few others, teamed up with VIA to host the first Codeathon at Geekdom focused on leveraging technology to accelerate area transit innovation.

The common thread is that these leaders are graduates of the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber’s Alexander Briseño Leadership Development Program (ABLDP). As the program’s facilitator since 2011, I have had a front-row seat to the inspiring story of our City’s emerging leaders, their successes, and the impact they have on all of us. Each year, our graduates seem to be doing bigger, bolder, and more disruptive things, often without taking any credit or fanfare.

The Hispanic Chamber’s leadership program is named in honor of Alexander E. Briseño, our former City Manager and a St. Mary’s University adjunct professor in public administration. The program is guided by Briseno’s leadership principle of “gerencia con corazón,” or management with heart, and was established in 2001, the year Briseño retired as city manager. Briseño often quips, “I thought you had to be dead before someone names a program after you,” but each year he shares his 10 core values for leadership along with highly “edu-taining” anecdotes for each.

In 2011, Briseño and Chamber President and CEO Ramiro Cavazos threw their support behind the program, taking on an even more vigorous approach toward leadership development. With the help of capacity professionals, the revised curriculum is based upon action-oriented, transformative leadership principles, and the learning modules are experiential in nature and at the same time practical and engage participants on personal, professional, and organizational levels of development. The course work builds upon a foundation of personal mastery and includes strategic planning, improving quality operationally and culturally, building and leading high-performing teams, operational effectiveness, and leading and managing change.

It is no accident that program graduates find themselves civically engaged and disrupting the status quo in their fields. A signature characteristic of ABLDP is that leadership is more about everyone else than about oneself. So, in addition to the rigorous work on personal and professional development each participant undertakes, is the “action team” work focused on making an impact upon the social, civic, economic, and educational landscape of our region.

The action teams are treated like startups in a technology accelerator in that they work to “productize” a solution to a problem using the Lean Canvas model. They also are rigorously mentored, which can sometimes take on a “Shark Tank” sort of vibe as mentors show a lot of tough love when team pitches fall short of their potential. Mentors include steering committee members who graduated from the program and whose action teams in previous years were successful. On pitch day, teams present to selected panelists – leaders from every industry and government sector – whose organizations and constituents will be impacted by the action teams’ work.

new ABLDP cohort breaking the ice and ideating bold and disruptive futures for or City with the help of Pipe cleaners and Playdough
Members of the new ABLDP cohort break the ice and discuss bold and disruptive futures for our city with the help of Pipe cleaners and Playdough. Credit: Courtesy / Winslow Swart

Coedathon is good example of an ABLDP action team wanting to make an impact on local transportation challenges by staging a hack-a-thon. The team was made up of all front-office types, or non-coders, who had never conducted nor mentored a technology startup accelerator. To succeed, their idea had to be irresistible to key partners that would include Codeup, Geekdom, and ultimately VIA Metropolitan Transit. Fearless leaders like Jeff Arndt and Steve Young at VIA embraced their ideas, and this weekend 87 coders will camp out at Geekdom, leveraging technology in order to find smarter ways to move people around our city.

What originally put all of this in motion is when we sat down with then-Mayor Julián Castro seven years ago and talked about how ABLDP participants could organize themselves to move the needle on SA2020’s 11 target areas. SA2020 was in a nascent phase and eager to establish credible partnerships. It also fit perfectly into the program’s “action-oriented leadership” theory of practice.

From that cohort on, each year has produced seven or eight “action teams” launching everything from Student Aid Saturdays and Not Just a Runaway, a human-trafficking awareness education project, to voter mobilization, sustainable urban farming, teen pregnancy reduction efforts, obesity and wellness education, civic art expansion, at-risk youth mentoring, and urban revitalization projects.

These days, the action team projects may intersect with SA2020 initiatives but are fully autonomous and seek to partner and collaborate with any agency or organization where a common cause and shared vision exists.

On Thursday at Plaza de Armas, we onboarded a new class of 54 emerging leaders representing area employers that include Rackspace, USAA, Toyota, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, and many others. They will work through the end of the year, igniting leadership trajectories while making San Antonio a better place to live, work, and play.

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Winslow Swart

Winslow Swart is ABLDP’s facilitator, chief inspiration officer at Winslow Consulting, and co-founder at One Million Dreams. He is co-chair of Leadership Development on the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber’s...