Colorado Springs is no stranger to divisiveness and segmented thinking. This mentality goes all the way back to when Gen. William Palmer founded the city in 1871 away from the existing settlements, as he did not like the “rough-and-ready” saloon-populated area now known as Old Colorado City. This divisiveness in our region has continued for over 140 years and we need to change, as it is not working for us. Our amazing community is suffering and viewed by many in a negative light.
Alvin Toffler once said, “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.”
As I thought about my hometown of Colorado Springs, who we are, our vision of what we want to be, and the strategy of how we get there, I realized our “small things” do not depict a logical vision, strategy or correlate to “big things”.
We lack a plan, vision and strong leadership necessary to create regional thinking, collaboration and community engagement. We can’t create community with multiple organizations going in different directions and not communicating. The county, City Council, mayor, Regional Business Alliance, visitors bureau and others work in near-vacuums with their own agendas, often with different visions and incentives for regional direction and initiatives.
As the strong mayor, Steve Bach should have brought a holistic perspective, harnessed the appropriate inter-organizational support through effective and open communication, created a plan with regional leaders, and worked together to identify challenges, roles and tasks. To this day Colorado Springs still does not have a true strategic plan.
How can we be engaged when we don’t know where we are going? How can we hold leaders accountable? Or is the plan to let them tell us what direction we are going? What about questioning our continued development not aligned with local growth, such as a Bass Pro Shops being built in the middle of nowhere instead of downtown or using an existing vacant space? We need a leadership paradigm shift, capable of providing vision, building teams and communicating that vision and plan effectively.
Changing this won’t happen overnight. Other cities have done it and the proof is there. So where do we start?
The first step is to admit we have challenges. Forget the “cheerleader syndrome” of patting ourselves on the back for mediocre efforts. We must let go of egos, work together and admit when we don’t hit the mark. Let’s respect what this community deserves. We live in one of the most amazing places in the nation, but we have to start being honest about our efforts.
Second, we have to stop trying to adopt other city models and focus on self-identification. Let’s start thinking of ways to utilize and capitalize on our own traits and be innovative. Go on a local fact-finding trip and let’s capitalize on our own gems!
Third, we need to leverage our existing resources. We have one of the most highly educated populations and some very talented people. Take for example the “Live it up” logo debacle that was only fixed because passionate citizens spoke out. We must break and leverage the best resources, not just the “in crowd”.
Fourth, we need a plan and vision the region can embrace. It can’t come from closed-door “who’s who” sessions; that just gets us the same agenda and ideas. It shouldn’t favor a particular industry or market or have hidden agendas; it must leverage our own unique traits and be shared, not kept as a secret. It must show how intelligent development and revitalization can create prosperity, not promote more sprawl due to cheap costs for maximized profits. Care to guess who was present at the Business Alliance’s recent closed-door planning session, producing ideas, concepts and direction? Do you think anything new resulted from it? Where is that blueprint for economic growth the RBA promised? Do the other regional organizations buy in to it?
Finally, we need transparent, knowledgeable, engaged and selfless leadership. True leaders will united the fragmented entities and build a cooperative team. They won’t be afraid to admit when they don’t know something, and will ensure actions correlate to the strategic plan based upon data, logic and facts, not personal opinion or private agenda. We as citizens need to demand better. Elected officials should represent our voice, and if we don’t hold them to that, we deserve what we get.
Ultimately, our decisions we make today influence our tomorrow just as the decisions we made yesterday created our today; we must consider and gate them carefully if we want a prosperous tomorrow.
Jason Hann is the owner of J Hann, Inc, a management consulting firm.