In June 2017, I think we can all say that our world is at a minimum just different than it was in June 2016. There are issues and ideas that we are dealing with that we may not have expected, but “deal with” them we must. The challenge we live with is that civic leadership is messy at a time when people want it to be simple.
In recent months, we have been working with many communities who are watching the CNN (and FOX) stream just like us, trying to gauge the direction of this country. At the same time, we see a path forward as we support the actions our civic leader friends are trying to accomplish: creating a fresh food incubator in Buffalo; a renewed theatre in Fort Wayne, Indiana; a design and manufacturing space in Providence, Rhode Island. These are the investments with exciting short-term gains and significant long-term impact of community building.
And that’s that catch: long-term impact that learns and delivers beyond the political cycle and can sustain a community is not always easy. This is where civic leadership is more asset than virtue, and where it matters the most. The challenge we live with is that civic leadership is messy at a time when people want it to be simple. Civic leadership is not born in 140 characters or through anonymous posts. Civic leadership is created in meeting rooms, in coffee shops and craft breweries, and these days on the lines of protests. My hope is that 2017 becomes the year we realized that we all need to communicate a lot more so we can understand where we want to be as neighbors.
Here are the four key skills that we see exhibited by the best community leaders with whom we work:
Listen: In every community, there are conversations occurring that can tear apart or strengthen the community fabric. Leaders must listen to all of those thoughts to understand their context and to allow for the development of empathy for one another.
Research: There is no such thing as the status quo, or a community that is exactly as it was in the old days; instead, communities are constantly heading in new directions. Leadership is about doing the research needed to understand what that direction is. Often times, data and fact-finding will provide a view that is not expected and at times painful to deal with, but it is critical to be able to communicate what is not working in order to build a case for improvement.
Create: Leaders need to create an inclusive vision. Where do we want to be in five or ten years? What do we want the rest of the world to know us for? What do we want to leave for the next generation? The vision should be bold and inspirational, and maybe even something that some people doubt achievable.
Act: Between the vision and action, there must be great planning that goes on to detail who or what is responsible for making the vision a reality, setting clear goals, and making sure the capacity to act is in place. While great planning bolsters success, it does not guarantee action. Only by recognizing the people in your community—the civic leaders who are brave enough to act—will the vision be achieved.
Let me know what you think are skills needed by civic leaders by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.