A circuitous route led Joan Gurvis, the managing director of the Center for Creative Leadership’s Colorado Springs campus, to her job and this city. But the route was far from random. As she moved from one job, and one line of work, to another, her future gradually came into focus. At every critical juncture, strong, insightful women appeared to guide her.
“I always felt it was OK to ask for help, and so often the right person was there to offer that help,” she says.
From her high school days in the early 1970s, Gurvis aspired to be a leader. Because her father suffered from a serious chronic illness, she initially channeled her energies into the health care field. But later, she would find that it was leadership that she was passionate about.
Her first experience with a strong female advisor came as she was about to enroll in the New England School of Nursing. The school’s dean set her on another path. “She told me to apply to a college that offered nursing, as opposed to a nursing school,” she says.
Duke University had a strong nursing program, one that emphasized “graduating nurses who were leaders,” she says. The students were there to commit themselves to changing the field of nursing, so leadership was very much part of the curriculum. Not surprisingly, many of her classmates went on to become leaders in many fields outside of nursing, she says.
After a few months as a surgical care nurse in an Ohio hospital, Gurvis felt exhausted and overmatched. An observant head nurse took her under her wing. “She coached me, gave me feedback, helped me master what I didn’t know,” Gurvis says. “And it clicked! I loved the work.”
Life then intervened. She married and relocated to Miami. Her daughter was born. She continued to work in health care. Yet another female mentor prevailed upon her to take a job in the organizational development department at Hollywood (Fla.) Memorial Hospital. “I was still in health care, but in a very different discipline. I realized I really liked it.”
Then came another move: This time, Greensboro, N.C., after she answered an ad in the newspaper for a position at the Center for Creative Leadership. She got the job.
At the center, she was reunited with her U.S. Trust boss, Sue Cole, who serves on the center’s board. “Hers was a very formative mentorship. She taught me so much,” Gurvis says.
The center is a highly ranked leadership development organization with a full-time faculty and complete leadership curriculum. Gurvis’ creativity was fully engaged at last. In 2007, another opportunity arose: She relocated to the Center’s Colorado Springs campus, where she is responsible for all operations.
“It’s been a stretch position for me, but one that I love,” she says. There have been hard decisions to make: first, a reorganization. Then, a downsizing. But the community has been supportive. And CCL works closely with other Colorado Springs organizations, such as the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute, to build local leadership skills.
Her life has been an education in what it means to be a leader. “You need self-awareness. You need to be able to learn from the experiences you have. And you need the ability to bounce back from hardship. It’s a powerful formula. The way you use your experiences determines how you show up as a leader, day in and day out.”
Because leadership never rests.
By Dan Cook