Every leader has his or her own approach to management, and Cheryl Lombard has found her own style.
“It’s not honestly something I aspired to, but it’s something that I felt natural in,” said Lombard, president and CEO of development advocacy group Valley Partnership, about leadership. “Working with a very large board and a very large, diverse membership… it’s really just listening and learning, and then just focusing on what’s best for the organization.”
Lombard said she has worked with some “really great individuals” during her career — she has worked for members of Congress, practiced law and worked for The Nature Conservancy — and each new position brought different forms of leadership.
“I had to find my own,” Lombard said. “I think, really, finding your own style is the most important thing, and that just doesn’t come automatically.”
Watching and learning from others is the best way to find what’s natural for each individual leader without forcing it, she said.
Lombard and Valley Partnership were closely involved with the creation of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), a water conservation agreement between seven western states that was recently signed by President Donald Trump.
“The Drought Contingency Plan is an amazing coming-together of disparate interests and everyone giving,” Lombard said. “From the real estate development industry, we were the first cut; we knew that going in, and we accepted it. But we also had to work together in finding solutions [for] those who didn’t have solutions.”
The development industry was lucky to be able to recover and continue to grow, but other industries — agriculture in particular — needed help with the transition, she said.
Lombard said she considers the DCP to be an “important tool” and one of the biggest accomplishments of her career.
“That was a huge honor, first off, just to be part of that and to represent the development industry,” she said. “It was a significant deal for the state and the entire west.”
Lombard has also been involved with the Rio Reimagined green development project to revitalize the Salt River — Rio Salado — with new urban amenities and community activities. This is another example of different interests coming together to support a common goal, she said.
“The Rio Reimagined is an amazing opportunity for all the river cities and the tribes to come together, and that’s exactly what’s happened,” Lombard said. “All of the tribes, all of the cities along the river, Salt River Project, the county — they have all signed a memorandum of understanding on how we’re going to move forward. That was an amazing step. Similar to DCP, that’s not something that really happens all that often.”
The project allows different cities and tribes along the river’s 45 miles of potential development to decide what’s best for their own individual communities.
“Some of the cities, it can be economic development — [that’s] what they’re thinking in Buckeye,” Lombard said. “Then the cities of Phoenix and Tempe obviously have different visions, because they have larger areas.”
The potential of Rio Reimagined is currently best exemplified by the development on Tempe Town Lake. But all of the river will not look like the lake, Lombard said. There will be “different pockets” of activity and growth, but the entire area will be connected through a common vision, she said.
Lombard said she found inspiration in former President Ronald Reagan in the early days of her career, and over the years she has watched different types of leadership — “we’ve obviously transformed… what is in the political world in terms of leadership.”
“In terms of local — and here we are in the city of Phoenix — I’m excited about Kate Gallego joining as the city of Phoenix mayor,” Lombard said. “She’s very passionate about our city. I think she’s going to do a great job, and I look forward to working with her.”
Lombard said she has been practicing yoga in her free time, taking a break from her other favorite hobby, tennis.
Her favorite book to recommend, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” by Stephen Covey, hearkens back to when she first thought about leadership.
“My first job, actually in high school and college, was working at a gym [as] a personal trainer, and the owner of that gym really focused in on how you become a better person,” Lombard said. “That was one of the books that first started me thinking about… discipline and focusing on what I wanted to do.”