The West African culture Yemi Mobolade grew up with prescribed that children were expected to defer to their parents.
“The adults were always right,” he recalled. “As a young kid, asking why and challenging my parents got me in a lot of trouble.” But now, he said, “I’m always intent on knowing why and looking under the hood.”
Since Mobolade came to the United States from Nigeria 24 years ago, he has been both a student of leadership and a successful entrepreneur.
He moved to Colorado Springs 10 years ago after earning a business administration degree at Bethel College, a master’s in management and leadership at Indiana Wesleyan University and a second master’s in intellectual leadership from A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary.
“I came here to found a church and for opportunity,” Mobolade said.
He found fertile ground for new ventures in Colorado Springs.
Mobolade co-founded Niche Coaching and Consulting, through which he worked with emerging leaders and entrepreneurs; served as engagement and outreach director for First Presbyterian Church; co-founded COSILoveYou, a citywide gospel movement that responds to community needs; served as vice president for business retention and expansion at the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC; and co-founded the Wild Goose Meeting House and Good Neighbors Meeting House.
Since May 2019, as the city’s small business development administrator, he has been the first point of contact for small businesses and entrepreneurs, offering support and guidance through their interactions with city agencies.
What do you think are the most important skills that a leader needs to develop?
Leading others starts with self-leadership. You can only lead others as far as you have gone. So self-growth is really important, and also leading from your values. For me, I believe empathy is a critical ability, to understand the viewpoint from another team member’s perspective, even when you may not see eye to eye. I think we stay humble — you’re not always right. And if we don’t choose to remain humble, life will make us humble. And the third value is just leading with courage and justice, speaking up and fighting for what is right.
How would you describe your personal leadership style?
I was part of the Colorado Governors Fellowship, the 2020 class that just graduated. We learned of a term called tri-sector leadership. It’s a leader who can engage and collaborate and maneuver effectively across the nonprofit, private and government sectors. … Our economic and social problems of Colorado Springs can only be resolved through collaborative effort. So as the small business development administrator for the city, I’m helping to shape the future small-business friendliness of our government processes. We have a big, hairy, audacious goal to be the most small-business-friendly city in the U.S. So tri-sector leadership has really helped me to have the ability to collaborate across different types of sectors, organizations, leaders and projects.
I would say it also starts with my values of empathy, courage and humility. I lead from a place of love for the city, and I think that’s also attached to my story. Ten years ago, I moved here as a pastor, and the Hebrew word shalom is in my faith. Shalom is about wellness and flourishing in a socioeconomic, physical and psychological sense. So I lead from a place of shalom. I am a collaborator, and I lead from a place of inclusivity. As I embark on any new project, I’m always thinking through who needs to be around this table, who’s missing. I also lead from a place as a futurist. I’m inspired by visions of what the future could be. I’m a natural developer of people, and I’m really passionate about helping people grow and help find a niche. And partly that is because I’m a product of other people’s investment, and I’m committed to paying it forward.
As a leader, where do you get ideas and inspiration?
I would say from all types of people, and leaders that I admire from afar. Some of them are historical leaders like Abraham Lincoln. Some of them are current leaders that I’ve never met, but I read about them. Being a busy person and having a young family, I try to read a book a month. I find inspiration from mentors and mentees. I’ve always believed every man needs a father, a brother and a son, and every woman needs a mother, a sister and a daughter. So I learned from the people that mentored me. I learned from the people who I call brothers and sisters, and like-minded professionals. When I hang out with younger people or people who don’t have as many miles as I do, I come there thinking I’m going to help them, and they teach me a lot of things.
How can business leaders build respect and diversity?
It’s always important to give credit where credit is due, to be quick to praise and recognize and honor people for their work. And that goes with the next one — just gratitude. Gratitude will go a long way; it helps people feel seen, and it’s another way of honoring others and opens a lot of doors. And the last one is just being an overall helpful person, and also the ability to remain flexible and welcome diversity, diversity of ideas, diversity of people. As leaders, we always have to be open to new ideas, new evolutions, new movements. Remaining flexible allows you to remain innovative, to change and grow.
How can we develop better leaders for the future?
Understanding that we have to hand the baton at some point, we can’t wait until it’s too late. We have to hand it to talented runners, and we’re not going to have good athletes if we’re not training them. I’m pleased to see Colorado Springs grow in that area. I think the Colorado Springs Business Journal has done a great job with the [Rising Star] awards. When CSBJ honored me, that was fuel for me to just keep pressing on and to accelerate what I’m doing. So an emphasis on the next generation, and then just invest in the health of a leader. So again, that idea of every man needs a father, a brother and a son, and every woman needs a mother, sister, daughter. If we do that well, we will be developing leaders for the future at all levels.
— Join Phil Long Dealerships and the Colorado Springs Business Journal for the 2021 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Yemi Mobolade, Wild Goose and Good Neighbors Meeting House, 4:30-6 p.m., Aug. 12, at the Ent Center for the Arts.