A look back at the big ideas behind one of the very first articles to run in The Journal and what’s sprung up around it.

Editor’s Note: Ten years ago this month, the Kansas Leadership Center published the very first edition of The Journal. In an article in that inaugural issue, President and CEO Ed O’Malley outlined the core leadership ideas that KLC would teach Kansans. For this piece, O’Malley looks back on where those ideas came from and what’s been built around them in the years since.

It was a brisk fall day in a nondescript conference room. The early senior team of the Kansas Leadership Center – Patty Clark, Matt Jordan, David Chrislip and I – were spending three days sifting through mountains of data collected from our monthslong listening effort across Kansas.

My head hurt from the amount of data. Our conversations seemed to be circular. The heaviness of our task weighed on us. We were culling that information in hopes of articulating a plan of attack for the idea of the Kansas Leadership Center. We needed simplicity. The KLC was just a nebulous idea back then.

I had the privilege of being the first employee of the Kansas Leadership Center, starting work on Jan. 2, 2007. I quickly built the initial team, and many of the administrative aspects of KLC started to take shape. But the big questions took us awhile to answer. What do we mean by leadership? How is it tied to improving health and prosperity in Kansas? What exactly will we teach? How should we teach it? The listening process helped give us enough information to begin answering those questions.

It may be hard to imagine what things were like at the fledging Kansas Leadership Center back then. There were no programs or participants. There were no books or magazines yet. There was no curriculum or leadership framework. There was a blank slate, and we had to launch our effort to foster leadership on a massive scale across Kansas.

Two foundational documents would be created from the listening process. The first was a description of civic life in Kansas we would later call The Artifact. The second was a simple set of ideas that would become known as the KLC Four Competencies.

With the competencies as a foundation, we were trying to define the type of leadership necessary to make progress on daunting challenges and opportunities. With everything underway at KLC – the building of a team, creating the nonprofit corporation, creating our first strategic plan, etc. – we craved simplicity. The ideas, we said to one another, must be simple.

The simplicity of these ideas has been a huge part of KLC’s success. We didn’t invent anything new. The ideas are timeless, showing up in historic and sacred texts going back hundreds and thousands of years. They aren’t hard to understand. But it’s rare to see them lived out.

Staying loyal to this small set of powerful and provocative ideas has been part of the secret sauce of KLC. It’s tempting to chase other ideas. But the KLC Four Competencies have been good to us. Like a basketball coach who keeps running the same offense because she knows it works, we’ve stayed loyal to these ideas for the same reason.

This spread in The Journal chronicles the evolution of the KLC Four Competencies, and I hope it does three things for you:

First, I hope it helps you reflect on the power of a small set of powerful and provocative ideas.

Second, I hope it gets you to think about your journey with these ideas.

Third, I hope it conveys that the ideas keep evolving. That won’t stop, and we are excited to have you on that journey with us.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

My experience suggests Mead’s quote is true. But I also believe this:

Never doubt that a small set of powerful and provocative ideas can change the world; indeed, it is required.



Wichita Eagle article

Major announcement with a packed house announcing a concept that was purposefully unformed. The big, bold belief about our transformative work was ignited.


Cultivating Civic Leadership in Kansas or “The Artifact”

To live up to the promise of this game-changing endeavor for the state of Kansas, the team knew that we had to focus our energy around ideas that responded to what was happening in organizations and communities across Kansas. The Artifact was the result of our extensive, grounded research that would inform the key ideas taught going forward at the KLC.

Late 2007

The first draft of the competencies

An early draft of the leadership ideas that emerged from The Artifact. After extensive review with Kansans and leadership experts around the country, these ideas would become known as the KLC Four Competencies.

October 2008

First Programs

At our very first programs, we didn’t have handouts for attendees. But each staff and faculty member had a stack of paper with a bunch of bullet points that would later become the KLC Framework. A massive behind-the-scenes argument occurred at our first core program about whether we should give those bullet points to the participants or not. They were rough and unpolished, and we ultimately decided not to share them for a few more months.

Early 2009

The KLC Framework

This became the first formal document that articulated the KLC Four Competencies and was the first printed piece that was used in a program.

May 2009

First Issue of The Journal

Our first issue of The Journal included our first attempt at fleshing out the competencies in writing.


Monthly alumni phone call

Every month, we would take one of the subpoints of the competencies and spend an hour talking with alums about that element on an open conference call. We’d take tons of notes and then send all alums a postcard with the highlights. Those postcards became the first draft of each chapter of our second book, “Your Leadership Edge.” That’s why I always say. “Alums wrote that book.”


Case Studies

The case studies of Kansas situations were designed to help illustrate the competencies and bring them to life.

June 2011

Curriculum Week Memo

All faculty, staff and key advisers gathered together for a week in June 2011 to diagnose the curriculum. We asked ourselves really tough questions about what was working and what wasn’t. The result was a dramatically simplified version of the four competencies.


KLC Quick Guide

The KLC Quick Guide was born. The copy on the front and back hasn’t changed since the first printing. We made a big deal about having a little card that could fit in a pocket. They actually measured my shirt pocket to make sure it would fit.

Late 2011

The Playbook

Once we had the simple set of ideas, it was easy to start imagining how we could help people apply the ideas to their challenges and opportunities. The Playbook was born as the first resource for people. It was a huge hit! Participants loved it.

Late 2011

Pocket Playbook

Here’s a small version of the Playbook that never really caught on, but it was an example of our trying to help people apply the provocative ideas.

Summer 2013

For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership

We were trying to share the big idea of the KLC and make the case that these competencies are necessary for progress on our toughest issues in civic life.


Your Leadership Edge

This book fully describes the competencies and has become a staple in all KLC programs.


Journal Talks

We introduced Journal Talks as a way for alums to convene conversations about provocative civic issues and used the KLC ideas to help the conversations be productive.

A version of this article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit klcjr.nl/1yrgiftsub.

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