Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are making a meaningful impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am Sara van Rensburg and I am CEO of Colorado Thought Leaders Forum and we’re on a mission to redefine what modern leadership and business culture look like.
Our work helps business leaders grow and thrive as individuals. Every one of our programs has at its foundation a value of HEART-Level Leadership. We define “HEART-Level Leadership” as being humble, engaged, authentic, regenerative, and bound by a spirit of togetherness. So whether it’s through CTLF membership, access to resources and content, or through a peer group that focuses on personal growth or business growth, our goal is to really help individuals develop as heart-level leaders so that they can create an authentic, healthy, prosperous culture everywhere they go. The ripple effect to us means stronger families, stronger companies, schools, governments, and communities. If we truly could have this kind of authentic, healthy, and prosperous culture it would make a difference.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I studied organizational psychology so I’ve always had an interest in the human side of business. I went into sales mainly because I needed the money to pay for school. I stumbled upon the opportunity to become the executive director of the state chamber’s educational foundation and later went on to the Denver Metro Chamber as director of membership and revenue development. Those experiences are really where I began to understand the power of a strong business community.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
For six years I joined my husband, as a co-owner of a technology consulting company. That’s where I began to see the need for the work that we do at CTLF. It’s so hard being a business owner and a CEO, and I didn’t know how to lead. I had had leadership training, and I knew some of the management tactics, techniques, and tools, but none of that made the slightest bit of difference. There were things that were in the way for me.
For example, there was a moment when I was angry that my team was calling me all the time for help. I thought, “I’m independent, why can’t you just go get it done?” My coach asked me a question that pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. He said, “What would somebody have to believe to resist being needed?” I sat there thinking, “I don’t know.” Finally, I said, “They would have to think they don’t need anyone.” The moment that came out of my mouth I knew that was the problem.
So I started thinking about how much I needed my team. They were great at things I wasn’t. That realization instantly transformed me and I never again resisted other people needing me. That’s what I mean by real growth, and having a safe space, a safe community where we can actually be authentic and work on our leadership and our life in a way that expands our capacity across everything we do.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
There’s a lot of work out there that’s bringing authenticity forward into the world. It’s turning “authenticity” into a buzzword. I would say our work is actually creating a place where leaders can be themselves. At one point, I sat down with my board and asked, “Why are you here?” The resounding sentiment was, this is the only place in my life I can be myself completely without a role, without an expectation.
I think a lot of times what holds us back as leaders is that we’re uncomfortable or insecure or unsure. It doesn’t matter how much coaching we do, sometimes we just need a peer to be able to reflect that to us, or challenge and really see us, and help push us to be the best we can be. Sometimes we just need a community that we can sit in and be uncomfortable and that allows us to be vulnerable so that we can grow somewhere else. That’s the impact that I really see in our work because a leader can come and practice being the person they actually want to be as a leader. Then they can go be that somewhere else without all those burdens.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
I think it really shows up every time I meet a new leader. I have this knack for seeing someone’s potential and their possibility and noticing when they hold themselves back. Every single time I see someone break free of that and start to be themselves more fully and watch them really thrive. I’m inspired to keep doing it.
On a more practical level, I have three children. A lot of the work that I do at CTLF I bring home to them. When I see them embrace who they are without those kinds of limitations and insecurities, it makes me want to keep going.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
I love this question. I think a lot about our young people. Here in Colorado, recent studies show nearly 90% of our high school students say they suffer from anxiety. Around 80% of our youth struggle with mental health and anxiety. These students need to be seen. They are going to need organizations capable of helping them discover their unique genius and creating an environment that unleashes their potential. I fundamentally believe we need to find a way to produce abundant outcomes that come from a place of health and resiliency and to create the conditions for great things to emerge as people come together to work towards a common purpose in our companies. That mindset is already beginning to show up in the world. The next step to me is to be a part of perpetuating a regenerative framework for business that allows people and businesses to thrive
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
I think a lot of people still see the work we do as lofty or aspirational because they can’t see a way that being a better leader and having an authentic, regenerative culture can actually help them produce successful outcomes. I think that we get so busy sometimes in our companies that we can’t see another way. Getting leaders who are already tapped and have very little margin to actually want to do the work to transform themselves and their business is sometimes an uphill battle, especially when you consider what’s happening in the world right now. I think the first step is helping individual leaders learn to design their roles so that they can thrive. From there, it’s far easier for them to see how they can design their company in a different way.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
That HEART-Level Leadership is the way business is going to be done in the future and there will be an expectation that every company actually has an authentic, healthy, prosperous culture. We have an opportunity to be on the front end of this movement and attract talent and lead the way. Or, we can adopt it later and do it because there’s no other choice. I say why wait? Why not forge the road while we still have a chance to influence and be a part of it and gain that head start as this mindset starts to shift in the world?
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
The one quote that continues to come to mind for me when I think about the work we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to change our mindset is that of Chris Anderson. He is the owner of TED Talks. He said, “Persuasion is the act of replacing someone’s worldview with something better.” I think that’s what I’m trying to do every day.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We welcome any leader who is drawn to our work and who wants to learn, who needs support, and who wants even co-create this work with us, to become a CTLF member and support the cause. We need people who want to develop themselves, take this kind of mindset out into the world and point it back to what we’re trying to do so that it really does become a movement.
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