Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Comment: The United States is undergoing a variety of transformations leaving many American citizens feeling helpless as a veil of uncertainty shrouds the future. The United States has been different than the other 200 or so countries around the world. The concept of American Exceptionalism is the belief that the United States does not conform to the rest of the world because the United States is of a fundamentally different character. Exceptionalism is built principally upon the freedom to exercise democratic processes. In practicing Exceptionalism there is a venue for the citizens to participate in planning their future other than reliance on ineffective or disinterested leadership that is classic of tyranny and aristocracies. Under this venue of Community Leadership, any citizen can take up and affect change and this is how to do just that - effect change.
One of the challenges with mainstream media, churches, and even the United States government is an overwhelming volume of demagoguery. Everyone seems to be pointing out one side or the other of an argument. While often there are calls to action, no one is taking action or solving the problem. The most probable reason is that many people lack the will, training, or skills necessary for mobilizing the cause into action. Community leadership enables the average citizen to take action, address grievances, affect outcomes, and impact the community and lives. Anyone or group can undertake any cause by getting organized the right way.
Note: Community Planning is socialism and intends to transform the community away from a republic form of democracy. Whereas, Community Leadership solves a community problem through democracy and democratic processes.
A community leader is a person who works with others to develop and sustain the health of the community resting on several key points:
Leadership is not the end in itself, but the mechanism to something else.
Community leadership occurs whenever anyone works to develop and sustain a healthy community.
Community leaders are identified by their works, not their position or traits.
Community members are a sufficient resource pool for any cause.
A healthy community is a place where the citizens' economic, social, physical, cultural, and spiritual needs work for the common good and the creation of a cooperative future.
In this posting, two books will lend support to the notion of community leadership. The framework is laid out in the Community Leadership Handbook for establishing and leading action. Managing Policy Reform offers the Democratic Reform Process, DRP, model. Together these two resources are the basis for a layperson, a citizen, to pull together an action committee, advisory council, small group, or community development team. The purpose is for citizens to take action in their community. It does take work and it does work.
Success requires one to work with persistence, many hours, and to have a plan, strategy, and goals to which people can relate. The book Masters of Success has essays from the successful. They discuss their challenges and how they overcame those challenges as they started businesses, sought political reforms, or saved the environment. We all admire the greats, the titans, and those who led people and organizations to amazing successes. Success is not out of people's reach and requires learning, modeling, reflecting, and emulating what works.
Who can take action? Anyone can perform this action and have. However, if the effort is governmental, citizens or registered voters should have greater credibility rather than non-voting citizens, illegal aliens, green card holders, felons, and others in the system. Although, some political stakeholders in government accept all folks regardless of their affiliation to the government and community.
The Core Competencies
To lead a cause, there are several competencies required; the ability to frame ideas, build social capital, and mobilize resources. These undergo a process that results in a deliverable.
Framing ideas determine what, why, and how the action is taken. The process of framing involves analysis, values, motivations, vision, strategy, and focus. When developing a compelling vision and setting priorities that frame the action and ideas several practices are involved:
Identifying community assets
Analyzing community problems
Accessing community data
Doing appreciative inquiry
Translating vision into actions
Building social capital is a leadership skill of developing and maintaining relationships marked by trust, reciprocity, and durability. Much of the human capital operates in social networks in which bonding and bridging occur. The leader can only draw on the social and human capital if a deposit was made. Wise leaders do not take their investments lightly. The tools often employed are:
Managing interpersonal conflicts
Building social capital across cultural boundaries
Mapping social capital; link analysis
Mobilizing resources is creating critical mass in order to take action and achieve an outcome. This requires strategic thinking and workable plans. This involves moving others to speak and support on behalf of the effort, engaging gatekeepers to networks, drawing large numbers of community support, and sage employment of the change adopters. Some of the practices include:
Maintaining stakeholder registers
Building effective community teams
Recruiting and sustaining volunteers.
The Leadership Process
The Democratic Reform Process model discussed in Managing Policy Reform is a good general structure for community leaders to follow. The leaders begin by identifying the problem, setting goals, and then managing the reform or change. Perhaps the most critical aspect of the leadership process is framing the ideas and building support. Without these two skills, the rest of the process is useless. One tool of value in the workshop.
This tool goes by many names such as neighborhood and district advisory counsels (NACs and DACs), town hall meetings, community planning groups, think tanks, work teams, etc... The function remains the same. Workshops are an effective means to elicit participation from the constituency or supporters.
Leaders must prepare the workshop prior to the meeting. This requires a set of activities that loosely structure the sessions and permit dialogue. Each meeting should possess the following traits:
Have objectives or goals set.
Know what seeds to plant that build stakeholders’ ownership.
Identify and invite strategic participants; people with access to funding, social networks, and influence.
Realistic meeting durations or time limits. People have other lives and the leader must respect their time.
Set the location. Have a stable and reliable place to meet. Ensure that others can lead if you are not able to attend.
Design the agenda for simplicity, flexibility, and make it actionable.
During the meeting, leaders must keep the tempo and focus. They achieve through a specific framework for the conduct of the workshop.
The agenda is a roadmap and a destination too. Allow for the discussion to naturally flow and keep it on the roadmap.
Emphasize participation. Treat all participants as adults.
Foster combinatory play with operational relevance in order to learn.
Use facilitators who are generally stakeholders and supporters who have a unique focus and can manage the areas of expertise.
Workshops can involve large numbers of people and multiple or tiered workshops can address numerous special interests. In the leadership paradigm, there are three tiers of leaders that map acutely to tiered workshops.
Leaders with followers. This maps to tactical operations and effecting outcomes.
Leaders of leaders. This maps to operational level activities expanding influence beyond one community.
Leaders of leaders of leaders. This maps to strategic level activities expanding the influence regionally, nationally, or even internationally.
A workshop is an essential tool for a community leader who can expand the influence of the vision across communities and even internationally.
If you are fed up with the way things are and you know what needs to be done then it makes sense for you to get the ball rolling. Make sure your idea is framed well and you've identified potential sponsors and stakeholders. Begin by writing letters to them as emails get filtered and unknown people and unsolicited emails tend to get deleted. Letters tend to get read or at least scanned. Follow up the letters with a call and seek to schedule a meeting during which you frame your idea in their terms gaining their support.
Once you have built a base of sponsors and stakeholders. Organize workshops and begin to plan then mobilize resources keeping the sponsors and stakeholders informed. Refer to the process model and step through each stage. Track progress and make adjustments as necessary until you have achieved the objectives.
Community leadership is a means for the common citizen to get involved beyond the vote and make real impacts on lives and their communities. It does not have to be a 1960's student demonstration or an act of civil disobedience. In fact, the need to be on TV or gain attention in those ways is actually rare as most actions can be achieved by meeting with the right people and gaining support. Incremental change adds up over time making a whole new way of living. As a strategy, the leader should assess the various changes necessary for a vision then devise a skillful plan to achieve them.
Brinkerhoff, D.; Crosby, B. (2001). Managing policy reforms: concepts and tools for decision-makers in developing and transitioning countries. Kumarian Press: NY
Krile, J.F. (2006) The Community Leadership Handbook: Framing Ideas, Building Relationships, and Mobilizing Resources. Fieldstone Alliance: USA.
Misner, I and Morgan, D. (2004). Masters of success: proven techniques for achieving success in business and life. pp 47-49. Canada.