Janet Suthers, executive director, Colorado Springs Leadership Institute
If at times it appears that Janet Suthers has a lot on her plate, she comes by multi-tasking honestly.
“I’d have to say my mother was far and away the biggest influence on my life,” says the executive director of the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute (among other positions). “She was a strong, independent Navy wife with six children to raise. My father was gone a lot. She went through 22 moves in 24 years. Yet she still managed to give back to the community. She was the strength of our family. Her faith often sustained her.”
When Suthers moved to Colorado Springs at age 10, it was a quaint mountain town of 70,000. “It had a small-town feel to it,” she recalls. “It was a wonderful place to grow up.”
And to stay. Suthers interned at Hewlett Packard while in college, got a job there when she graduated, and essentially worked for HP her entire career. (The company split in 2000; she remained with the Agilent Technologies piece, but said it still felt like HP.)
“It was a great place to work,” she says. “Family-centric. They believed in work-life balance. I was able to move from one job to another, so I had the experience of job-hopping without changing employers.”
She also got a good taste of community service when she chaired the company’s United Way campaign. “I loved it. I always had the community-service gene. I believe the phrase, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ And I had been given much.”
She and her husband, state Attorney General John Suthers, aren’t the kind to watch from the sidelines. Suthers retired from Agilence in 2006, but hardly retired from view. In addition to her other endeavors (city planning commission, Center for Christian-Jewish Dialogue), she was asked to help launch the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute (CSLI) as an independent 501(c)(3). “I had just retired. I had the time, so I said yes.’”
CSLI had been operated as a leadership training program of the El Pomar Foundation since 1996. The mission of CSLI is to encourage those who have already demonstrated leadership qualities to further develop as leaders. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all initiative; CSLI wants to shape one local leader at a time.
Janet Suthers was among its alumni. She understood the value of the organization. She also knew that, unless it could successfully operate on its own, it would not fulfill its mission. She worked to draw up a strategic plan, created a board for the fledgling institute, and watched as it took off.
“The Leadership Institute serves a valuable role in Colorado Springs,” she says. “We serve a broad slice of the community. We bring together people who would not ordinarily meet. Our role is to help them develop, and at the same time provide a forum for issues of importance to the community.”
As one engaged in the development of leaders, Suthers has a few observations on the characteristics found in leaders. Intelligent, integrity, energy, balanced ego and judgment are among them, of course. But she has also seen in the best ones “a capacity to anticipate, to see into the future and recognize what the options will be. This is what you find in truly great leaders.”
CSLI regularly partners with the Center For Creative Leadership, which is based in Greensboro, N.C., but has a substantial Colorado Springs campus. Together, the two leadership organizations are training the next generation of Colorado Springs movers and shakers — and certainly, the next generation of Women of Influence.
By Dan Cook