Guest Column: Grooming the next generation of leaders
So what is leadership anyway? Over the last two years, we have had the honor of pursuing leadership at a rapid pace and to a high degree.
In 2008, we were asked by former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb and state Rep. Angela Williams to lead Chamber Connect, a leadership and development program of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Chamber Connect was created in 2007 by Williams, owner of Allstate/Angela Williams Agency Inc.; and Richard Lewis, president/CEO, RTL Networks.
The opportunity presented a platform for us to grow as leaders and allowed us to take our position in the community while inspiring others to do the same. On Oct. 15, Chamber Connect added 30 graduates to its alumni body of 120.
This marked the end of our two-year commitment as co-chairs. While leading the program from 2008-2010, we were responsible for the development of more than 60 emerging leaders and have been credited for active civic/community engagement, promotions, professional maturity, and making extensive and intentional investments into the social capital of all participants.
Many have asked how we were able to achieve the success and results of the program given the fact that we have full-time demanding jobs, young families and operated the program as volunteers - on personal time.
For us, making time to inspire a diverse community of leadership was an easy decision. People make time for what's important to them. Giving back to Denver's community and ensuring that future leaders are engaged, connected and committed is our passion. It has taken a lot of time, but it is not work when it is a part of who you are; at that point, it becomes fun.
Having fun has definitely paid off with big dividends in experience and exposure. A large part of leadership are the relationships you build. In order to expose the leadership participants to movers and shakers, we had to become movers and shakers and ensure our personal access included Denver's elite.
Some of the elite that we invited to speak to the Chamber Connect participants include Gov. Bill Ritter, House Speaker Terrance Carroll, Tami Door (Downtown Denver Partnership), Tom Clark (Metro Denver Economic Development Corp.), Dawn Bookhardt (law firm Bookhardt & O'Toole), Bruce James (law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck), Tracy Huggins (Denver Urban Renewal Authority) and a host of other influential business/community leaders.
It was equally important that we introduced the program to a diverse group of leaders as it was for us to select the "best in class" participants and raise enough funds to position the program and ensure its financial stability for future years.
While the 2010 class commencement in October was bittersweet, at last, we finally found our answer. Leadership is about inspiring a vision and knowing that you made a difference in someone's life. Before claiming the title "leader," one must understand that leader does not mean I am in charge of leadership - but rather I am a servant to leadership. After you are committed to inspiring service in the interest of others, you need to embrace teamwork, be committed to learning and coaching technique, and honoring the natural talents that have been bestowed upon you.
As we end our journey on a high note, we smile and ask each other what's next. Ryan, recently named president of the Denver Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., a professional organization that is committed to achievement and corporate social responsibility, will continue to lead the Kappa League leadership development program for high school males with passion.
Carrie, currently pursuing a law degree, replies respectfully by using the great words of U.S. Bank's chairman, Richard Davis, and says, "It's halftime! The quarter has ended with the sound of the buzzer, and I am fully equipped with the knowledge and experience that I need to win the game ... considering that anything is possible!"
Chamber Connect is scheduled to launch a new class in January 2011. To learn more about Chamber Connect, contact the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce at (303) 831-0720 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
Carrie Warren is executive assistant to the Colorado president of U.S. Bank. Ryan Ross is the director of the federal education programs at Community College of Denver.