In October 2021, Leadership Greater Hartford (LGH) named Larisa Kottke as its new President and CEO. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Larisa about her new role and what it means to be a successful leader.
NAN PRICE: How did you become involved with LGH?
LARISA KOTTKE: I first got to know LGH when I was attending graduate school at the University of Connecticut for my Master of Public Administration degree. I worked on a capstone project that partnered with LGH. A team of three other graduate students and I evaluated the Leaders On Board program, which helps train and match professionals and volunteers with nonprofits seeking board members.
My interest in LGH was piqued at that point. I was getting my MPA so I could work in nonprofits and bring business acumen, structure, and balance to them. So, LGH was on my radar. When the previous Director of Finance and Operations retired in 2017, I was eager to join the LGH team.
NAN: Tell us about stepping into the role of President and CEO of the organization.
LARISA: Coming into this role has been an evolution. I served as Director of Finance and Operations for three years and was named Vice President for Finance and Operations in January 2020. Then it was really our board’s steadfast commitment to organizational stability and sustainability that led me to where I am now.
My advancement to interim President and CEO in May of 2021 was determined by a pre-existing succession plan under which, as VP for Finance and Operations, I would be appointed to serve as interim leader in the event of an unanticipated leadership transition. When we were confronted with just such a situation, this plan allowed for a smooth transition.
Serving as interim President and CEO gave me new perspective about my own abilities and role at LGH. I had stepped into it in a temporary way, but doing so helped me recognize how deeply I care for the organization and this community. I realized how, in many ways, I was uniquely positioned to lead the organization. The more I thought about what the future of the organization could be, the more I saw myself in the permanent leadership position.
NAN: What do you hope to accomplish in this role?
LARISA: I hope to bring stability to my team and the LGH community, allowing us to co-design the future of LGH. We’ve all faced so many transitions and challenges in the past two years, and I believe we’re stronger for it. The pandemic has created opportunities for us to reassess how and why we do the things we do—the ways that we work and lead and how we can more fully connect our values to our work. There is immense opportunity for an organization like LGH to support business, nonprofit, and government partners, as well as schools and individuals through our programs, events, and trainings.
Our team will soon be embarking on a strategic planning process to design and write the next chapter of LGH, and my goal is for that process to be informed by, and in collaboration with, our broader community.
NAN: Let’s talk about LGH’s presence in in the Hartford Region.
LARISA: For more than four decades, LGH has helped to develop, connect, and inspire leaders in the Greater Hartford region, with a goal of lowering barriers and creating a more just and caring community. Our programs are designed to support individuals throughout their lives by serving high schoolers, professionals, executives, and retirees. We’re committed to this region because Hartford is the center of our state, geographically and politically—it’s even a junction of our main interstates. It’s core to what Connecticut is. I think it’s always been important to LGH to be in Hartford.
There are a lot of misconceptions about our capitol city and a role that we have as a community leadership organization is to show people what the city is, introduce them to individuals and institutions that are making incredible changes in our region, and highlight the many assets that exist. We have incredible artistry happening here. We have innovation and business.
We champion and celebrate the vital future that is possible for the Hartford Region and work to ensure that our program participants understand the direct and significant impact they can have in making that future a reality.
NAN: What does it mean to be an effective leader and how do you encourage others to lead effectively?
LARISA: To be an effective leader, I believe you need to empower and lead with—not over—others. I’ve been thinking about what my own leadership model is going to look like at LGH.
For me, it’s not about being the singular figurehead of an organization. It’s about really making sure that the community knows LGH and all of our team members and that we’re thoughtfully connecting our team to the community in ways that are meaningful to them and their own professional development.
LGH has always been an organization that believes that anyone can lead at any point in their career, at any point in their life, regardless of positional titles. So, I think it’s important that, as an organization, we model, encourage, and demonstrate that. I’m so lucky to work with an incredible team, and the more that our community can get to know each team member, the better and stronger we’ll be.
NAN: How do you define leadership?
LARISA: I define it as LGH does: Giving the best of yourself to the team and helping others to do the same. Through my time at LGH and my own experience going through the Quest program in 2018, I’ve learned a lot about my own leadership style and preferences. I’m such a team-oriented person and a collaborative individual. I like to connect and build together. And so, the idea of giving your best to the team, day in and day out, that feels like leadership to me. I try to model that every day at LGH and value that it’s reciprocated by the entire team.