Five Questions for Kathie Novak

Director of the Rocky Mountain Leadership Program, UC Denver
Kathie Novak

Kathie Novak

When all is said and done, educators and politicians have at least one thing in common, says Kathie Novak — trying to make things better by improving the community, the state and the nation.

Novak has served as both. At the University of Colorado Denver, she has taught for 13 years in the School of Business and for a year in the School of Public Affairs, where she also is director of the Rocky Mountain Leadership Program. In all of the classes, she focuses on increasing students' capacity to work with others to achieve organizational outcomes.

She served on the Northglenn City Council for 10 years, and was elected mayor in 2001 and again in 2005. In 2009, she was president of the National League of Cities, one of the nation's oldest and largest organizations serving cities and towns.

Novak earned a master's degree (science in management) from UC Denver; her undergraduate degree in business administration from CU-Boulder.

While community is important to her, so is her family. Of everything she has accomplished — and the list is long — she is most proud of her children and "the young people they are becoming." She credits her parents for molding her outlook on life. "Through their actions," she said, "(my siblings and I) learned the value of education, giving back, serving others, working to make a difference."

She has no regrets ... well, on second thought, there was that one hairstyle ...

— Cynthia Pasquale

1. Explain your duties as the director of the Rocky Mountain Leadership Program.

I have been the director of the Rocky Mountain Program since spring of 2003. It is a wonderful program that has been around for 27 years, and is a real gem in the programs that the university offers. The weeklong residential program focuses on leadership in the public sector. We have had participants from 47 of the 50 states, and five foreign countries. They come from all levels of government — local, special district, county, state and federal. We have had elected officials and staff, and each program brings together a diverse group — people who work in parks and recreation, law enforcement, education and utilities. The common thread is that we all work in the public sector and are accountable ultimately to the citizens we serve.

2. Can you tell me about your current projects and what you hope to accomplish?

We are starting a Certified Public Manager Certificate Program here at the School of Public Affairs. The CPM is a nationally recognized certificate program that gives participants practical, hands-on training in three competency areas — leadership, management and administration. The Rocky Mountain Program is an optional highlight of this new certificate. Completion of the Rocky Mountain Program is worth four courses in the Colorado-CPM program. It also provides a terrific opportunity to interact with other rising managers and leaders from the region.

I have also taken over the institute director duties for the Colorado Municipal Clerks Institute. This is a training program for municipal clerks throughout the state to help them achieve their certified municipal clerk and master municipal clerk designations. The designations are granted through the International Institute of Municipal Clerks.

3. Do you feel leadership is a talent that comes naturally or is learned? What are the three most important attributes a person needs to be a leader?

First, I think leadership is an act, not a talent. It also is not necessarily housed in a single person, although is certainly can be. The most important attributes of a leader — another question with many, many answers depending on whom you ask! I think my top (attributes) might be integrity, vision, passion and surrounding yourself with the right people.

4. What are your hobbies and/or what occupies your time when you are not working? And how do you balance work and home life?

I love to read and spend time playing with the family. We have five children, from ages 24 to 11. Two currently attend CU — one in Denver and one in Boulder!

Balance is an easy word to use, but a difficult one to obtain. It implies that all things must be equal, and if one thing is out of balance, everything tumbles to the ground. I prefer to think of the work-family life as more of an integrative process. When I was pregnant with our first child, I was sure that I would be an " '80s working mom." However, as my maternity leave drew to an end, I realized that I really wanted and needed to be more of an at-home mom. I went into work with my resignation in hand, and my boss refused to accept it — offering to let me work part time. Since then, I have held a number of part-time positions, but never a full-time position. It is important that I have the flexibility to be available when my kids need me to be.

In addition, I have not kept a strict work/home split. I have tried as much as possible to integrate my work into our family life, and vice-versa. My political career has fit nicely with my work life, and my family has been an important part of both. It certainly makes it easier because I have a husband and children who are supportive in all of this and that we are all partners in helping each other achieve our aspirations — for me, as a parent/family member, a professional and a person.

5. What is the worst/best thing that happened to you while you were serving as mayor of Northglenn? Have you completely stepped away from politics or is there another campaign in your future?

There have been lowlights, like a death threat, but many more highlights. I met the president, traveled to three foreign countries and met other world leaders, and read to school children. Overall, being mayor was a wonderful experience!

As for another campaign, never say never ... I think there may be another local elected office in my future. I am most passionate about local issues and like the problem-solving approach in nonpartisan positions.