Creating new leaders begins with the question, “Are people only born leaders or can leaders be created?” Some people are natural born leaders and tend to get even better as they go through life. Then there are those at the other end of the leadership spectrum; people who no matter how hard they try, simply may never be strong leaders. But the truth is the majority of us have leadership skills somewhere in the middle of that spectrum and this is where the real potential for “created” leadership begins.
So, what is the secret ingredient to create strong community leaders? The answer: self-awareness. Becoming truly self-aware means that people understand their own strengths; weaknesses; knowledge; attitudes; opinions; and motivation. Our communities can support that path to self-awareness and leadership development by creating a local culture that is open to change, reflective of where we came from, considerate of tradition, and eager to engage all residents from young to old so they can flourish as leaders in the many areas of community life.
The following six strategies can help begin the process of improving self-awareness and creating the communities we want to live in.
- Create Readiness – A community’s level of readiness to produce new leaders in their community is highly dependent on a variety of socio-economic circumstances that must be taken into consideration, such as:
- Potential new leaders may be dealing with survival issues or financial barriers that prevent them from volunteering in a leadership role at the present time.
- Established leaders are sometimes uncomfortable sharing power, accepting change, valuing diverse perspectives, or fear working in a community-centered environment.
As a first step to breaking down the barriers to leadership development and building that culture of readiness in a community, established community organizations must recognize these circumstances and work to provide accommodations that will create readiness.
- Create Learning Experiences – New leaders of any age, when given responsibility and opportunities to lead, develop self-awareness and create their leadership capacity simultaneously. Experiential learning happens when we give people leadership roles, engage them in community projects, and provide opportunities to implement their own ideas.
- Create Mentors – Mentoring requires a considerable investment of time and resources, but this one-on-one support strategy is critical for new leadership to be successful. Mentoring is especially needed when people are asked to take on leadership roles and operate in an environment that may be unfamiliar to them.
- Create Skills – Communities can host trainings that assist in developing needed leadership skills such as conflict resolution, decision-making, fund raising, grant writing, facilitating, creating an agenda, leading a meeting, listening, mediating, keeping an open mind, goal setting, self-awareness, partnership development, public speaking, and visioning.
- Create Trust – Communities with strong relationships and an established network of partners, resource providers, leaders, and local citizens who are built on trust are more capable of working together to improve the overall socio-economic well-being of their community and to accomplish more than they ever could have imagined acting alone.
- Create Knowledge – Communities must create quality information strategies that address community priorities. This network of knowledge is a powerful tool for making the case for change in your community and provides an invitation for new leadership to rise up. Sharing knowledge and information to the general community and other organizations in a useful format such as websites, newspapers, social media, and person-to-person is highly effective in rural communities.
New leadership is possible in your community and the impact of strategically creating these leaders can have a multi-dimensional effect on your community. Some of these impacts are quantifiable, such as new policy, new programs established, projects completed, and new people in leadership positions. Other impacts will be more qualitative and difficult to measure, but of equal importance for engaging and sustaining the constant emergence of new leadership into the future. These impacts include self-awareness, personal empowerment, changes in attitudes and perspectives of existing leaders, and a community’s feelings of renewed commitment and hope for creating a better future.