Colwell: Leaders Must Focus On Strengths

By Elizabeth P. Cipolla

Each month, my weekly business column features a respected leader in our region who has been in their career long enough to have learned a lesson or two worth sharing. The name of this monthly feature is, Leadership Reflections.

You will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the featured leader’s leadership journey that led them to their current role. Most importantly, you will gain valuable insight from helpful “real life” lessons they’ve learned along the way. It is my hope that these life lessons will help to inspire a spirit of continued personal leadership development for everyone who reads it. Enjoy.

This column features Sue Colwell, executive director, St. Susan Center Soup Kitchen.

Q: Please tell us about St. Susan Center Soup Kitchen.

A: We provide a balanced, nutritious meal to those in need. We are open seven days per week. Our website address is:

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I’ve earned a certificate in Biblical Studies at Elim Bible Institute in Buffalo.

Q: Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?

A: The person who has had a tremendous impact on me as a leader is Don Howig, previous owner of Ziebart Speedy Auto Glass on Fluvanna Avenue in Jamestown. Don encouraged and supported me to push myself beyond what I thought I was capable of doing. At one point, his words of truth stung like frost bite in the dead of winter. “You are your own worst enemy, and you are far more capable of success than you think.” Don pulled back the curtain that was blocking my vision and helped me see that I had potential to be a leader. For two years, I watched Don treat his employees with respect and dignity as well as run his company with honesty and integrity.

Q: As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?

A: As the leader of a nonprofit organization, I spend a tremendous amount of time fundraising and speaking to organizations about the mission of St. Susan Center, which is, “In response to the Gospel we freely offer meals, fellowship, dignity and respect to all who come through our doors.” Every year the number of meals served continues to increase. In order to keep focus on why we do what we do, and not allow the organization to become an institution, it is extremely important for the staff to take time out of their week to stop what they are doing, and spend time talking with those who volunteer as well as those who visit our soup kitchen. After all, we are here for the people.

Q: How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?

A: During our weekly staff meetings, we discuss what’s happening at St. Susan Center. Staff members are given the opportunity to share their experiences from the previous week; good and bad. It’s also a time to make suggestions on ways to improve the soup kitchen and offer creative ways to improve what we are doing as well as begin new initiatives. Every staff member is encouraged to bring new ideas to the table as often as they have them.

Q: What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

A: One characteristic that I believe every leader should possess is the willingness to admit that they are not an expert in every area of their business. This doesn’t mean they can’t do the job. Instead, what it means is that the leader needs to keep focus on his or her strengths and build other leaders within their organization, using the expertise they have to get the job done in the most efficient way possible.

Q: What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

A: To ensure that I continue to grow and develop as a leader, I am working with the staff of St. Susan Center supporting them in their areas of greatest potential. I also spend time with a mentor as well as time with many business leaders within the community.

Elizabeth P. Cipolla is a Regional Director and Senior Consultant with JL Nick and Associates, Inc. She is a business communications professional specializing in the areas of leadership training, creative recruitment strategies, employment branding, professional development and executive coaching for nearly 15 years. Her leadership experience comes from various industries including marketing, mass media, apparel, education, manufacturing, non-profit agencies and insurance. To contact Elizabeth, email her at or visit JL Nick and Associate’s website at