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Leadership Lessons at the Bush Presidential Center in Dallas

When PCMA held its first-ever Empowered Professionals: Leadership Efficacy Think Tank this past May, it was at the ultimate power spot — the just-opened George W. Bush Institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

 One week earlier, the center was dedicated at events attended by five living U.S. presidents — Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, and Jimmy Carter — along with First Ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, and Rosalynn Carter, and heads of state from eight countries.

The institute rolled out the red carpet for the more than two dozen meeting professionals who attended PCMA’s think tank — its Hall of State ballroom features eye-popping scarlet-colored carpet. During two days of sessions, consultant Joanne L. Smikle guided a deep dive into strategies that support career development. Seeing yourself as a leader is important to advancement, Smikle told participants, and that mindset was aided by the institute’s comfortably dignified environment, where networking breakfasts and lunches were served in a foyer adorned with portraits of power brokers. Additional space includes a 360-seat auditorium, smaller meeting rooms, an outdoor courtyard, and Freedom Hall, which features a 20-foot-high, 360-degree, LED-video wall. Private receptions and events can also be held at the center’s airy Café 43, where Laura Bush oversaw the creation of the menus.

Situated on a corner of Southern Methodist University’s campus, the facility was built to achieve LEED Platinum certification, and has received praise as much for its landscape design as for its architecture. French doors line one side of the ballroom, and open onto a limestone terrace overlooking a 15-acre prairie park, filled with wild-flowers and native grasses and trees, including some transplanted from the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Workshop participants shuttled from the Bush Center to the unstuffy luxury of the 196-room Hotel Palomar Dallas nearby. After an outdoor reception at the Palomar, participants dined at downtown’s Meso Mayo, where the menu fuses Mexican and Mayan dishes, and features adventurous cocktails such as avocado margaritas and mango sangria.

It’s a quick drive from the SMU campus to downtown, and our route took us by Klyde Warren Park, a five-acre park built over an eight-lane freeway. Klyde Warren links the city’s Uptown district, filled with restaurants and shopping, to a 19-block Arts District, which includes a mix of venues. The park not only is a convivial place where in their free time meeting attendees can wander among food trucks, gardens, an outdoor reading room, and, opening this month, a restaurant, but also provides meeting spaces.

Before they departed the Bush Center, many think-tank participants took a tour of its museum, which includes exhibits related to Bush’s two terms as president and a full-scale replica of his Oval Office. There’s also an outdoor rose garden modeled after the Rose Garden at the White House — its plantings adapted, like Dallas’s elegant and easygoing meetings venues, to the local environment. 

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.