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story.lead_photo.caption James Henry Russell, vice president and CFO at Truman Arnold Companies, addresses a crowd for Coffee and Conversation, a new series from Leadership Texarkana. Photo by Gazette Staff / Texarkana Gazette.

TEXARKANA, Texas — In an event hosted by Brewsters on the Boulevard and City Church, Leadership Texarkana hosted its second Coffee and Conversation event intended to engage local leaders in discussion about elements of leadership and how to approach the topic.

James Henry Russell, vice president and CFO of Truman Arnold Companies, related the lessons he has learned in his wide-ranging experiences in leading local organizations. "Establishing a culture" is one of the key elements he sees for a leader's influence on their organization, he said.

"Culture is everything, even overrides strategy," he said. From his experience as an educator, he emphasized the engagement of all those involved to build that culture.

"Kids don't walk in (school) doors ready to be successful. It takes families, teachers, staff and more," he said.

Listing role models from his past, from people who mentored him personally such as Dr. Larry Sullivan — "a transformational leader" — to famous people such as Denzel Washington, who said, "Each one, teach one," Russell looked back beginning with his first position of responsibility as a churchgoing youth.

"Four really old churchmen taught me to usher," he said. "At age 13, they gave me a key to the church. Turns out they wanted to go home early, so they handed me responsibility. It was scary, but lots of fun."

Russell also listed books with leadership advice but said experience is often the best teacher. And again, it came back to building a culture.

"You want happy, positive people making up your team," he said. "Make someone smile that day. Go in with positive expectations. To go in and expect a bad day, to expect failure, colors your perception and how you affect other people."

It comes down to your team, he said.

"Surround yourself with good people," he said. "Surround yourself with good teams, good, honest, ethical people. That believe in a cause, do the right thing. Debate me, be honest with me, but be nice about it. United, a good team can make magical things happen."

Looking back on his past as an educator, Russell emphasized how central that experience was. Working at Texarkana College, his longest stint in education, always is near and dear.

"Every time I drive on that campus, it makes me smile," he said.

Coffee and Conversation is one of several new programs from Leadership Texarkana.

"We decided to discontinue the Leadercast and tap into local resources and talent for more local programs," Leadership Texarkana Executive Director Ruth Ellen Whitt said. "We have a large group of people in Leadership Texarkana and plenty of resources for presentations. We have more Coffee and Conversation events coming up. We also have our Lunch with Leaders coming up on April 20."

(Visit Leadership Texarkana on Facebook.)

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