by James Hopper

From September 2021 to May 2022, I had the privilege of traveling across Arkansas with 48 former strangers who are now friends/quasi-family members. As we traveled, we learned about the challenges Arkansas faces but also saw firsthand how well other things are going. 

We were challenged to develop ourselves and each other into better leaders. We had to think outside of our professional silos, develop a diverse network of colleagues across Arkansas that we could call on to help us, and ask tough questions and struggle together to find solutions to complex problems. All of this was for one reason, to help improve the state that we all call home. 

During our first session together, I was not expecting to hear 20 minutes about the lasting impact of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller on the state, but I shouldn’t have been surprised by the breadth and depth of Rex Nelson’s knowledge about Winthrop and Arkansas history. Rex is a storyteller at heart and helped lay the foundation for the rest of our sessions by sharing how we all reached this point in time as Arkansans.

Over the next nine months, we focused on many topics: 

  • Community, Economic, and Workforce Development
  • Infrastructure
  • Agriculture
  • Outdoor Recreation
  • Tourism and Hospitality
  • State Government
  • Military
  • Natural Resources
  • Education
  • Revitalization Efforts
  • Fostering Regional Collaboration

To be honest, I probably should have written a blog post on each of those sessions. Instead, I am writing this one because of the importance of our last session which focused on the real purpose of leadership: to serve others.

All of us are leaders regardless of age, title, affiliation, or financial means. Prior to joining the Institute, I worked at EAST, and during my time there I met many K-12 students who were developing leadership skills and actively involved in their communities. At the Institute, I have had the pleasure of working with public servants creating policy in the capital, as well as people of all stripes leading grassroots organizations. It doesn’t matter where you are in life’s journey, we all have leadership opportunities when serving our families and friends. We all should take some time to consider the ways in which we lead and serve others. 

If you and the organization you represent are able to make the investment to participate in Leadership Arkansas, I can’t recommend the program enough and would be happy to talk to you more about it. If you aren’t able to make that commitment yet, I challenge you to find other ways to improve your service to others. The Institute has a variety of training and leadership development programs. Many of our favorite partners work in this area, too, and there are a plethora of wonderful books that we can all learn from. 

We are all called to lead, and thus, to serve others. All leaders are remembered for the impact that they have on those they lead … good and bad. I have made plenty of mistakes in my life and hope that I continue to have the opportunity to make and learn from those mistakes. Winthrop writes in A Letter to My Son about several of the leaders he met and the lasting impact they had on his leadership style. 

“[Another experience] showed how easy it is for some people to confuse real, productive, earthy leadership with mere wealth, or the accident of geographic position. Neither wealth nor geography can make a true leader —leadership is something that is born only in the heart, the soul and the understanding of a man.”

Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller (read more about Winthrop’s lessons in leadership on our blog)

How do you want to be remembered? We have a responsibility to continue improving and to do the best we can to serve others. 

P.S. If you know of an organization that needs help, I happen to know 48 Leadership Arkansas Class XVI graduates who just got a significant portion of their time back and are currently trying to find ways to serve Arkansans. Please reach out to them.

James Hopper

Director of 727-6220


  1. 1
    DeWayne Rose on August 1, 2022


  2. 2
    Paul Jara on August 1, 2022

    Well said, James.
    The challenges ahead will be overcome by Leaders stepping up and changing the world.

  3. 3
    Bruce Jones on August 4, 2022

    Great feedback James!

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