American Leadership Forum-Silicon Valley pursues its mission of “joining and strengthening leaders to serve the common good” through various programs and activities.
American Leadership Form (ALF) was founded in 1980 in Houston, Texas by Joseph Jaworski, who left his successful law practice to address what he increasingly saw as a crisis of leadership throughout the country. He envisioned an organization dedicated to bringing together diverse leaders from multiple sectors in communities across the country to deeply explore their personal leadership capacity, build deep trust among the group to help each leader to get beyond the devaluing prejudices that we all hold, and to learn how diverse people can coalesce around issues and discover new possibilities.
After a year of meeting with leaders from across the United States, Jaworski and seventeen other prominent Americans launched American Leadership Forum. This group included John Gardner, former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare; James MacGregor Burns, professor emeritus of Williams College; Warren Bennis, former professor at USC and a respected author; Tom Bradley, former mayor of Los Angeles; Harlan Cleveland, former ambassador to NATO and president of the World Academy of Art & Science; Rosabeth Moss Kanter, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School; and James B. Stockdale, vice admiral in the U.S. Navy.
In 1996, Joe Jaworski published a book, Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership, in which he chronicles his efforts to build American Leadership Forum and explains the principles and values that ALF embodies.
There are now ten active ALF chapters in Charlotte, North Carolina; East Lansing, Michigan; Houston, Texas; Modesto, California;Portland, Oregon; Sacramento, Northern San Joaquin Valley, and Silicon Valley, California; Tacoma, Washington and the Waccamaw Region of South Carolina, more than 2,500 ALF Fellows nationwide have completed the program, bringing to their disparate communities a new sense of commitment, understanding and interconnectedness.
Suzanne St. John-Crane joined ALF as Chief Executive Officer after having been through both Classic Class XXV and the inaugural Urbanism Class XXXIV. St. John-Crane has worked in community media for the last twenty-four years, having served as the founding executive director for two community television stations in the Bay Area including CreaTV San Jose.
St. John-Crane is the recipient of over a dozen regional and national awards for programs she has produced and for her national work as a community media advocate. She was honored to be named one of Silicon Valley’s 100 Women of Influence in 2012 by the Business Journal. Suzanne currently serves on the boards of Downtown San Jose Rotary and is the Chair Emeritus for HomeFirst. She is a graduate of Community Leadership programs in Gilroy, San Benito County and San Jose, having served as facilitator for Leadership Gilroy for two years.
ALF has been fortunate to be served throughout its history by a strong and active board of directors, chaired by a cadre of regional leaders.
Today’s board represents a remarkable and diverse array of talent. Randy Pond, Retired Executive Vice President, Operations, Cisco Systems Inc., serves as Chair, Karen King, Managing Director and Chief Legal Officer at Silver Lake serves as Vice-Chair, and Dotty Hayes, Retired Vice President, Internal Audit, Intuit, is Treasurer.
Founder Ann DeBusk
When founder Ann DeBusk approached former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John W. Gardner to ask whether he thought the region could benefit from an ALF chapter, Gardner responded, “If any place needs ALF, Silicon Valley does.”
Ann proceeded to build the organization’s core leadership program in 1988. She established a founding board led by Paul Freiman, then president and CEO of Syntex Corporation, with representatives from the private, public and nonprofit sectors, and in 1989 she launched ALF’s first Silicon Valley class of Fellows. Over the next decade, ALF’s Fellows program evolved, growing in quality and attracting many of Silicon Valley’s most influential leaders from all sectors. Mayors, CEOs, nonprofit executives, members of Congress and the state legislature, and other business and civic leaders have participated, strengthening their commitment to regional stewardship and collaborative problem-solving, while exploring the Inner Path of Leadership. During these years, Ann DeBusk provided the leadership, spirit and passion to keep ALF on its path to build a better Silicon Valley community. In 1999, she was recognized as a Woman of Vision by the Career Action Center.
Former CEO Ann Gregg Skeet
As the network of ALF Senior Fellows grew to 400 regional leaders, the organization gradually shifted to promote more ongoing engagement. Ann Gregg Skeet, a Class X Senior Fellow, who was named ALF president in 2000 and chief executive officer in 2004, led this effort. In early 2000, ALF’s Board of Directors approved the Second Generation Plan, which focused on the role ALF could play in creating a more connected community and serving as a catalyst for promoting regional collaboration and change for the common good. A major fundraising campaign accompanied this plan, the first in the organization’s history.
From this effort came the development, incubation and launch of several community initiatives, including 1stACT (Arts, Creativity & Technology), the Partnership for School Readiness and Building Peaceful Families. All three of these efforts were eventually spun off from ALF and operate today as separate nonprofit organizations.
In 2006, ALF updated its strategic framework to focus on the fundamental strength that the organization offers its Fellows and the community: the ALF network. Based on the findings from internal and external program evaluations and assessments, the evolving structure was designed to develop, nurture and activate the ALF network, drawing on the network’s Leadership DNA.
Former CEO Chris Block
In February of 2009, Chris Block became ALF’s CEO. Block is a Class XVI Senior Fellow and served as Executive Director of Charities Housing Development Corporation. During Block’s ALF tenure, the organization celebrated its 20th and 25th anniversaries (links to videos)
During this period, ALF saw a 246% increase in the number of Senior Fellows participating in ALF activities while implementing cutting-edge, relationship-based network approaches to community issues. Among the accomplishments were:
Reviving California pushed the boundaries of technology, social media, and standard civic engagement methods to engage more than 2,000 people in the California fiscal and governance reform movement,
The Green Pays Collaborative developed a home energy retrofit/jobs creation initiative, raised $1.5 million, successfully advocated for inclusion in Santa Clara County’s Office of Sustainability, developed a first-of-its-kind contractor standards framework,
Safer San Jose resulted in a joint effort with the Chief of Police and community organizations to create a community advisory board, community policing plan, and improved community/police relationship,
The Education and Urban Innovation Networks introduced an original application of ALF’s class structure combining it with explicit system change goals. These networks are working on long-term solutions to complex systemic issues.