If I could talk to my younger self… with Dennis Lafferty

15 minutes with Dennis Lafferty (LC Honorary, CLI Honorary)
Principal, NEO Regional Strategic Consulting

What was your first job? And did you learn skills then that you incorporate still today?
My early role as a staff member of the predecessor organization to the Greater Cleveland Partnership taught me what today is referred to as “servant leadership”-that is facilitating the success of others (in my case volunteers) can make achieving goals a lot easier. You can accomplish great things if you provide the credit for others. Also, I learned early on the value of collaboration and how diversity in decision-making always leads to better outcomes.

What is a piece of advice you wish somebody told you when you were younger?
Oh, so many choices here. I start with feedback – I wish I had received more critical but constructive feedback early so I could have compounded its value over my career. In going along with that, as young people, we often miss advice that is offered, so gaining a deeper appreciation of how exactly to process, store and reflect upon advice that is offered would have been helpful. Often in our younger days we are in a hurry – for whatever. Life does go quickly so advice on appreciating any moment and being present would have been important.

Finally, I wish I had developed a keen understanding of and appreciation for serendipity – things of significant value often result from unexpected or planned circumstances.

How do you incorporate a work-life balance?
Technology has both increased and diminished our abilities regarding the separation of work and life. I often say technology is a blessing and a curse. Certainly, the current pandemic has further blurred this separation-significant research indicates we are working longer hours from home.

I coach younger people to both take multiple daily breaks from work and importantly to immerse themselves in something that has nothing to do with their work. For example, if you are in accounting spend time reading an article or watching a video on say art or biology or whatever. To me the analogy here is like discovering a new word-only to then have it appear soon thereafter and often. Getting outside our day to day focus always directly or indirectly, provides insights that are relevant and applicable to daily life. Mysteriously our minds find ways to relate and value seemingly disparate topics.

What do you think the next generation can do to ensure a strong future for Cleveland?
Two things come to mind. First do anything, even what you perceive to be of minor value, to strengthen our education systems. Be a mentor, tutor, read to students, join YP education focused boards, support internships. Successful communities have educated workforces and inclusive economies.

Cleveland’s future is directly dependent upon the “eco-systems” that consist of networks that day in and day out, meet challenges and address opportunities for progress. These eco-systems exist in all aspects of our civic sector-education, workforce, racial equity, etc. They are not only dependent on the next generation to participate, but also require ever changing perspectives and energy. Most importantly they are easy to access and to “join”- regardless of age.

Cleveland is and Why?
Post pandemic, downtown will again be the hub for employment, sports, entertainment and living. Our heritage is grounded in the grit and determination of the investors who saw the promise of the Western Reserve beyond Connecticut and to the generations of entrepreneurs who followed. We have shaken our lack of self- confidence and provided a palette for the next generation to design the Cleveland of their future.