These days, there are thousands of resources available on how to become a great leader. However, the resources are pretty thin if the context of your leadership is not an organization or business, but a place. Being a place-based leader often comes without a title, authority, or compensation. Instead, being a place-based leader has to do with the quality of one’s character and their commitment to coalition-building. To do this well, you need to employ several lenses in order to ensure that you become a successful place-based leader.
Difference Between Leading in an Organization and Leading in a Neighborhood
Leading within an organization is very different than leading in a neighborhood. It’s essential to understand the shift in thinking that needs to occur.
- Leading an organization is about a preconceived notion or agenda, and it’s often highly tied to funding partners. Community development is about learning about the agenda of the neighborhood – building relational equity is prioritized over programs. Leading in a place means first learning what the neighborhood values.
- Organizational leadership is often about bottom lines as a measure of success. In neighborhoods, progress moves at the speed of the neighborhood, and you’ll need to be hyper aware of your place in the power dynamic.
- There’s a high need for vulnerability in community development. It’s essential to let leaders grow and move into the appropriate lane rather than being hired or promoted, and that requires patience and sensitivity.
- In an organization, your team signs on and is paid to follow your lead. In community development, that’s not the case. Excellent place-based leaders recognize that you need to earn the role.
What Does It Look Like to Be a Good Place-Based Leader?
There are many qualities that you’ll need to demonstrate as a place-based leader. In order to step into this role in the best way, you’ll need to:
- Establish credibility
- Live proximate
- Invest in relationships
- Become a curious participant
- Work to neighbor
- Knit neighbors together
- Focus on the well being of others
- Stay committed for the long haul
How Can You Establish Credibility as a Place-Based Leader?
Since you’re not being hired for a role, it’s imperative to establish trust and credibility from those around you. In order to do this, it’s critical to:
- Not make promises you can’t keep
- Remember that people have inherent capacity to work and do for themselves
- Cultivate a “front porch vibe” – make time for people around you
- Be willing to have your life interrupted
- Ask for help
- Be self aware – do the internal work
Lead with a Lens of Racial Equity
Actively seek to bring everyone to the table. Have candid conversations with people in your neighborhood to seek to understand the injustice, oppression, and inequality in your community with self-awareness.
Examine how a place came to be the way it is, and be thorough about understanding the factors that have systematically disinvested communities. Approach the matter with openness and vulnerability rather than defensiveness. Consider what each person needs to thrive, and understand that the current systems are not designed to help everyone do that.
Lead with a Lens of Flourishing Places
Know yourself to lead yourself. Understand the equity that needs to occur to make change. Pace yourself differently – this is a long game. Don’t just think about what you’re doing, but how you’re doing it.
Define exactly what a flourishing place looks like. Focus on the connection between neighbors and place. Approach the ground work with the vision of an air traffic controller. Take a higher view so that you can take in the larger view.
Lead with a Lens of Civic Infrastructure
No one organization is able to reweave the social fabric of these neighborhoods, and equitable, collaborative partnerships are essential. Relax, let go, and let others come to the table who are already working in this space.
Consider the existing systems of government and how you can partner with these systems in order to improve flourishing for all. Where can you plug into existing systems and structures so that people have what they need? Build those relationships and take that mentality of partnerships wherever you go.
Through the work of The Lupton Center, the training and consulting arm of Focused Community Strategies, we are able to partner with communities and neighborhoods who are seeking to establish community engagement on this level. We have additional resources to help you develop place-based leaders to encourage flourishing in a community, and we’d love to connect with you.