Young leaders prioritizing community

Blog post by Whitney Harmel

Whitney Harmel is the Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. Through her career history and past role as chair of the Emerging Leaders United Council, she has over a decade of sales, leadership, and relationship-building experience.


This week I am attending the 2019 Emerging Leaders United’s (ELU) Young Professionals Conference with the United Way of Central Maryland. While I always look forward to this particular event, I have a renewed enthusiasm for it after the Maryland Chamber of Commerce’s Inspire MD awards. Arif Khan, CareFirst BlueCross BlueSheild’s youngest executive in the history of the company, won this year’s Rising Star award. The Rising Star award honors a motivated future leader who is driven and willing to do the hard work to propel their business, employees or colleagues, and community to even greater success—a true inspiration to today’s business community. In his acceptance speech, Khan said how this award gave him an even bigger platform for causes close to his heart.

Young leaders like Khan are who attend the ELU conference. They are people who don’t just say they care about the community, they genuinely do and put it into action in a way that makes sense to them personally. These young professionals are rising stars in their professions and they pair that passion for growth with a desire to serve their communities. There is an energy networking with like-minded individuals who intentionally focus on growing professionally and equally care about community that is palpable at this conference.

People tend to separate business and community. The truth is they coexist; people who make up your business also make up your community. When one is thriving, the other is thriving, and vice versa. What I have found through attending the ELU conference these past four years, is that business leaders we want to follow are the ones who are actively serving their communities. They embody the mentality that people want to be part of a tribe. Without pushing their beliefs on anyone else, they simply show people how to succeed in business and to give back to their communities in real and practical ways.

I think employees are often seeking these opportunities and are unsure where to find them. These emerging and rising star leaders bring together their employees, their networks, and give people the chance to be part of their tribes. Getting involved in a group like the ELU is a great opportunity for young professionals to grow personally and professionally and network with other young leaders who include community in their professional climb.

There is a different feeling when networking with rising leaders, one that I personally enjoy. Recently, I was introducing a young entrepreneur to some of my connections and his first response was, “Well, what can I do for you in return?” While leaders in the past certainly returned favors, the leaders now stake their reputations on authenticity. They aren’t obligated to do business as it has always been done. There is a sense of individuality that brings with it the freedom to be an even more dynamic and inspiring leader. How are you bridging the gap between your career and your community?

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