We’ve all heard the term “natural-born leader.” Is that phenomenon a reality, or are leadership traits encouraged and nurtured until someone seems to be a “natural”?
The Teton Leadership Center in Jackson takes the promotion of leadership one step farther. “Our goal is to develop leaders who can help us build a world that is one story,” said Sandy Schultz Hessler, Teton Leadership Center’s executive director.
Schultz Hessler further explained that this involves doing well by doing good so that leaders can attain increased employee and customer engagement and positive environmental outcomes that result in stronger financial returns.
The Teton Leadership Center has been an ongoing and evolving project based upon a Start-Up Intensive Boot Camp Program initiated by Schultz Hessler while she was teaching in Boston. The program came to the attention of Lynne McAuliffe, Dean of Business, Technical, Health & Safety, including entrepreneurship programs at Central Wyoming College (CWC).
“We had been wanting to develop a leadership program at our CWC campus in Jackson, and the Start-Up Intensive seemed like a good fit,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe added the goal was to develop leaders who didn’t just demonstrate a return on investment to a company, but who would demonstrate a positive leadership model for the community and environment in which they lived.
The Start-Up Intensive program ran for 10 years, with more than 200 people attending the three-day-a-week, 10-week program. During the COVID pandemic, these in-person courses were no longer feasible. When CWC had a funding cut, Silicon Couloir continued to provide programs for support entrepreneurs and leaders. Silicon Couloir is a 501©(3) nonprofit organization engaged in supporting entrepreneurs.
Gary Trauner, Silicon Couloir’s director, explained, “Leadership is an undervalued trait. Too often, businesses only measure a person’s leadership ability based upon the bottom line of profits. We believe leadership shouldn’t be quantified by numbers, but rather have a qualitative train in the difference a person makes in their community.
“We assist entrepreneurs through an expanded personal network, education, access to capital, connection to mentors and leadership training,” said Trauner.
In addition to providing Chance Meetings and co-work space, Silicon Couloir has developed the Angel Group — investors who are interested in providing capital for smaller companies or individuals. The Angel Group meets every two to three months, and entrepreneurs have an opportunity to present their ideas and hopefully gain the necessary funding for their business proposal.
THE TETON LEADERSHIP CENTER
Two years ago, Gov. Mark Gordon authorized funding for the Wyoming Innovation Partnership. The University of Wyoming and the seven community colleges were invited to submit proposals for a variety of projects that would have “… an emphasis on developing innovative solutions that support and enhance Wyoming’s economy, workforce and sources of revenue.”
CWC joined forces with Silicon Couloir and Schultz Hessler to propose the development of the Teton Leadership Center, with the aim of developing purpose-driven leadership through a three-pronged approach of education, dialogue and research.
A major goal of the Teton Leadership Center is education, which it accomplishes in conjunction with CWC. In keeping with the goal of bringing four-year education to the central and northwestern portions of the state, CWC developed a program of study leading to the Bachelor of Applied Science, with five possible areas of concentration, including Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.
“This program includes four upper-division courses that can either be a part of a student’s course of study leading to the BAS degree or taken to obtain an advanced certificate in Applied Science,” McAuliffe said.
The advanced certificate is an ideal adjunct for people who already have a college degree, which is quite common in Teton County.
The first round of courses is being offered as in-person instruction at CWC’s Jackson Campus at the Center for the Arts from Oct. 13 to Dec. 3. Schultz Hessler designed the curriculum and opted for the in-person instructional format to determine what changes might be required for future sessions.
“Our plan is to expand the courses to be either web-based or as a hybrid of in-person and online to reach a larger audience,” she added.
Information about the courses can be found at either the Teton Leadership Center or CWC’s website. Scholarships for the program are available.
Schultz Hessler encourages anyone with ideas how to support and empower leaders to contact her through the information provided on the Teton Leadership Center website.
In keeping with their objective of creating dialogue around leadership and entrepreneurship, the Teton Leadership Center recently hosted its Kickoff Summit: Igniting Next Level Leadership. McAuliffe reported over 230 people registered for the summit, including small business owners and entrepreneurs.
McAuliffe noted they are planning quarterly roundtable talks with panels of local business leaders to help entrepreneurs navigate the business landscape.
To determine the qualitative aspects of leadership, the Teton Leadership Center has teamed with Jonathan Schechter to research how leaders can impact the communities in which they live. Schechter is a member of the Jackson Town Council and dedicated to “Bringing Jackson together to sustain what matters.”
“We want to explore how leaders can provide value-based purpose-driven actions for sustainable jobs, living wages and housing for everyone,” Trauner said. “Jackson provides the ideal setting for this type of research, given the high cost of housing and dwindling middle class in the face of being one of the most expensive places to live in the United States.”
If a model can be developed for Jackson, Trauner believes it will have applicability for many communities, not just in Wyoming, but nationwide.
“Our long-term goal is to be able to expand the work of the Teton Leadership Center to anyone who is interested in value-based leadership,” Trauner added.
While there may be “natural-born leaders,” anyone interested in using those leadership talents to benefit their community and improve the environment is invited to become involved with the educational, dialogue and research activities at the Teton Leadership Center. Perhaps there will one day be a “one-story” world.