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Jennifer Taylor

As we work to navigate our current business and personal lives post-pandemic, leadership has become paramount in moving us to a positive future. This raises the question: “What is a leader?”

The Colorado Springs Leadership Institute has been working on a definition of leadership as it relates to our community. Traditional definitions of leaders are often narrowly focused on the job title. Yet, CSLI does not view leadership as something that comes from a title. We have developed the following categories to guide a broader and more inclusive description of the characteristics of a leader:

Leadership experience — An individual who has the ability to manage others at a high level through work and/or civic and volunteer activities.

Community commitment — An individual who demonstrates a sustained commitment to the community through volunteering, committee work, nonprofit board service, or participation in community initiatives.

Potential for impact — An individual who can influence and rally people around a cause, and using that influence, can get things done.

Clearly, there is more to leadership than being in the C-Suite. True leaders don’t declare themselves leaders. The leader designation is earned through impact — on individuals, groups, organizations and, in CSLI’s view, the community at large.

How do we harness this leadership potential? Think about people you know who are doing amazing things in the Pikes Peak region. You will realize that leaders are everywhere, even if they might not know it yet.

Since 1996, CSLI has been cultivating and encouraging leaders to engage in making Colorado Springs a stronger, more vibrant and diverse community through our annual weeklong training at the Center for Creative Leadership. Sixteen people are selected from a strong pool of candidates based on their alignment with the leadership characteristics above.

The end result of this work over these years is a cadre of thoughtful, engaged, committed and energized leaders who add to the region’s social capital. These individuals seek out opportunities to advance the community’s well-being, address critical concerns that emerge, and minimize the traditional silos that exist. To date, we have over 350 graduates who have worked together to impact our community in big and small ways. Some projects that come to mind are: the Pikes Peak Summit House, the City for Champions initiatives, the Greenway Project, the leadership for renovation and repurposing City Auditorium; COPPeR, and the Myron Stratton Collaborative. If you look closely, you will note that, for the past 25 years, CSLI graduates have been heavily involved in making our community more vibrant and welcoming!

“CSLI was created to bring leaders together at a time when our community was divided by social and economic issues,” says Christopher Cipoletti, CSLI’s board chair and a graduate of CSLI’s Class of 1999.

“We’ve made great strides in bringing people together so that our community could heal from some of its challenges. While we’ve made progress, we have a long way to go in identifying and engaging leaders who are not in the ‘mainstream’ in the Pikes Peak region. We need to engage leaders of color, leaders from start-up businesses, and leaders who are early in their careers, just to name a few.”

Follow the leader

CSLI has been recognized as a pace-setter for the community, acting as a catalyst for positive change through the mobilization of prepared leaders to take action. Whenever members of the CSLI network convene, people trust that the group (no matter how large or small) will offer a diverse, balanced, and thoughtful voice on a broad spectrum of issues, assisting the community where it requires input.

As we begin our next 25 years, our goal is to be known not only for our preeminent, world-class training, but also as a facilitator that moves people from individual leadership to collective leadership, resulting in profound impacts on the community. After all, community health, economic strength, educational achievement and inclusion of all geographic regions are some of the measures of community well-being. They are all dependent on the quality of the relationships we build and the cohesion among the people who live here.

Jennifer Taylor is executive director of the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute. For more information, visit cslionline.org.