Evolving As a Leader

by Tucker Kennedy, Ameren Illinois

Twenty-one years ago this month, I attended a ceremony at the Hotel Père Marquette for the inaugural class of 40 Leaders Under Forty in the Peoria area. I was vice president of marketing for the Economic Development Council, part of a talented regional team working to help attract and retain head-of-household jobs and improve the national perception of the Peoria area.

If the '94 class was a "Who's Who" of Peoria leaders, there were probably a handful of iBi readers who saw my name and wondered, "Who's he?" I remember feeling incredibly fortunate to be listed among professionals who had accomplished so much. After all, at 28, I was just beginning my career. I had no direct reports, no budget responsibility and no family to provide for.

Fast forward to today. As director of communications for Ameren Illinois, I lead a talented team of communications and community relations professionals, and have direct accountability for performance and results. Of course, with time and age, one becomes inherently more equipped to take on increasing levels of responsibility. I'm also married, with a mortgage and a son attending the University of Illinois. Life is more complex than it was that November evening back in 1994.

What I have come to appreciate today is that being an effective leader is as much about drawing on the experiences and talents of others as it is about the job title or job description. My personal mantra has always been, "I may not know a lot, but I know a lot of people." Fortunately, I have had many great mentors along the way. And looking back, the accomplishments and skills of the 1994 class provided many valuable lessons. Here are just a few:

  • Diane Cullinan Oberhelman. Most everyone knows Diane's track record as a developer. I remember how she personally connected with business leaders who were considering locating their companies here and passionately sold the benefits of the region. From Diane, I learned about being relentless in the pursuit of success.
  • John Butler. I was the Peoria Chiefs' first intern, serving under John in the summer of 1987. He was an amazing marketer and promoter; his efforts put thousands of people in the stands and made the Chiefs one of the top minor league clubs in the country. From John, I learned how to channel creativity into results.
  • Tony Wysinger. Known for his accomplishments as a basketball player and coach, the work Tony does off the court is making a difference for kids in our area today. From Tony, I learned that people in a position of influence have an obligation to use that influence to help others. I wish I'd learned his jump shot.
  • Jim Molinari. He took over a Bradley basketball program that was in trouble and rebuilt it. From Jim, I learned that it starts with a strong foundation, and you have to be willing to experience a little failure before achieving success.

There are likely members of the 2015 class of 40 Leaders who are at the same point in their careers as I was when I was recognized. Congratulations! You have a great opportunity to watch the progress of your fellow class members… and learn some things along the way that will help you evolve as a leader. iBi

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