Surviving the Colorado Fires – Leading with a Developmental Bias
Today’s guest is Jerry Forte, CEO of Colorado Springs Utilities. Colorado Springs Utilities is one of the largest four-service utilities in the entire nation. They have over 1,800 employees and a billion dollar budget. Colorado Springs Utilities serves the Colorado Springs area and the greater Colorado Spring area. Their service territory for electric and gas is over two and a half times the size of the city of Colorado Springs.
A fun fact about Jerry is that he basically taught himself to play the piano by ear in elementary school and has been playing ever since!
In today’s episode, Jerry will answer the following CEO Questions:
- What is the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced as a CEO, and how did you navigate that challenge?
“The Waldo Canyon fire…in 2012…it was the largest at that time, the largest fire in the history of the state of Colorado. It hit Colorado Springs on the west side. 350+ homes were destroyed. Two people lost their lives in that and Colorado Springs Utilities was in the middle of the response…You’ve got to be the face of the crisis because there’s a calming that comes when a leader steps up in the midst of something and provides direction and provides approach. For me, there are several other key lessons obviously we could go into but one of the biggest is to again go back to your circle of leaders. Listen for understanding. Be everywhere and be visible.”
- How do you develop the CEO capacity to lead?
“As I think of leadership, I think of really four different…distinctives or qualities, and one of them is obviously is character…but you’ve got to combine that with competence. People need to know as you’re leading them you know what you’re doing or you know how to know what you’re doing. The third distinctive that I always think of when I think of leadership is this element of caring…The last piece…is what I would call leading with a developmental bias [developing leaders]…There’s a whole process we have to go through as leaders to evaluate, to learn, to make adjustments, to… take charge of our own growth. When you ask the question, ‘How do I develop capacity to lead?’, I’m developing it in those four areas.”
- What was your most important leadership lesson?
“As the CEO, the most important leadership lesson I’ve learned is that everything comes back to relationship. How do you build strong, healthy, vibrant relationship versus false community where everyone’s nice but then they talk at the water cooler about everything and there’s gossip going on all over versus open hostility constantly versus an environment where people are scared to say anything because their heads are going to get chopped off. How do you build relationships that are honest, open and healthy? That means healthy disagreement that resolves. That means working through forgiveness because what happened to all of us let each other down all the time.”
- How would you like to be remembered?
“I want desperately to be faithful. What do I mean by that? That I have discharged the duties of my watch, that I didn’t shrink back whether it was from fear or apathy or whatever, but instead, I fully embraced the challenges. I fully looked for the best solutions with the widest number of people that I could, and I was faithful to do what was called upon me to do during my watch.
“We as leaders have the ability to create what I will describe as an aroma, and that aroma is that people are living life well because we were there.”