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Four Thoughts to Inspire Civic Leadership in 2023

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead



In April 2023 we need more committed citizens to focus on positive change. The last few years have been marked by health and economic issues that no one could have fully prepared for. The lingering impacts of a global pandemic, the toxic political rhetoric that is creeping into previously uncontroversial community decisions, and the very real issue of leadership burnout are forcing new approaches. In some communities, this creates opportunities for positive leadership and new voices to enter and begin their civic journey. Of course, the opposite is true as well, with some communities struggling to respond and reacting to put out daily fires at the expense of forward planning. I wanted to share four ideas for civic leaders to consider as they navigate the path forward.


Peers for Fears


The overused expression, ‘uncharted territory’, is actually appropriate for the position many civic leaders find themselves in today. I hear “what’s next?” from many clients and friends. It is most often said with an exhausted breath as people reflect on the road they’ve been on and try to see what the next few years will bring. In response, I’m encouraged to see a growing development of formal and informal peer networks. While every community has been impacted by and dealt with the health and economic crisis differently - the fundamentals of how to respond have been the same. Leaders need peers to engage with about their fears and dreams for their organization, their community, and their selves. It takes bravery to be vulnerable but I think this is a time when we need each other most.


Create Inclusive Conversations


Leaders need to create inclusive visions that learn from the past and map a prosperous shared future. Civic leaders should be asking: “Where do we want to be in 5 or 10 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 aspirational, and maybe even something that some doubt is achievable. By setting bold end goals with achievable short and medium term benchmarks, civic leaders will be better able to recruit citizens to commit to positive change for their community.


Assess, Act, Repeat


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. Thriving leaders swiftly assemble the data needed to understand what that direction is. Often, data and fact-finding will provide a view that is unexpected and, at times, difficult to deal with, but it is critical to communicate what is not working to build strategies for improvement and, finally, assessing those strategies along the way to create an opportunity for continuous improvement.


Celebrate and Recognize


The news is not all bad, despite daily headlines. Civic leaders in communities are making lasting impacts that we should recognize now. We should celebrate the contributions of these leaders and those that have joined them in working to improve the quality of life and place in their communities. We should also focus on small ‘wins’ so that they are nurtured and can grow. One example is Lisa Raiola, founder of Hope and Main, a culinary incubator that has helped launch over 300 food-related businesses. I met Lisa in 2014, just as she was working to launch Hope and Main, and have been inspired by her since. Her energy, openness to ideas, patience in the face of barriers, and overall impact is the kind of leadership that we all should celebrate. Often people like Lisa shy away from community recognition but I think we need to find the balance that allows the community-at-large to see their work so we all can be inspired.


 

I’d love to hear your thoughts about civic leadership - what’s working in your community and what are some of the resources and tools that are helping? Drop me a line at [email protected]


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