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Constance Alexander: West Ky. Workforce Board’s Mary Anne Medlock’s ‘True North’ leads to Harvard

Mary Anne Medlock’s heart was “touched with fire” even before she went to Harvard, met David Gergen in person, and got him to sign her own personal copy of his inspiring new book, “Hearts Touched with Fire.”

“To hear him at eighty…” Her voice drifts to silence as she reflects on the thrill of meeting Gergen, former White House adviser to four U.S. presidents, CNN analyst, and founder of the Harvard Center for Public Leadership.

Medlock was a fan before she participated in Authentic Leadership, an executive education program at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. She had read “Hearts Touched with Fire” back home in Murray and brought her copy to Cambridge with a specific mission in mind.

Mary Anne Medlock with David Gergen (Photo courtesy Mary Anne Medlock)

“I now have a signed copy,” she reported.

Gergen’s talk was particularly inspiring because his message about leadership was one of hope, according to Medlock.

“He’s a situational pessimist and long-term optimist,” she explained. “And though things look bleak in America right now, he said that we are better than that. The pendulum will swing, people will rise to the challenge, and have a better day.”

As Business Services Liaison for the West Kentucky Workforce Board, Medlock sees the short and long-term pressures on employers and employees in a post-COVID world. The short and the long of it is that essential workforce skills have changed and shortages of skilled workers are not going away.

“It’s a challenging time,” she declared, “an opportunity to refocus. A time to dig in and reframe the tools that lead to solutions.”

With the theme of “Authentic Leadership,” the Harvard program was well-timed for Medlock. “It’s something I’ve always tried to be. Truthful, reliable, and providing benefits to the organizations I work with,” she said.

Another valuable resource used in Authentic Leadership was a self-assessment tool based on Bill George’s “Discovering Your True North.”

“It teaches you self-awareness and to use your “true north” as a guide,” Medlock said.

Bill George contends that successful leadership takes conscious development and requires being true to your life story. “Authentic leadership is the goal,” is the message he delivers.

Through George’s self-assessment process, Medlock was able to confirm something about herself that she already knew: She currently resides in a career “sweet spot.”

“What I do energizes me,” she said. “I always wanted to be a public servant and I am in the right place.”

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

That insight led to thoughts of her parents and how they shaped her life and goals by working multiple jobs and making sacrifices so their children could go to college.

She remembers her father’s words especially. A hard-working farmer, he told her, “‘I don’t want you to dig in the dirt the way I have.’”

Recalling her undergraduate studies, Medlock admitted that the path she chose had never been easy. “I was dyslexic and had test anxiety,” she said, “but I stuck to it.”

Her persistence led to an undergraduate degree in Advertising and a Master’s in Journalism. Her professional life began as a grant writer at Murray State University. After that she became a small business owner, then went on to work for the Purchase Area Development District. Currently, she is Business Services Liaison for West Kentucky Workforce Board, a position that entails working with employers in eight counties of the Jackson Purchase Region.

The opportunity to attend the Harvard program was a result of her involvement in the Delta Leadership Network and the Delta Regional Authority, which established an executive academy to enhance the leadership skills, policy knowledge, and networks of community members in the Mississippi Delta region.

Just being at Harvard for the leadership program was almost overwhelming, Medlock confessed. Having full access to any Harvard building, including the library, was a high point. Another peak experience was a dinner in the penthouse of the Kennedy School, where the Honorable Deval Patrick, former mayor of Boston, spent a couple of hours sharing the path he pursued to identify his own “sweet spot.”

“He was only supposed to speak for thirty minutes,” Medlock reported, “but he stayed and answered questions for about two hours.”

Another instructor that made an impact was Brigadier General Dana Born, US Air Force, the first female dean of the Air Force Academy. One milestone in her personal and professional life was September 11, 2001. Her two daughters were in daycare at the Pentagon, while their mother and father were at work. Today, those two have followed in their parents’ footsteps, with one at the Naval Academy and the other at the Air Force Academy.

Medlock is still processing all the knowledge and inspiration she gained from Authentic Leadership. She chuckles when she describes her first phone call to her husband, regaling him with an excited description of what she’d learned about herself so far.

“And this is just your first day,” he reminded her.

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