Scottsdale Leadership: Developing the next generation of community leaders

Nonprofit leadership organization evolves into 21st Century

Posted 2/13/20

Leadership traits are often found in one’s bones, but no leader is ever finished learning, adapting to his or her surroundings or moving the needle forward.

Apart from the day-to-day race in …

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Scottsdale Leadership: Developing the next generation of community leaders

Nonprofit leadership organization evolves into 21st Century

A view of the Scottsdale Leadership Core program where participants learn to work together to complete community-service projects pictured here during a service day at Coronado High School.
A view of the Scottsdale Leadership Core program where participants learn to work together to complete community-service projects pictured here during a service day at Coronado High School.
Submitted Photo

Leadership traits are often found in one’s bones, but no leader is ever finished learning, adapting to his or her surroundings or moving the needle forward.

Apart from the day-to-day race in pursuit of happiness, leaders are often made up of those who put the needs of others first no matter where they call home. In Scottsdale, however, a local 501(c)3 nonprofit organization is in constant motion of cultivating the next generation’s leaders.

“Scottsdale Leadership is about developing thoughtful, knowledgeable and engaged community leaders,” said Lee Ann Witt, Scottsdale Leadership executive director.

“Scottsdale companies, large and small, believe in our program and know that it is an investment in their people that will more than pay for itself. Even our self-employed class members see it as an investment in themselves, and their career. Graduates of our program return to their various organizations as enriched and enlightened employees who are inspired leaders, both in the workplace and through hands-on community service roles.”

For more than 30 years, Scottsdale Leadership has been working to cultivate and define that ability as the entity offers an eight-month program where points of view from diverse backgrounds come together to work toward a common goal.

“Our 15 class days address many relevant and timely issues of interest to our community,” Ms. Witt said. “For 34 years our alumni have given of their time, knowledge and expertise by teaching, mentoring and guiding future leaders.”

Hinging upon a commitment to the organization’s core values --- engagement, inclusion, connection, courage and stewardship --- the program is designed to create servant leaders through a series of workshops, in-depth presentations and community service projects.

“Class members from diverse backgrounds experience a transformation in their leadership skills and an in-depth understanding of our Scottsdale community,” she said of the leadership pursuit.

“Our class members learn from highly respected experts in education, economic development, healthcare, human services, diversity and inclusion, city government, Scottsdale history, public safety, as well as arts and technology.”

Since Scottsdale Leadership’s founding, a total of 1,192 professionals have graduated from the Core Program, which is housed at 10533 E. Lakeview Drive.
Scottsdale Leadership, Ms. Witt contends, finds great value in community service. Each year, the group breaks the program into teams to work on a community program, which is called Project Lead It Forward.

“The goal of each team is to identify a community need and develop a project that positively affects an organization while gaining hands-on experience as community leaders,” Ms. Witt explains. “Each spring, the teams present their projects to the public and alumni. Past projects include the Miracle League of Arizona, Operation Fix-It, Audrey’s Angels, Pauite Neighborhood Center, PTSD Awareness, and currently the JAG (Jobs for Arizona Graduates) project at Coronado High School.”

--- Lee Ann Witt

Ms. Witt points out Scottsdale Leadership graduates can be found amongst the ranks of public directors, managers and nonprofit leaders.

“Graduates of Scottsdale Leadership are often asked to serve in various aspects of government service,” she said. “Many currently hold both city- and state-elected positions. Others serve on non-profit boards and city commissions. Still, others may provide volunteer support on important community projects by contributing as servant leaders in our community.”

A legacy of leadership

Scottsdale Leadership was founded in 1986 as a community development nonprofit meant to create a pipeline of sorts producing educated and passionate community stewards who grow and sustain the cache of Scottsdale.

The four founders of Scottsdale Leadership are:

  • Dr. Art DeCabooter, former president of Scottsdale Community College;
  • Don Ruff, a Valley banker;
  • Gary Shapiro, a Realtor;
  • Sam Campana, a former mayor of Scottsdale.

Gary Shapiro, a Scottsdale Charro and longtime community advocate, offers insights into the legacy of modern civic leadership.

