A Drop of Ink
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
President John Quincy Adams
“There are so many changes coming, and they are coming so quickly, that we will see our communities forced to adapt to more in the next 20 years than they have in the last 100,” Doug Griffiths, co-author of “13 Ways to Kill Your Community,” writes.
“Those that adapt will live on and prosper, passing on their community’s mentality and attitudes to the following generations of communities, while those who resist will see their communities perish,” he writes.
We will need innovative, dedicated leadership to meet our current and coming challenges. At the same time, we must look to the overall health of our communities.
Minnesota’s Blandin Foundation says a community is a complete and rewarding a place to live if it is meeting the needs of its residents in these essential areas,
- Community leadership
- Spirituality and wellness
- Recreational and artistic opportunity
- Economic opportunity
- Infrastructure and services
- Safety and security
- Environmental stewardship
- Life-long learning
Leadership is the foundation on which the other eight dimensions are built. Leadership identifies the needs and then brings together the people and resources to see them met.
“Blandin Foundation helps rural Minnesota leaders develop and enhance the skills, knowledge, and relationships they need to build and sustain healthy communities,” it says of its mission. “Blandin Foundation is all about Minnesotans imagining, leading, and growing healthy, inclusive – vibrant – communities.”
Blandin sees community leadership as a network where many people fill leadership roles. They are supported by a larger network of volunteers who reflect the community’s diversity based on age, gender, and ethnicity. The community nurtures the leadership skills of its leaders and volunteers, so they become more effective in building a better community.
Good leaders collaborate, share credit, and encourage others to take on responsibility. They create gates to allow inclusion; they don’t build fences.
Leaders are visionary. They address today’s challenges while looking at what our communities will be facing in the coming years and putting in place the mechanisms that allow us to adapt. Leaders are willing to be innovative and take risks in the process. They share optimism, not pessimism. They do what is right and necessary without looking over their shoulders to see if everyone agrees with them.
Blandin’s program teaches leaders to assess the assets of their community upon which success is built. They create networks that bring people together to achieve common goals. They create an environment where “innovation is valued, and risk shared,” creating “a breeding ground for entrepreneurial ideas and action.” They create and maintain the mechanisms in a community that fosters and sustains success, Blandin says.
Leadership isn’t easy these days.
‘To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you have to lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear – their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking – with nothing more to offer perhaps than a possibility,” Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky write in their book “Leadership on the Line.” The book is used in the Blandin leadership programs.
Though their book was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, its basic truths of leadership’s challenges are especially true today.
A quote appropriate for this time in American society comes from French philosopher Voltaire who lived in the 1700s: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Our information sources today are filled with absurdities put out by those seeking power and profit.
In rural America, the small atrocities pile up. The normalization of coarseness and incivility laces our discussions today, with threats of violence lurking behind the words.
Members of our local school boards supporting a levy to raise funds have their lives threatened. Mayors, following state and federal rules for keeping the public safe during a pandemic, have their yards and vehicles vandalized. County board members face vigilante groups demanding they act on subjects they have little control over, such as immigration, gun rights, and COVID-19 mandates.
Many who serve in public leadership positions today are stepping down because of the real dangers they and their families face. Many others are choosing not to take on leadership roles. We are losing some of our best and brightest to the meanest and most narrow-minded of citizens in our community.
How do we convince citizens to step into positions of authority and responsibility in such troubled times?
“Leadership is worth the risk because the goals…” make the lives of the people in your community better and gives meaning to life, Heifetz and Linsky write.
At times, our local leaders find that the role they’ve taken requires far more work, time, and sacrifice than they could have imagined. Rather than shrink from the challenge, they rise to it – but the demands take a toll. If you have good leaders in your community, go out of your way to thank them. They are a precious resource that needs nurturing.
Too many leaders are placeholders. They manage decline rather than stimulate growth. This is a time that demands leaders be actively engaged with open minds and innovative thinking. It is a time for stretching boundaries and taking risks.
In our four decades of covering public bodies, we’ve seen all styles of leadership. We’ve seen periods of incredible innovative thinking that have propelled a community forward and stretches of meager support that holds it back.
“Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” author Oscar Wilde wrote. When this thinking is applied to leading a community to rise up to meet challenges and strengthen itself in each of Blandin’s nine dimensions, it drags it down rather than building it up.