Successful economic and community development efforts usually start with a leader. It could be an economic development professional, a mayor, or a business owner. This person has a passion for their community and pours their heart into improving it. They are the community's development quarterback. They wake up every day and do all they can to make their communities better places to live and work. But this person on their own is relatively POWERLESS in affecting change!
Community and economic development often involve complex issues that one person or small group can't easily solve.
Your community doesn't need more leadership from your quarterback.
It needs a larger, more diverse group of leaders.
David Mathews of the Kettering Foundation studied leadership in high-performing communities. Mathews noted that what stood out about high-achieving communities was not so much the characteristics of their leaders but "their number, their location and, most of all, the way they interacted with other citizens." Mathews called this active citizenship "leaderfulness."
If your community needs more leaderfulness, here's how to create it.
- First, you need a core leadership support group. Your community needs a tight-knit group of leaders in the trenches with the QB. This group needs to be passionate about moving the community forward and be in lockstep with the QB. I've seen this group called many names in the communities where we work. What you name this group doesn't matter. What matters is that this group is fully committed to supporting the community's economic and community development agenda. This group should be a sounding board for the QB and be kept in the loop on all economic and community development matters. This group should be the quarterback's biggest cheerleaders.
- Then, the QB and core leadership group must recruit a larger, more diverse group of leaders. You need large groups of citizens to act to have the change you need for successful economic and community development. You cannot have success with large groups of citizens on the sidelines. Your community needs as many leaders as possible from every corner of the community. Your community needs leadership that passes to different people and groups at different times. Get to work engaging large groups of citizens on various issues vital to your community. The more leaders you have, the better.
- Establish a problem-solving ecosystem. The community leaders need to work with large groups of engaged citizens to 1) name and prioritize the most significant issues facing the community, 2) suggest and discuss potential solutions, 3) decide on what solutions to implement, and 4) take action together. Don't leave all this work to outside experts or consultants. It's okay to let a third-party work with you through this process, but have the community do the heavy lifting in identifying and solving problems. It works better this way!
- Create a core support group for your economic and community development QB.
- Engage a larger group of citizens to become leaders on different issues at different times. Create a culture of leaderfulness throughout your community.
- Establish a problem-solving ecosystem where the community identifies the issues, discusses workable solutions, decides how to act, and then takes action to address the problem.
One person can get things going, and a small group can make a change, but genuine success comes when the greater community gets passionately involved in your economic and community development movement.
This is when the magic happens!
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