By Jesse Jones

In honor of our firm’s fifth anniversary, you’ll see that we’re engaging in a number of community initiatives throughout 2016. Right now, the spotlight rests on the non-profit community.

You may have noticed that we’re in the middle of our recently launched Forrest Firm Non-profit Challenge, which is aimed as a pro bono effort to launch five new North Carolina non-profits this year. We also ran my colleague Jeff Wolfe’s article last week, How Can I Start a Non-profit, to show people how to get started—the right way—on a path to running a company that benefits the public good.

lei logo jpgThis week, we’re sharing the success of one of our non-profit clients, a Durham-based company with national reach.  Leadership Edge, founded in 1993 by John Hawkins, provides principled leadership training and authentic mentoring for university students to equip them for a lifestyle of leadership.

From a single campus operation at Duke University, the company has grown the scale of its outreach via operations at some of the most prestigious schools of higher learning across the United States. Leadership Edge now equips students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Harvard University, the University of Virginia, Southern Methodist University, and Stanford University.

The organization’s services neatly divide into leadership speaking events, training programs, and mentoring via personal leadership coaching for students. Some of Leadership Edge’s more popular class topics include Ethics for Emerging Leaders, Lifestyle Leadership, Delegation that Develops Others, and Building and Leading Teams that Work.

I recently sat down with founder John Hawkins to discuss the growth and sustained success of Leadership Edge.

Jesse Jones:  “What were the drivers for starting Leadership Edge?”

John Hawkins:  “What spurred the development of Leadership Edge was the coming together of two important forces in society. Back in the early 1990s, I observed that so many of the mechanisms that developed leaders in society—family, membership in church and civic organizations, and even sports participation—were breaking down or focusing on different goals.  In sports, for example, the focus became more about winning than the actual development of players as teammates and people.

And being a Christian, I began to see how our country, and especially our college and university campuses, had shifted from a Judeo-Christian perspective. I wanted to find a way to contribute to the higher learning community as a Christian, with a business built around a service mindset from a Christian perspective, to ultimately become a value-added partner to universities.

So, I began to realize that one the best ways we could contribute would be addressing the need for leadership services that would not only develop young people for collegiate leadership, but set them on a path of God-honoring, principled leadership in their marriages, families, careers, communities and churches after graduation.”

Jesse Jones:  “What have been the keys to your success in more than two decades of work?”

John Hawkins:  “There have been many keys to our success. First, I’d have to say that living in prayer and following the Lord to the best of our ability has been so important. Second, when we stepped forward with this service, doors began to open up for us. Organizations and individuals within university communities saw the value of what we had to add to their lives and wanted to help us get started with them.

As we left the startup stage and matured, a wonderful phenomenon spurred our nationwide growth onto multiple campuses. Many former students who valued the training and development they received from Leadership Edge came back to volunteer with us to grow our campus network.  Our students at Duke became Leadership Edge volunteer representatives at places like Harvard and SMU.

Finally, those who are generous with their money, time, and talent have been key to our sustained success as a mature organization. We have a very generous base of donors, as well as a large group of volunteers that execute the programs on campuses, in conjunction with our paid staff, to grow something that they believe in. With the generous donations of money and time from these respective groups, we are able to offer our leadership classes at no charge or at minimal charge, depending on the campus organization’s ability to pay for the services.”

Jesse Jones: “How have you changed or adapted through the years?”

John Hawkins:  “You have to keep learning! First, it’s about the subject of leadership itself. It’s not that the approach changes every week, but the fact that you’ll never know everything there is to know about leadership.

Just as important, you have to continue learning how to apply your principles in changing contexts. That’s what adapting is all about.  Good leaders learn where their strengths lie, as well as their weaknesses, and they learn how to compensate for those areas where they aren’t as good.

Moving forward, we’re continuing to develop our great staff, so that they can continue to develop the organization in new ways. In addition to our staff, we’re also coming up with new ways to leverage our board of directors and our cadre of volunteers.  Their contribution helps us stay current and move forward. The reality is that what made sense at our founding 23 years ago may not make as much sense today. Our staff, board, and volunteers offer us clarity and sharpness in what we need to do for the future.”

The Forrest Firm is proud to have Leadership Edge among its roster of non-profit clients, building our community and communities across our country and our world for a better future.  We also appreciate the time that John Hawkins and his team have spent with us to understand Leadership Edge and its unique impact on university students at some of America’s great universities.

To learn more about Leadership Edge, visit their website at