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Alumni reflect on lessons in leadership

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — People don’t always know they’re leaders. Earlier in their careers, three winners of the Leadership New Mexico distinguished alumni award were just trying to get something done for their neighbors. They never thought of themselves as leaders.

Trudy Healy used to stand outside of grocery stores in Taos registering people to vote.

Tom Taylor was asked to put his training as an architect to work on Farmington’s planning and zoning commission.

A zoning change threatened property values in Tony Trujillo’s Silver City neighborhood. Meetings in his living room where neighbors would talk about what to do evolved into a campaign committee for Trujillo’s successful City Council race.

Healy, a 2006 Leadership New Mexico graduate, now serves on the state Water Trust Board, has been a member of a state judicial nomination commission and helps run the family business, Rancho Milagro Productions. She can be found prowling the Roundhouse lobbying on water issues.

Taylor, a 1997 graduate, was elected to the Farmington City Council, became the city’s mayor and is now the Republican leader in the state House of Representatives.

Trujillo, class of 1999, is director of government relations for Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. He has been a regent of Western New Mexico University, a board member of the New Mexico Tax Research Institute and the Association of Commerce and Industry, and has been part of every business and economic development group in Silver City.

Part of a large class

They are among the more prominent graduates, but they are just three of the nearly 1,000 people from 76 communities who have gone through Leadership New Mexico programs in the past 16 years. More than 100 volunteers speak and teach courses at program events annually. Another 100 to 200 volunteers oversee the programs’ curricula, recruit speakers and handle the logistics of bringing dozens people together in communities around the state for several long weekends a year to learn what makes New Mexico tick and to think about how they can make it a better place.

“The journey for me has been about friendship,” said Patty Komko, Leadership New Mexico president. “People who have no reason from a business standpoint or political standpoint to have ever met, do meet. They spend time together, they learn to respect each other, they learn to respect different opinions. Classmates become great friends. They do business together, they rely on each other, they call on each other for their opinions.”

“It offers you a network,” Trujillo said. “If I have a question about what is going on in Carlsbad, I can call a classmate. People who go through the program get the message that they need to learn about their communities, and they do.”

“To be a leader you have to have a broad understanding of numerous subjects and how they interplay,” Taylor said. “My experience with Leadership New Mexico right off the bat, even though I was mayor at the time and had been introduced to lots of things I didn’t know about, it was interesting to get a broad statewide overview of health care, energy, the economy, education. It’s difficult to influence people when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Anyone can lead

“Anybody can be a leader,” Healy said. “They don’t know that. I didn’t know that. I always considered myself a housewife.”

Healy realized the power she had when she began lobbying the Legislature. “I realized that was where I could make changes. It’s a citizens’ legislature. I didn’t know what that meant until I started marching into the Legislature and discovered legislators needed me more than I needed them.” A legislator is only as powerful as the citizens allow him or her to be. “It’s the everyday, average Joe who makes the decision on who the leader is,” she said.

“I didn’t plan to go this way,” Taylor said. “It just happened.”

Taylor got his earliest lessons in leadership from his father, who had also served in the state House of Representatives.

“A couple of weeks before he passed away we were having a discussion,” Taylor said. “I was in city government at the time. He said, ‘Tom, you’re going have long future in leadership. I just want you to remember two things. Always be able to face anybody with a clear conscience when you tell him why you voted the way you did. The other is, don’t run for the Senate.'”

Worried about jobs

Trujillo travels the state a great deal and everywhere he goes people are worried about jobs. The leadership to solve the jobs problem exists in the community itself, he said.

“We need leaders who get involved in local communities to make a difference,” Trujillo said. “That’s where it all starts: Getting involved in communities, in organizations that have an impact in changing policy and making things happen in your own community.”

“If there are organizations in the community like an economic development group, it’s important to get involved with it,” he said. “Are we supporting our local industry? If not, how can we do it? Start asking hard questions. Can our current businesses maintain and expand? If not, what strengths do we have locally to bring business to our communities? Are we doing the right things?”