Upon graduation, a recent LM35 class member was quoted as saying, “Leadership Missoula is about so much more than simply networking or leadership training. It’s about building a relationship with Missoula, with those that share and influence the community together, and along the way, learning a great deal more about yourself and your views/biases. The entire first year, I feel, was an invaluable experience. Everyone is going to take something different away from this class, but everyone is going to be better for it.”

The Chamber literally has pages of testimonials like this one, all absolutely glowing about the transformative experience of being a part of the program. Yet prior to experiencing the program myself, like many others I still couldn’t quite picture what the LM experience really is all about. It was almost like a secret club, a code of understanding among grads. You either know, or you don’t. I recently had the opportunity to attend the opening retreat of the 36th class at Flathead Lake Lodge, and I must admit, I finally get what all the fuss is about.

For me, the experience began in the dark, picking up my friend Julie Maloney (Incoming Chair of the LM 37 class), and heading to the Chamber by 6:30am last Sunday. As each of my 47 class members arrived, we were all given pieces of paper with a unique question on it to ask as many people as we could. There’s nothing like speed networking at 7am on a weekend, I tell you! Questions ranged from “How many siblings do you have?” to “How many hours per day do you spend on social media?” and everything in between.

From there, it was still dark outside, and we piled on a bus headed north. Many of us thought we might get some sleeping or reading time in on the ride, but our fearless leaders had other plans. Instead, we were all tasked with going to the front of the bus one by one, and sharing our most embarrassing moments to a Beachliner full of strangers. Sounds like fun, right? So by the time we arrived at Averill’s Flathead Lake Lodge 2 hours later, we all knew each other REALLY well. The fun was only getting started.

For me, the setting was about the most phenomenal part of the entire experience. It’s a beautifully maintained historic property, where you feel like you’ve stepped back in time yet nothing is lacking. It’s quiet, comfortable, and cozy, with genuine hospitality around every corner. The Flathead Lake Lodge is absolutely synonymous with the Leadership Missoula experience, and there’s nothing I would ever change about that.  

Our sessions focused on building our networks, exploring our personality types with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator model. We watched Simon Sinek, and explored our own personal "Whys". Our facilitators, Janna Lundquist and Steve MacArthur, were engaging, knowledgeable, and sparked our curiosity all along the way. Our group includes Missoulians old and new, representing a vast variety of age and points in their careers. Industries from manufacturing to banking to law are represented. But even with that diversity, throughout the weekend, not one person felt out of place, or maybe we all did. Yet as the weekend unraveled, so did our shells. As one class member commented towards the end of the two days, we all showed up with our work hats on, and were surprised by how personal and individual the programming was.

We ate amazing food, drank great beer and wine, rode horses, went on a beautiful sunset cruise on Flathead Lake, and shared laughter around the campfire. We found deep connections with strangers and felt comfortable sharing some closely-guarded past experiences. We now know who snores, and who the early risers are. No one told us what we were really getting into, we just went with the flow. And by the time we got on the bus to come back, we all felt a bond that can’t be forced. The connections had only just begun.

So, count me in as a member of the club. It may be a little corny of me (I’m ESFJ, afterall), but I must admit that I truly have missed my new friends this week. I can’t wait for our next day together, but thankfully it’s just around the corner. In early 2019, when applications for the next class are released, I strongly encourage you to consider the program. It’s an investment in yourself, and from what I can tell, the experience continues long after your time in the program ends.

For more information on Leadership Missoula, click here. And follow the rest of our adventures this year on our Leadership Missoula Facebook Page. Are you a LM Alum looking to keep the connection? Join our new Alumni Association!


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