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My 12 Lessons as Chamber CEO & President

It’s time. Tuesday is my official last day as president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber. It’s been an honor to serve our members and the business community for 12 years, and to recognize all those years, I thought it might be appropriate in this final note to share the top 12 lessons I have learned in this role.

And we’re going to do this David Letterman style. Ok … let’s do it!

Lesson #12: Make decisions based on hope – not fear.
We make so many decisions, both in our personal and professional lives, to avoid problems or minimize the downside. Instead, we should make those decisions with a focus on what’s possible. It’s more rewarding, and it inspires others to jump in and help. At the Chamber, I worked directly for 59 board members who made their decisions based on what was possible, focusing on the future they want to create. It was truly inspiring.

Lesson #11: There are too many politics in our policy.
The Chamber’s 3,000 members with 400,000 employees represent the full spectrum of liberal to conservative views in Colorado. (And, BTW, there were some days it seemed all of you emailed, texted or called me. 😊) Yet, we often came together to find solutions that most of you could get behind.

And, it wasn’t because we shied away from politically charged issues. We dealt with everything.

  • From supporting tax increases to addressing how different businesses should be taxed.
  • From protecting the LGBTQ community to producing energy.
  • From addressing the cost of health care to reforming our immigration system.

My 59 type-A, highly opinionated bosses were unanimous in almost every decision. I honestly can recall only one time where one member of the board voted for a different approach. Lesson #11 is definitely that we need less politics as we work to solve the challenges we face today.

Lesson #10: There are still only 24 hours in a day.
Technology has not solved this dilemma yet. There isn’t enough time to do everything we want to do in this life. So, use those hours to their fullest: Work hard, live fully, love deeply, dream big and sneak some sleep in there.
 
Lesson #9: There is urgency to our work.
When I started this job, people kept telling me to slow my roll; this is a marathon, not a sprint. But my lesson is that there is urgency to our work. Every day that a family is without a home, an adult is without a job or a child is without a good education is a day we lost in their lives. So, Lesson #9 is train harder and run faster!

Lesson #8: Do the work.
I like hanging out with people who think big, but I really like people who are willing to act on those big ideas. That’s the really hard part. Chamber members took responsibility to help solve some of the biggest challenges in our state. Racial and gender disparities, water, transportation, political divisions, energy production, the cost of health care, educating our kids … The list goes on. I respect people who jump in to do the actual work. Taking action is what’s really hard.

Lesson #7: Happiness is hugely shaped by who we spend our days with.
I love working on teams. I love the energy and the ideas. I have loved the teams I worked with at the Chamber. Over 12 years, that team was extensive! Here’s what I say to you all:

  • I love how honest you are, sharing the truth with me even when it was really hard.
  • I love how deeply you care about your work and having an impact.
  • I love how open to learning you are.
  • I love the passion you feel for delivering great jobs to Coloradans.
  • I love how smart you are.
  • I love that you want to help teammates succeed – even when it meant their next opportunity was not with us.

But mostly, I love you for laughing at all my jokes and rarely making me laugh alone. I am so happy to have spent my days (and evenings, and early mornings and a few weekends) with you all.

Lesson #6: Apparently, cussing is still not cool in all settings.
And, that’s all I have to say about that lesson.

Lesson #5: Conflict is good.
Conflict means there’s an important issue that needs solving and I see that as an invitation. What I love about conflict is turning it into solutions we all support. I am attracted to conflict.

Lesson #4: Be intentional about what you invite into your life.
A lot of our success is because we are lucky. I know those of you who believe in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps are going to hate this lesson.

Here’s how I think about luck. For those who know me, you know I do not do New Year’s resolutions. It’s never worked for me. Instead, each year I choose a word that represents what I want more of in my life. Examples I’ve chosen over the past 12 years: hope, humility, grace, love and joy. I make my word my password, because then I type it in multiple times each day. (Facial and fingerprint recognition is setting me back a bit.) I honestly believe that just like I invited these other attributes into my life, I also invite luck into my life. It’s simply that we begin to see what is already there with new and fresh eyes.

Here’s the part you will really hate: I learned that luck is another way of recognizing that we don’t control a lot in this world. And, frankly, it’s shocking how often things work out for us when you consider how little control we really have, so be intentional about what you invite into your life.

Lesson #3: Being vulnerable can open the door to do some of your most meaningful work. 
I love people who are willing to be vulnerable. What I learned is that it’s really powerful when organizations are vulnerable, too.

It was our willingness to be vulnerable that allowed our members to see how many Coloradans experience barriers to success, even while so many of the rest of us are thriving. That’s why we established Prosper Colorado in 2018, and I am incredibly proud of this work.

  • We now map and track every job in this region by income, race and gender.
  • We have set measurable goals to hold ourselves accountable and developed strategies to move more people of color and women into higher-paying jobs.
  • We’re working to ensure homeownership is accessible to communities who have been excluded from building wealth for generations.
  • We are doing the hard work to ensure Colorado is the very best place in the nation for a woman or a person of color to start a company.

It was our members’ vulnerability to look deeper at what we can improve in our great state that is leading to some of the most meaningful work happening at the Chamber.

Lesson #2: We define our family.
And mine is unique. It’s made up of the following amazing people (and a dog):

  • My mom, Carol, and my dad, Larry. They raised me and they helped raise my girls. But what they really did was believe in me. Then, they helped me believe in myself.
  • My half-brother (but my oh my is he my full bro), Kory. From plumbing to light switches to babysitting, I could never list all he has done for me. Kory is likely the most loving person you will ever meet in your life, and I have him in mine.
  • My granddog, Benji. Thank you for greeting me so enthusiastically every single day, even when I just stepped out to grab the mail.My adopted sister, Michelle.
  • For 27 years, you have celebrated great successes and supported our family in our greatest losses – all while raising three amazing kids yourself.
  • My partner in life, David. You are always making me better and helping me accomplish big goals. (Would I have hiked the Colorado Trail last year with anybody but you? Umm, no.)
  • My girls, Taylor and Mackenzie. You removed all feelings of guilt that working moms typically have – and then became these amazing adults to reinforce that I couldn’t have been that bad of a mom. I am so proud of the women you have become.

 And, that leaves Lesson #1: We have the power to ensure others succeed.
When I got this job, people were quoted in the newspaper questioning whether I was qualified. Chamber staff cried when they saw me in the hall. It was a rough start. And honestly, that gets in your head. I was scared. I was starting to have doubts about my abilities, too, and I really needed support.

Chamber leaders stepped up to show that support in many different ways. These were people who didn’t know me, they had never worked with me and they didn’t know if I could do this job, but they publicly expressed confidence in me and they stood with me (literally). By doing so, they gave me back my confidence. I will never forget what you did for me, and I promise to do the same for others every chance I get.

We are all very powerful and we are a big part of helping someone else succeed. So, Lesson #1: Use your power for good and support the success of others.

Kelly Brough is the president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber.