A crowd of nearly 300 business executives, professionals, and students gathered at the Marriott City Center in Denver on April 15 for Colorado Christian University's eighth annual Values-Aligned Leadership Summit
. Marked with networking sessions, table discussion, and keynote speakers ranging from business to the federal courts, this year's theme was ethics-based leadership and its specific relationship to natural law, liberty, and the rule of law.
"There are so many things here that are culturally acceptable," stated one graduate of CCU's School of Business and Leadership, who teleconferenced from his work location overseas to join the panel discussion on legislated ethics, but "I've learned that [sometimes] you have to be countercultural." His observation reflects the overarching lesson intended through every VALS installation in addition to the year's subtheme: To provide business professionals with a root framework by which to ethically weigh motives and decisions despite varying roles, industries, or as in his case, global marketplaces.
"Once again I was blessed by my experience at VALS," said Barb Youmans, CEO of OpenWorld Learning, a nonprofit organization that promotes the incorporation of digital technology and peer-teaching methods in children's learning processes. "Between the amazing speakers and the great networking opportunities, I left inspired and motivated."
This year's keynotes included David Ebel, a senior judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals; Dr. Daniel Robinson, a professor at Oxford University; Kevin Miller and Terry Leprino, CCU board members and local business executives; and Theresa Melaragno, a CCU staff member, professional speaker, and author of the newly released The Integrity Meltdown.
Effective leadership is more than just an ability to command, Melaragno reminded audience members -- "after all, if a man thinks he's leading, and no one is following, then he's simply taking a walk." Rather, she suggested, model leadership should consist of ethical practices built on organizational integrity, which should in turn mirror personal integrity. "Your image should reflect the reality of who you are," she said. "The diligence that you [choose] to exercise in your life can be contagious, a positive influence on other people. And people will want to have you around."
In addition to exploring insightful topics, the VALS conferences offer an early chance for CCU's undergraduate and graduate business students to interact with those already in the workplace, to learn from their personal perspectives on life, work, and integrity. "For the rest of your life, you will be facing into a headwind that will be...chipping into a little bit of [your] values a little, tiny bit at a time," Ebel related to students during his stage presentation, stressing the importance of young people anchoring their personal values early on in life.
"What you're doing at this university, in this conference, is so important," panelist Bob Vanourek stated. Vanourek is a retired CEO whose noteworthy career focused on leading companies or divisions of companies to unlikely market success after extreme challenges that often stemmed from ethical failures within. Among his accomplishments, from 1995 to 1999 he guided Sensormatic Electronics Corporation, a $1 billion company on the New York Stock Exchange, through a dramatic turnaround, litigation, and downsizing to the reestablishment of its ethical credibility, the successful launch the most new products in company history, increased market share, and more than $100 million of annual, positive cash flow.
"Every time I've worked in an organization, even those accused of unethical behavior, and we go through a shared-values exercise, invariably the same kinds of words come up: trust, respect, integrity, courage," he said, adding that the greatness of individual leaders is ultimately less impactful for a company when compared to achieving "pervasive leadership" in the organization as a whole.