If they want to lead, give them the power to lead


Changing your questions can help you change the leadership of your community by giving a new generation the means to lead. Photo by Becky McCray.

Guest Post by Paula Jensen

Leaders are the essence of small towns and rural communities. The success or failure of any housing, community or economic development effort in the places we call home is often based on the level of commitment and investment of local citizen leaders. Yet in so many communities in which I work across South Dakota, an invisible divide hampers the development of a strong leadership foundation. I hear experienced leaders say, "Young people simply do not want to be involved in the community!" And I hear emerging leaders saying, "Managers will not let us try new ideas!"

So, I ask you, "How can we empower more people to lead in our rural communities?"

To start looking for a solution to this question, I want to help you understand two existing community leadership systems:

  1. Most community leadership systems currently work in a traditional hierarchy – that is, from top to bottom (like a triangle) – Board leaders provide members with ideas based on their knowledge of the needs of the community. Then, following a board decision, the tasks are assigned to the members who execute the projects with supervision of the board. Traditional leadership systems define the levels of authority and decision-making within the organization and invite you to join the work that they are currently doing.
  2. The non-traditional community leadership system implemented by some rural communities includes a network-centric central leadership team – meaning connected (like a circle) – with the fundamental goal of enabling distributed decision making to empower and train resident leaders while giving all community members the opportunity to identify priorities and work on projects that they are passionate about them. The non-traditional community leadership system can be chaotic and allows community leaders to collaborate, innovate, dream and experiment, creating increased optimism and hope for new opportunities within the community. community.

The two systems listed above are very different, but if we want to show emerging leaders that they have the power to innovate and have a real impact on the community, then we must begin to transform the leadership structure of the community.

Experienced community leaders can start this process by asking good questions, listening with curiosity and taking new ideas seriously. Below are some examples of questions designed to help start these transformational conversations.

Questions to transform rural leadership:

  • Open questions – What needs to be done?
  • Challenge Status Quo – Why does it have to be done this way?
  • State of mind of the learner – What is good or useful about this?
  • Looking to the future – What opportunities does it open?
  • Optimistic – What can we learn from this?
  • Giving power to others – What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Build relationships – How strong are our relationships with others?
  • To understand oneself – What should I think about to move all?
  • Dealing with addiction – Do you want people to solve their problems rather than picking you up?
  • Serve Humbly – How can I help you?
  • Encourage action – What are you going to commit to when?
  • Evaluate – What is our management team doing that hinders?
  • Listen – Do we listen to each other with curiosity?
  • Involve all stakeholders – What are our common interests?
  • Enable change – What will you need from us in the future?
  • Develop a vision and values ​​- Are we honest with ourselves?

The responsibility of building a pool of leaders in our rural communities rests with both parties. Experienced leaders need to let go a little, and emerging leaders need to build a foundation of trust. This will allow a smooth transformation of the community leadership structure with minimal chaos – ultimately beneficial to the future of our rural communities.

So, if they want to lead, give them the power to lead. #Irrural

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About Paula Jensen

Paula Jensen's passion for personal and professional life is her passion for community development and leadership. Paula resides in her home town of Langford, South Dakota, whose population is over 318 years old. She is a grant writer and community coach for Dakota Resources, based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a 501c3 community development financial institution that aims to stimulate financial and human investment in rural communities that invest in their communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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