Polk State’s LDPA molds better leaders for City of Winter Haven

Posted on by Polk Newsroom

After 20 weeks in Polk State’s Leadership Development in Public Administration (LDPA) Program, City of Winter Haven employees left with new perspectives and skills to become successful leaders.

LDPA was established in 2020 in partnership with the City to provide quality professional development and leadership training to employees across departments. The most recent class was the fourth graduating cohort.

“It was a lot to learn, but they really teach you how to improve yourself as a leader,” said Pedro Berrios-Cintron, a Project Manager for the City’s Utilities Department. “There were a lot of things discussed that I had never thought about before.”

Every Tuesday, 15 City employees met at Polk State for leadership development activities.

“This program doesn’t teach you just how to see yourself,” said Jennifer Clark, a Construction Inspector in the City’s Engineering Services Division. “It really teaches you how to interact with people with different behavioral styles.”

Although the participants work for the same employer, Clark noted that few knew one another. Despite being an employee, Berrios-Cintron visited some City facilities for the first time during the program.

“I learned a lot about the other departments,” Clark said. “Recreation, for example, I didn’t realize how involved they were in the community. It definitely gave us great knowledge. We got to know each other and form friendships.”

One key area that Berrios-Cintron and Clark spoke about was learning to communicate. Both referenced a course taught by Craig Collins, Polk State Interim Associate Vice President for Corporate and Leadership Development, about working with people from different generations – from those just beginning their careers to those near retirement.

“We’re working with about four generations right now,” Clark said. “We’re not just operating on different communication styles, but we have different values. We took classes from behavioral style to communication style. I think this will be really helpful for interacting with one another and in conflict resolution. Being a better communicator is where it will benefit me the most.”

“Dealing with people, the course really teaches you how to listen,” Berrios-Cintron added. “It really taught me the importance of thinking before I act.”

Both Clark and Berrios-Cintron said the course took them out of their comfort zones. A City employee for three years, Berrios-Cintron is happy in his current position, but hopes to earn more certifications and to continue to improve.

“I was real shy,” he said. “It took me out of my shell. At first, it was kind of nerve-racking, but as you got to know the teacher and your classmates, I got more comfortable and really saw how this would help me in the long run.”

Formerly in Utilities, Clark said she hopes to one day return to the department as a project manager. A City employee for three years, Clark also raved about the tutelage of Mary Beth Shapiro, Coordinator for Corporate and Leadership Development at Polk State, and how she was able to challenge participants.

“She is a phenomenal teacher,” Clark explained. “How she facilitated the class and brought us together was outstanding. One of the toughest things for me was speaking in front of people. She was really good about pulling us out of ourselves.”

In addition to Engineering Services and Utilities, Recreation & Culture, Human Resources, and the Winter Haven Fire Department were among some of the departments represented during LDPA. Other topics covered included teambuilding, diversity and inclusion, and project management.

“Being the best you are is settling in our opinion. We want all employees to be the best they can be, which means investing in themselves to improve their skills, knowledge, and insight in every way possible,” said City Manager T. Michael Stavres during the first cohort. “The LDPA Program was created to help our employees fulfill that challenge and we are already seeing a return on our collective investment. Moreover, our employees have positioned themselves for upward mobility within our organization.”

Then the Assistant City Manager and a Polk State Distinguished Alum himself, Stavres is proof that Polk State readies participants to take the next step. After five months in the program, Clark echoed this sentiment, sharing that she feels well-equipped to transition into a bigger leadership role.

“I really like self-development,” Clark added. “(For those considering LDPA), I would say to come in with an open mind. This will help you become a better person, develop professionally, and become a better listener. The biggest thing is you’ll be able to change yourself and become a better leader. That’s where real change comes from.”