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The enabler

The best leaders empower others, the president of the Junior Woman's Club says.

By JOHN BALZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 19, 2002

TAMPA PALMS -- Conventional wisdom says that City Council member Shawn Harrison has the lock on leadership in the Harrison household. Conventional wisdom, however, is not always right.

The real "leader" may be his wife Susan, outgoing president of the New Tampa Junior Woman's Club and recipient of the Nancy Crawford Leadership Award at the statewide Junior Woman's Club convention.

Junior woman's clubs are part of the General Federation of Women's Clubs, which came about in 1890 during the women's suffrage movement. Despite the term junior, the club is made up of women in their child-bearing years.

The 118-member New Tampa chapter took home eight first place awards -- more than any other club -- in categories that included conservation, education, leadership and membership. The 5-year-old chapter finished as the top large club in the state and the second-best club overall.

The key to good leadership, said Harrison, can be found in an old saying: You don't want to fish for others, you want to teach them to fish.

"If you're a really good leader, you shouldn't be felt," said Harrison, 33. "What I mean is that the people around you should feel like they've done it themselves. The best leader is an enabler."

Born in Japan, Harrison spent her high school years in Panama City, Fla. She grew up a political daughter. Her mother served as a school superintendent, and Harrison said the local paper dragged her mother's name through the mud. She met Shawn when he was in law school and she was a senior at the University of Florida. She officially became a political wife when he won his City Council race in 1999.

She described her husband's leadership as an ability to gather information and bring different parties together. Her leadership skills help her orchestrate teams of people to accomplish a goal. A lawyer herself, Harrison managed 17 attorneys before taking time away to care for her two children. As a lawyer, she spent four days in North Carolina in a formal leadership training course that encouraged managers to accept critical feedback, let people around them succeed and not water down bad messages.

To help recognize members of the club, Harrison instituted "Heart to Heart" messages. These are brief but detailed notes that club members send one another to thank and critique their work.

"What we do as human beings is generalize," Harrison said.

"If we're specific with each other, both positive and negative, then we are going to communicate better and we're going to be less defensive."

-- John Balz can be reached at (813) 269-5313 or at

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