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The Foundation of Leadership was Built on Legacy – An LFS Discussion with Lee Clancey

May 22, 2023 | Business Support, Economic Development & Workforce, Leadership for Five Seasons

Lee Clancey, co-founder of Leadership for Five Seasons in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Leadership for Five Seasons (LFS) – a well-known, respected and sought-out program, is celebrating 40 years of leadership tradition in the Cedar Rapids area. Every year brings together a new class of growing area leaders to learn about the strengths and challenges of their community. Each class beams with their own unique energy, personality, and even themed hashtag. The program’s success has stood strong for 40 years, and that’s a nod to the strong foundation built by founding leaders who believed in what it could be right from the start.

Hit rewind to 1983, and you will find an ambitious, eager, passionate woman who wanted to create something special in the Cedar Rapids community. She wanted to create something where the next generation of leaders would come together and thrive- her name is Lee Clancey.

“Understanding that leadership is not something people are born with, but is learned through experience, education, and practice is important. There are a variety of personal attributes that a leader must have in order to be successful such as: persistence, self-knowledge, willingness to take risks and accept losses, commitment, consistency, ability to challenge oneself and others, listening, learning and being “future-oriented,” shares Clancey, when asked where the program spark came from.

Lee has been in the Cedar Rapids community for more than 52 years. Her name is recognizable by many, for numerous reasons: Mayor of Cedar Rapids from 1996-2002, President and CEO of Cedar Rapids area Chamber of Commerce (pre-Economic Alliance), and founding LFS member, just to name a few.

Leadership for Five Seasons was founded in response to the concern that Cedar Rapids’ strong existing leadership was aging out and there were few known up-and-comers to take their place. Lee and the handful of other founders recognized the need for a process that could identify and train community leaders who would be equipped to provide leadership to the not-for-profit sector. The organization was established with the goal of developing a pipeline of future leaders who could step in and fill the leadership gap that would inevitably be created as the current generation of leaders retired or moved on. By providing training and support to emerging leaders, Leadership for Five Seasons aimed to ensure that Cedar Rapids would continue to have a strong and vibrant not-for-profit sector well into the future.

“The idea for the program came from Juli Anderson, the Junior League President at the time, who discussed the need for a community leadership project with Larry Waller, the Chamber of Commerce President. We recognized that the community needed a system for developing future leaders to ensure its future success. Larry agreed to run the program under the Chamber’s services, with the League providing the resources. Julie asked me to lead a team to design the community-wide leadership class, which became Leadership for Five Seasons,” shares Lee.

The small but mighty founding team of five spent nine months researching other community leadership programs, analyzing important community leadership attributes, developing the class framework, identifying the best speakers, locating venues, putting together materials that would be needed, and developing a process for selecting candidates. They researched other successful leadership programs around the country, and took inspiration from those into what would become the foundation of a program 40 years strong and running.

Participants of the Leadership for Five Seasons Adult Class of 1983.

Clancey not only helped found the program, but was placed in the lead roll as a coordinator of the very first class in 1983. Many of the original elements and processes remain consistent to this day. Each class consists of 35 individuals, kicks off with a retreat, hosts industry themed days throughout the city, and culminates in a graduation with bonds that last well beyond the class curriculum. However, instead of an online application process, Clancey shared that “back in the day,” they would visit businesses in-person and pitch the program to recruit – traditional marketing at its best!

When asked if Lee could offer a piece of advice for an incoming class of LFS, she shared, “We all have the potential to be the kind of leaders who will shift paradigms, encourage and mentor others, celebrate diversity, and solve problems. Sometimes leadership is letting others know you are interested, not just sitting back waiting to be “discovered.” She advises, “Get out there and find joy in the awesome responsibility of leadership because there is no challenge that will go unmet when caring, resourceful, and dedicated individuals put their minds, hearts and energy together on behalf of others and their community.”

It is no surprise that Clancey remains active in the community, through LFS class and alumni events, as part of the team and a voice for the ConnectCR project, and by constantly seeking out ways to help promote the community. She is a wife, a mom of three sons including twins, and a proud grandmother. Clancey will serve as the keynote speaker for the 40th Anniversary Celebration on June 1.

Clancey shares a favorite quote from Woodrow Wilson who said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”