Even leaders need direction, and Glenwood woman helps provide it
Catherine Sweeney is a maestro among leaders.
As executive director of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the American Leadership Forum (ALF), Sweeney, who goes by “Kitty,” conducts some of the community’s most powerful leaders.
Much of what leadership is about, said Sweeney, is collaboration.
“Collaborative leadership is hard, really hard, and takes enormous patience,” she said.
It’s also something that can be taught, and that is Sweeney’s job.
ALF is a nationwide organization that brings community leaders together for an intense one-year study program in leadership. The ALF Rocky Mountain chapter serves Colorado Mountain College communities, including the Roaring Fork Valley, Vail, Leadville, Steamboat Springs, and Eagle and Summit counties.
The nonprofit ALF was founded in Houston in 1980 by Joseph Jaworski. Its mission is to “join and strengthen established leaders in order to serve the public good.”
Of the seven ALF chapters nationwide, CMC is the only one associated with a college, said Sweeney. Participants come from each of the CMC communities and are recommended for the program by community members. All related expenses are covered by ALF.
The chapter was funded through a grant from the Catto Center for Excellence in Leadership at CMC.
Sweeney’s educational background is in leadership. She was a research associate in the early 1990s for a project that resulted in the book, “Collaborative Leadership: How Citizens and Civic Leaders Can Make a Difference,” coauthored by David D. Chrislip and Denver University professor Carl Larson, who is now Sweeney’s husband. After completing her doctorate, she taught leadership at DU’s Auraria Campus.
Sweeney moved to Glenwood Springs last April from Denver, where she was a founding director of the four-year Pioneer Leadership Program at DU.
After years of teaching, a little voice in her head began telling her that it was time to put her leadership skills to practice.
This job provided that opportunity.
Sweeney, who has visited the Glenwood Springs area since the 1940s, couldn’t be more pleased with the move. She began her new position on May 1.
A primary goal of ALF is high-level collaboration through a large and effective network of leaders, said Sweeney.
With the tough issues today’s communities face, including transportation, affordable housing and immigration – problems that exist in virtually all U.S. communities – collaboration is needed for leadership to be solid and effective, said Sweeney.
“If these leaders have any impact at all on any of these nasty problems, then they have to learn how to collaborate,” she said.
When two people are invited to study leadership, said Sweeney, they come to learn about one another and eventually know and trust each other. That trust leads to more effective leadership through, of course, collaboration.
“I don’t think there is a person who goes through this program and doesn’t get touched in one way or another,” said Sweeney. Graduates typically report a very powerful personal transformation that often results in the way they perform as leaders.
The CMC chapter was established two years ago. The first class graduated in May 2001. Students, or “fellows,” commit to 17 days of class time in the one-year course, during which they explore in depth the many aspects and qualities of leadership. Classes are geared toward strengthening core values: integrity, synchronicity, collaboration, vision, action, self-awareness and a focus on the public good.
Colorado Outward Bound School in Leadville is the setting for the Leadership Experience class. Held in the fall, the course puts fellows in situations where teamwork is needed, while giving individuals the opportunity to test their own physical and mental limits.
“You’re far more willing to trust someone with whom you’ve made your way down a mountain,” said Sweeney.
A Leadership in Contemplation course, held in late fall, is a much quieter, more meditative look at leadership, and that’s very important, said Sweeney. “It looks at the inner self and what the individual brings to leadership,” including values, and ability to care and be a steward within a community.
“To be an effective leader you really have to know yourself first,” she noted.
Cultural Bridge Experience delves into racial and ethnical diversities.
Fellows traveled in February to Ignacio and the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, where they met with members of the Southern Ute Tribal Council.
Prior to the trip, forum members met for two days with Latino facilitators from Denver and Albuquerque, N.M., and with three Spanish-speaking immigrants.
“How do we serve these people?” asked Sweeney. “Or do we?”
A major skill of leadership is perspective, said Sweeney. In today’s world, a good leader has to consider cultural diversity. “It’s a real dilemma in terms of leadership,” said Sweeney. “A real dilemma.”
The fourth part of the program, Leadership in Action, looks at the nature of collaboration.
The course doesn’t end with graduation. Each class is given the task of taking on a team project to benefit a community or region. The class of 2001 is nearing completion of its project, she said. For now, it’s under wraps.
The program is here to stay, but funding is key, said Sweeney.
Sweeney looks years down the road and sees the formation of a powerful and effective network of leaders capable of making great and positive changes. In communities such as Houston, where ALF has been in place for 20 years, the program is enormously respected, she said. The Hartford, Conn., chapter was responsible for building a hospital.
“It’s going to take a while,” she said.
ALF is already looking for citizens to participate in the 2002-03 class. Anyone who is interested or wants to nominate an individual can call Kitty Sweeney at 947-8319 or e-mail her at email@example.com.
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