“Community leadership organizations around the country track their genesis to 1962 when 106 civic leaders from Atlanta, Georgia died in a plane crash in Paris, France,” he explained. “Their deaths left a leadership void for their community and demonstrated a need for all cities to train a conduit of future leaders.”

For Mr. Shapiro, the beginning of Scottsdale Leadership was a simple one.

“Former Mayor Sam Campana and I went through Valley Leadership in 1983. After graduation, we decided to start a leadership program for Scottsdale,” he said.

“We solicited the support of banker and Chamber of Commerce leader Don Ruff and Scottsdale Community College President Art DeCabooter, who became co-founders. Our partners were the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce, the City of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Community College, and Scottsdale Unified School District.”

But as things go, leadership and the people inhabiting those positions have evolved --- and so has Scottsdale Leadership, Mr. Shapiro explains.

“Scottsdale Leadership is continually reinventing itself to maintain its relevancy to our community’s needs,” he said.

“Additionally, as a leadership organization, we have to march to a different drummer to set new standards, achieve loftier goals, and think outside the box. Besides being a training program where our graduates receive a Ph.D in Scottsdale issues, Scottsdale Leadership thrives as a networking and fraternal organization of like-minded individuals willing to serve. There’s a contagious spirit and culture of our graduates sharing skills and energy levels.”

--- Gary Shapiro

Ms. Witt echoes a similar idea.

“Today leaders need to actively and productively engage with coworkers, as well as our community as a whole,” she said.

“For example, many forward-thinking corporations allow their employees to participate in community building programs like Scottsdale Leadership. Doing so produces a healthier workplace all around.

Awareness of this critical concept is becoming a standard component of leadership development. Future leaders must learn to develop a cohesive team which builds trust and fosters inclusivity.”

The idea of inclusion was not always present in corporate nor small-business American workplaces, Ms. Witt contends.

“In the past, corporate leaders were less aware of team building concepts and the work place was a more traditional one-size-fits-all environment. Gone are the days where people work at the same place for 50 years and retire with a pension and a gold watch,” she said.

“Successful leaders of today must engage, motivate and empower their team to take responsibility and act independently. They are also keenly aware of the individual strengths and needs of their team members, which allows them to maximize their potential. An awareness of various thinking styles and flexibility are required of today’s successful corporate leaders.”

The Charro connection

For nearly 60 years, the Scottsdale Charros have been in constant pursuit of improving the lives of Scottsdale residents while preserving the community’s ties to its western heritage.

The Scottsdale Charros, through The Charro Foundation, provided Scottsdale Leadership a $5,00 grant to help cover costs associated with Core Program costs.

“The support we receive from the Charro Foundation is used to develop the curriculum for our Core Program,” Ms. Witt explains.

“The program encompasses 15 days of learning about Scottsdale and the relevant and timely issues facing our city. More specifically, the Charros sponsor our education day. This year we heard from experts in the field of education and our class members were able to go to several different schools to learn about their math and science academy, duel language immersion program as well as gifted programs.”

Executive Director of the Scottsdale Charros, Dennis Robbins --- a former elected leader and dedicated community advocate --- was recently bestowed a keynote award from the leadership group.

“In 2016 Scottsdale Charros Executive Director, Dennis Robbins was the recipient of the Hodges award,” Ms. Witt said of the rich history between the two community-service organizations. “Dennis continues to live by those core values every day in his role with the Charros. Dennis is a true servant leader and we are proud to call him an alumni of Scottsdale Leadership.”

--- Lee Ann Witt

For Mr. Shapiro, the Scottsdale Leadership effort ensures his community is striving to improve upon itself.

“Scottsdale is a better place today as a result of the impact of Scottsdale Leadership grads in countless community, civic, cultural and education activities and initiatives,” he said.

“No less than 500 community organizations have been impacted by our graduates and it gets better every year. We encourage Scottsdalians to apply to become a future class member of Scottsdale Leadership. It’s an incredible experience that not only will change their life but will change the lives of countless others and will ensure that Scottsdale retains its reputation as a Most Livable City.”

Go to as applications are being accepted for Class 35 now.