In a normal year, December is usually when our selection committee is sitting down for in-person interviews with new applicants, seeking to find the 52 ideal candidates to participate in the next Leadership Maryland class. With the Class of 2020 postponed until 2021, we decided to chat with Kenneth L. “Ken” Brannan ’05 (LM), board vice chair and chair of our selection committee, about the interview process and what goes into building a new class.
How long have you been on the selection committee?
I’ve been on the selection committee for the past six or seven years and have served as chair of the committee for three years. Pete France ‘12 was the previous chair, and he and I became friends and he encouraged me to join. They had an opening, and I live close to the Leadership Maryland office, so it was convenient for me, plus I’ve enjoyed staying engaged with Leadership Maryland, so I agreed. I didn’t know then how rewarding it would be and how it would continue to enrich my life over the years.
What do you enjoy most about interviewing class applicants?
We only ask 10 questions in each interview, so I’ve listened to them over and over, but I never get tired of it. It is an enlightening learning process each time. One of the characteristics of leadership is helping to train new leaders, and that’s one the best aspects of what the selection committee does. We get to help put together a class consisting of established leaders who can create impact across Maryland and beyond.
What are you hoping to learn about each applicant during their interview?
Our selection process is very competitive, and people really want to be included in the class, so they tend to be nervous when they come for the interviews. We also use a sand timer to limit the interview to 30 minutes, which can add more pressure. But we are looking for candor and self-confidence, and for people who exhibit a sense of accomplishment in their professional careers and a personal commitment to their community and their relationships. We want to know what each candidate is passionate about, and interested in, and how they’ve explored those interests – whether it’s in their profession, or in their hobbies or volunteer efforts. We’re looking for candidates who don’t have an agenda, are curious of mind, and are open to new and different ideas. And we are focused on selecting a diverse class – we’re looking for a broad mix of gender, ages, professional backgrounds and a geographic blend from across the state. Ethnicities, too but more importantly, intellectual diversity.
How do these qualities contribute to the dynamic of each Leadership Maryland class?
One of the key aspects of Leadership Maryland is the program creates a sacred, trusted environment that allows people to feel comfortable answering uncomfortable questions. Every person has a veneer they carry around – an image they want to project, a protective shield around their reputation – and Leadership Maryland is designed to help you drop that veneer and experience a new level of openness and transparency. So, in the interviews, we’re looking for insight into how each candidate might respond to that environment and contribute to the class.
In my experience, everyone in Leadership Maryland will drop their veneer at some point in their class year – for me it happened during our first exercise at opening retreat in April 2005! But what you can’t anticipate is how each class forms a unique bond because of this shared experience. It’s a lot like childhood friendships – those friends who really know you and let you be yourself, and a lot of Leadership Maryland graduates will tell you they didn’t realize they could still make friends like that at 40 years old, or 50 years old, or however old they were when they went through the program.
Can you explain your concept of the “brimming measure?”
I think of Leadership Maryland as graduate school – it’s intense, it’s a lot of work, it’s a financial and time commitment, but the more you participate in the experience, the more you will get out of it. I tell candidates that the way the Leadership Maryland program is designed, every class gets a full cup, but if you do the preparation and the work, what you will add to the class is “the brimming measure.” If you dedicate the time and effort, it will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine. One of the ways we gauge success is how much class members engage with Leadership Maryland after they graduate. I’ve never seen a class that didn’t succeed in that, but some give it 150 percent. For example, the Class of 2018 had six members sign up as lifetime members before they had even graduated! And another six have joined since.
What advice would you offer to anyone who is considering applying for a future class?
Leadership is a leap of faith. If you can take that leap inside the environment of trust that Leadership Maryland provides, it will enrich your life in ways you can’t even fathom.
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