Five Questions With: Mike Ritz

"LRI engages in evidence-based decision-making by surveying its alumni yearly to find out alumni wishes in terms of curriculum, programming, issues, organizational direction, and interests."

Mike Ritz has been the executive director of Leadership Rhode Island since 2009, after serving two years on the organization’s board of governors. Over the past 20 years, he has served as a tri-lingual interrogator in the U.S. Army, established his first corporation by the age of 25, motivated people to excel at his fitness Boot Camps in Boston and Philadelphia, and served as the New England regional manager for an international health care company based in the United Arab Emirates. He also was an on-call analyst for CNN. Here Ritz discusses the mission of the nonprofit he now leads.

PBN: What is the core mission of Leadership Rhode Island?
The mission of Leadership Rhode Island is to provide leaders and emerging leaders with knowledge and access to resources which will enable them to positively affect their communities. We’ve been doing so since 1981. [Former] Gov. [Bruce] Sundlun, who was then the [Greater] Providence Chamber [of Commerce] president, tasked a committee to explore the possibility of a year-long community building leadership program that eventually became the independent 501(c)3 nonprofit known today as Leadership Rhode Island. We’re part of his legacy.
For the past five years I’ve asked alumni (more than 2,000 at present) in different ways to consider why we often hear, even from them, that Rhode Island lacks good leadership. Does this mean that LRI isn’t doing enough? The question immediately provokes an explanation from alumni as to how much the experience meant to them personally and professionally; opened their eyes, changed them for the better, and contributed to who they are today. Our mission is alive and well, and our successes many. Now, we’re convinced that we must increase our scale to increase our impact.

PBN: How many employees and volunteers are involved in the nonprofit and what are you doing to increase participation?
LRI engages in evidence-based decision-making by surveying its alumni yearly to find out alumni wishes in terms of curriculum, programming, issues, organizational direction, and interests. We shape our approach to community building and core content based on evidence provided by those who have the greatest stake in LRI’s success, our alumni. Then, we ask them to help us strategize and execute. We’re able to accomplish big things with a small budget and a seven-person staff because our staff is talented and dedicated and because we involve our alumni in everything we do from top to bottom.

PBN: What is “strengths based thinking” and how does it fit in with your Make Rhode Island Stronger campaign?
Starting in 2010 with our theme of “Positively RI!” we explored and expressed the strengths of Rhode Island through various lenses with the mentality of “what’s going on right” with the state. Fortunately, there are now other organizations like Bryant University and the Rhode Island Foundation investing in actions around that type of thinking.
Our multi-year Make RI Stronger campaign began last year by searching out “line crossers” to learn how they drive progress, many times unconventionally. We identified their strengths along with 1,000 others using Strengths Finder assessments. Through this new Gallup partnership, we have the only certified strengths coaches in Rhode Island and are launching eight to 15 new LRI strengths coaches in 2015, so that we can bring strengths-based thinking to thousands next year.
Not only does discovering one’s strengths allow a person to maximize their true potential and thereby gain confidence, but imagine the powerful impact it has in workplace productivity and overall employee and manager satisfaction. Our efforts are already producing measurable results. We will continue to push strengths-based thinking and this tool into our second year of Make RI Stronger. We will leverage our growing individual and collective strengths to broaden and deepen social capital in Rhode Island. Social capital studies, such as “Why the Garden Club Couldn’t Save Youngstown,” show how the structure of civic relationships shapes trajectories of economic change. Our efforts will create new strengths-based relationships statewide for the good of our citizenry and the economy.

- Advertisement -

PBN: What are your “top” strengths; how many people fit into each category; and do you plan to expand these?
Most of us have been taught to focus on fixing our weaknesses and, in the end, we reach an exhausted form of mediocrity. Strengths Finder identifies our top five natural talents out of 34. The mindset is that when we focus on using these natural talents routinely, we shift from good to excellent. We then manage our weaknesses through our strengths or through the strengths of others on a team.
My top five are “communication,” “activator,” “futuristic,” “strategic” and “maximizer.”

PBN: What is your new fellowship program and who can benefit from it?
College Leadership Rhode Island, in its 11th year, is a truncated version of LRI’s Core Program for which most career professionals know us. We accept 30 to 35 extraordinary college students to participate in a semester-long exploration of the nonprofit, for-profit, and government sectors.
Our new fellows program, requested by past CLRI graduates, is an extension of that program and allows select CLRI students to participate as non-voting members of a nonprofit board, to shadow a high level corporate executive, and to participate in civic meetings and activities. It’s a practical experience that forges real relationships between organizations and the soon-to-graduate.
Not only do students benefit from the knowledge and access, but our partnering companies and organizations benefit from having their youthful, innovative presence with them as they make decisions. Rhode Island benefits when these talented students choose to stay because of their CLRI experience and their newfound LRI network of support.

No posts to display