Interview with Stacey Sanders, Founder and Executive Director of Elevating Connections and a RIHEL Alumna
Stacey Sanders attended the Advanced Leadership Training Program in the 2016 class, at the suggestion of an Advanced Physician Leadership Program graduate and former RIHEL board member. The two were collaborating on bringing Camp To Belong, a camp experience for siblings separated in foster care, to Colorado. Recognizing the need for more than a once-a-year connection, Stacey established Elevating Connections in February 2015 to offer additional connecting events throughout the year, and received their 501(c)3 designation in October of that year.
“The timing was incredible,” says Stacey. Recognizing the challenges of building a program like Elevating Connections from the ground up, Stacey knew she had to build her leadership skills. “One of the things that stood out from the very first session in Florissant and has stuck with me since, is the very big difference between a manager and a leader. I went into ALTP thinking I had pretty strong leadership skills. No, no, no. I had management skills.”
Through the lessons of collaborative leadership taught in the ALTP, Stacey built a philosophy of leadership that relies on promoting the strengths of her team. Incorporating the insights from both the EQi (emotional intelligence assessment) and the LPI-360 to help identify areas for personal development allowed Stacey to bring complementary skills in the team. “The Camp To Belong camp director Mike, and I have very different styles and strengths. But we work together really well.” Within her role at CASA, Stacey has employed coaching techniques with both her fellow case coordinators and with the CASA volunteers she supervises. “Before, with my volunteers, I would be like ‘let me jump in and solve the problems for you’. After ALTP, I started using coaching questions to let people get to the solution on their own.” This has empowered her CASA volunteers to be stronger advocates for the kids they serve.
Stacey’s personal theory of leadership embraces the idea that leaders don’t have to have all the answers. “When that realization hit for me – and I have a very clear picture of it hitting during a [Elevating Connections] board meeting right after our second [ALTP] retreat in Estes Park – I took control and kept us focused on the mission. I recognized that it was about coming together as a team to build the organization. That has been the model I’ve used since. I can say confidently that I have an incredible team around me – the board and our volunteers – each who bring something unique and special to the team.” The building of the board has been strategic, working to identify and recruit board members and volunteers that allow Elevating Connections to reach into parts of the broader community, and open opportunities that might not have existed without the board and volunteer diversity.
Stacey has credited ALTP with expanding the way she thinks about being a leader. For her, it’s not about knowing it all or being able to do it all. It’s about building a network that is diverse and that can come together to contribute in a way that is meaningful to the people that Elevating Connections and that CASA serve.