Our challenges start with vision and leadership

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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.

5 Responses to Our challenges start with vision and leadership

  1. Amen. I couldn’t agree with the issue more. Now we have to find ways to solve it so we can bring constructive criticism forward along with clear ways to fix the process. Keep pushing. :)

    Jariah Walker
    January 25, 2013 at 11:13 am

  2. Well written Jason. I’ve found all of this to be true after doing biz in Denver and here. I was even shocked when we started a group in Castle Rock how other groups came to me asking how to help that would be closed doors down here. I have a direct line to the Governor’s office in Denver yet the mayor’s office won’t even grant a meeting.

    Keep up the good work. You’re dead on in all your points. So much cool stuff in this town that could be brought together with proper leadership.

    Jon Severson
    January 25, 2013 at 2:14 pm

  3. Very well written and thought out Jason. Where do we begin? How do we get the application of the vision that exists in our community bought into by the ones that are already have “closed door” visioning groups, or even make use of all the other five young professional focus groups that have already taken place. It’s certainly not the fact that Colorado Springs doesn’t have a lot to offer, all over the city, but you are right Jason and Jon and Jariah in order for the great things to happen it will taken great leadership, risk, and a unified purpose.

    There is great potential in Colorado Springs, but without a unified direction we will continue to simply be the city that could instead of a city that did.

    Sean Holveck
    January 25, 2013 at 2:35 pm

  4. Jason, well written and I am looking forward to meeting with you.
    Mr Severson, I could not agree more. We suddenly find ourselves as a red dot in a blue forest.
    However, we have an opportunity on Apr 2nd. By, selecting “transparent, knowledgeable, engaged and selfless leadership”. We need to challenge everyone running for office to present their “big picture” and how they intend to achieve these goals.
    Try this on for size.
    We were once a “wellness center”. Wiith the lease to UCH and Penrose as a top 50 hospital, we can again move in this direction. Imagine a municipal fiber connected environment with globally connected data warehouses that feed into a technology center that combines world class medical research with 3-D printers custom designing and building human parts/organs.
    The technology is already here. But, we will have to wait until stormwater, streets/roads/bridges and pensions are handled. Not a big leap, but a difficult one, since the mayor’s solution is to sell Colorado Springs Utilities.
    A cooperative City Council could help him solve these problems by adopting ballot measures that would fence the funds for each activitiy and taking these issues directly to the people. However, you cannot sign a “no-tax pledge”, as the mayor has done. It has ‘boxed’ everyone into a position of selling assets to make “ends meet”. It took 10 years+ and 4 commissions before we were able to move our hospital enterprise forward.
    On Apr 2nd, 2/3 of the council is up for renewal. Maybe this time………………………………..

    Bill Murray
    January 26, 2013 at 8:04 pm

  5. Thank you all for reading and the feedback. I do believe we have positive future ahead of us still but it is going to be a hard road filled with many challenges. What I believe is the first step is get a plan in place to start a discussion. As of right now there are too many people and organizations going in too many different directions. We need a strong voice to say, “We want Colorado Springs to be…” and let’s start uncovering the challenges we will face and the solutions to those challenges. We’ve allowed politics and personal agendas to secretly drive and direct our community and that is why we have so much fighting and lack of progress. Powerful forces pulling in various directions is like a ship with a strong tailwind fighting an equally powerful current and the ocean swells. Everyone, despite political affiliation and organization would benefit from a unified vision.

    Jariah, Jon and Sean – We need public support and strength in numbers to make our voice heard. Right now there are a lot of people with the same frustrations and understanding of what needs to be done but no method to be heard. I am working on a public forum where all those voices can be heard, constructive criticism and ideas can shared. If we don’t produce the change we want to see, we shouldn’t expect others to do it for us.

    Bill – Thank you very much and I’m looking forward to meeting with you as well. Hopefully our calendars will mesh shortly.

    Smile On! シ

    Jason A. Hann
    January 28, 2013 at 11:25 am