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"Leadership is cool." Recently, an 11-year-old girl was asked what she thought about becoming a leader in her sixth grade class, or perhaps even a leader amongst her peers in her entire middle school. Her answer pretty much sums up what all the great columnists, authors, and orators of our time could say about the subject. Leadership is, indeed, cool.

You might think this child’s idea of leadership is far different than the adult understanding of being a great leader. On the contrary, the grownup vision and pre-teen vision are pretty much the same. In her adolescent wisdom, she also offered this: "Leaders help other people, they show up to meetings and stuff, they care about things, and they want to make things work out okay." Though simply stated, she’s right. At the core of leadership, true leadership, is a person who has a passion to accomplish a mission with people.

Generally, good leaders are made-not born. The Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Community Leadership School (CLS) has been going strong for 28 years, turning out more than 1,100 graduate leaders. Odds are you know a CLS grad-or two, or three, or more. Some of central Illinois’ best leaders have considered CLS to be a rite of passage. Preparations for CLS2004 are underway, and it’s time for you to apply. Or it’s time for you to encourage your organization’s best and brightest to join the class. It’s the mission of CLS to introduce and orient emerging leaders to our community.

Leadership is an issue that affects all of us. Not only are we impacted by it, but we’re all called upon to exercise it in one form or another. Whether we’re called on to lead in business, government, community, church, school, or home, everyone has a leadership role to play. We all have room to grow our leadership skills; growth is wonderful. Once we begin to grow, we ignite, or perhaps re-ignite, our passion.

Members of the CLS class of 2004 will be given the opportunity to learn, work, and have fun with a diverse group of people who share a common pride in the betterment of the Peoria area. They’ll network and interact with prominent area leaders and will be able to exchange opinions and ideas in a small group setting. They’ll have the chance to participate in field trips, which will allow them to go behind the scenes and learn how individuals and organizations serve and impact our community. They’ll be inspired into higher levels of teamwork. And, perhaps most importantly, they’ll gain valuable, lasting relationships.

The Chamber’s Community Leadership School has a proven method of developing leaders who’re ready and able to serve. CLS produces outstanding results through encouraging its members to give their best, sharing ideas, listening, building knowledge through collaboration, and fostering a strong sense of creativity.

We need you to identify individuals who’ve displayed a strong inclination toward civic involvement-people who want to make a real difference in the Peoria area. Application forms are available on the Peoria Chamber’s Web site at www.peoriachamber.org, or by calling 495-5921. Applications should be received at the Chamber office by October 24.

Class members will be selected by November 5, orientation is set for early January, with classes running from 7 to 9 a.m., Fridays, until early April. Tuition for CLS is $495 for Chamber-member businesses, and $695 for non-Chamber members.

As an exciting new feature, a graduate of the CLS2004 class will win a scholarship to participate in the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Washington Fly-In. Each spring, Chamber members are invited by Congressman Ray LaHood to Washington D.C. to meet with leaders from the highest levels in government and politics. The four-day trip, in May 2004, will be gifted to one lucky graduate, covering the cost of airfare, accommodations, and a couple of the group meals. Wow-leadership is cool.

Good, thoughtful leadership training takes time and commitment. It’s worth it. It can yield valuable dividends for your business or organization and for our community. In providing the CLS opportunity, the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce has paved the way.

Add this note to your expanding to-do list: Sign up for CLS2004. IBI