Advice for the incoming class of Leadership Atlanta

by Jeff Hilimire on June 5, 2013

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Yesterday I was an alumni volunteer at the 2014 Leadership Atlanta class orientation at Coca-Cola headquarters. Watching the 80 new class members get their badges for the first time, unsure of where the next ten months would take them, brought me back to my first day of Leadership Atlanta.

I’ve shared my Leadership Atlanta experience with anyone that would listen and of course, on this blog. And since I declared being a part of Leadership Atlanta is the one piece of advice I’d give to anyone in Atlanta before they retire, I count myself as one of the biggest fans of this program.

Leadership Atlanta is an experience that you really cannot prepare for, but yesterday reminded me that there are a few pieces of advice that I should share with the incoming class that will help them get the most of this experience.

Commit. Leadership Atlanta is a big commitment. Very big. And most of the people that are accepted are very busy people, so scheduling and committing can be tough. But if you do give yourself to the program and just commit for the next ten months to giving it everything you can, it will change your life forever. Or, in other words, be “all in”.

Be Open. Leave your baggage at the door and be ready to hear things you don’t like, see things you like less and be confronted and pushed to see other people’s viewpoints. Try to imagine that you’re a blank canvas, or a sponge, and just absorb.

Spend the time to get to know your classmates. I already have some incredible friends from my class, people that I never would have met otherwise but now feel like they have been my friends forever. You’ll be going through this life-changing experience with extraordinary people and you’ll be bonding in a unique and powerful way. Embrace that and make some new best friends.

Speak up. This is the time to share your experiences and don’t be ashamed of your reaction to some of the things you’ll see and experience. Fully participate in the exercises and be real. If you do that, you’ll help the other people in your class grow and you’ll be amazed at how receptive and supportive everyone is.

Go to as many CEO roundtables as you can. You’ll know what that means when the time comes, but don’t use that month as a way to get back to your routine and relax. Attend these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to sit with the CEO’s and Presidents of the major corporations in Atlanta. And ask tough questions. Here’s an example of our experience meeting Steve Cahillane, President of Coca-Cola Americas.

Use the time to figure out what you want to do to make this world a better place. I did not enter this program with this goal in mind. I honestly thought Leadership Atlanta was more of a leadership training program, where you’d learn how to better manage people, etc. But its not that at all. If, like me, you really haven’t figured out how you want to leave your impression on this world when its all said and done, this program will help you answer that question. It did for me.

Ok, that’s it guys. To say I’m jealous that you’re starting this journey would be an understatement. I’ll see you on the other side ;)

  • Vmr

    Jeff, this is the first time I have ever written a comment on a Blog. This one is worth it.
    I agree with everything Jeff said. If I could do one thing different, I would go to as many of the CEO roundtables as possible.
    Most important advice I can give, Be present.

  • Moira Vetter

    Jeff was one of the few familiar faces to me when I joined him for the Class of 2013. But the experience is one that is not about who you already know and what you already think. This experience is about what you can’t imagine, wouldn’t believe…things that are daunting and demand that you act. I’m jealous that Jeff left the program with the answer to what he wants to do to make his mark. The experience is so broad and so challenging…I feel I will have more questions than answers for some time. Fortunately I am a long-term planner and with time my actions will have revealed that I had the answer. Fortunately for Atlanta, Leadership Atlanta–the first program of its kind in the country–seeks out long-term, “all in” people and shoots them out of a canon and into all that they could do to change the world. You’ll feel some shrapnel but you will very likely be saving and changing lives. Good luck to “the second best class ever.”

  • Jen Miller

    I thought I recognized that courtyard! Sorry I missed you Jeff. And yes I will apply to L-ATL every year.

  • Jeff Hilimire

    Yeah, do it!!!

  • Jeff Hilimire

    VMR, congrats on the first blog comment! I feel like I’ve accomplished something amazing with that ;)

  • Brandon George

    Love this post. I’ve been thinking about applying to LEAD Atlanta for a while now, but have yet to make it a priority. It’s now at the top of my to do list. Thanks for sharing, Jeff.

  • Jeff Hilimire

    You’d be a great candidate. Go ahead and apply, I think they might still be taking recommendations.

  • Brandon George

    Thanks for the encouragement, Jeff! Snowmageddon 2K14 just turned into Apply-For-LEAD-Atlanta-2K14.

  • Jeff Hilimire


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