Community Leadership is Good Business
Just like corporate, the nonprofit world enjoys overplayed, but well-meaning, jargony phrases. Let’s throw together “deep community engagement”, “strategic partnerships to leverage best practices” and “measurable sustainable collective impact” in the same sentence! Sometimes we forget nonprofitese is not everyone’s language. Truthfully, it’s not mine either; my native tongue sounds a lot like parental frustration and nagging (*sigh*), but that’s another blog. What are we talking about when we say community leadership is “engaged”, or “impactful”? More important to you, dear reader, how does community leadership apply to your business? There’s truth and meaning in these phrases which transcends all sectors. Understanding the parallels, and seeking out community leadership opportunities, will strengthen your business as much as traditional professional development. Here’s how:
Grow Your Network, Build Professional Partnerships
Despite varying personalities and communication styles, all community leaders are deeply engaged with their constituents, their peers, their clients, and the community at large; they insert themselves in the web, the network, that will influence their clients’ desires and concerns. They have a genuine and true connection with people; they show up, they participate, they’ve got their back. Leaders use this connection all the time for mutual or community-wide betterment. They truly enjoy introducing John to Janet because Janet knows Sabine. And Sabine has the answer to John’s problem, which is actually solved by Sabine’s pal Marco. And on it goes. It starts with networking, plain and simple. Networking leads to relationship building, and relationship building leads to deep engagement and connection. Being deeply engaged with others in the community will ultimately educate others about, and garner support for, your cause, organization, or business.
Build Skills to Enhance Your Value
In the nonprofit world, organizations really cannot sustain themselves without constant innovation and collaboration. They often share expertise, workload, even financial resources, with other organizations or groups in order to achieve a common good or work towards a common cause. Overwhelmingly, nonprofits agree on the common cause (“end homelessness”, “eradicate hunger”, “provide equitable education”). Where things can get sticky is in ownership and credit. Yet in a true collaborative model, organizations (and their leaders) don’t lose anything when they work together; each is recognized for the strengths they bring, and they learn from each other. The wisdom is in recognizing strengths you do not have, and seeking those out via training, partnerships and collaborations, to make your own position and value stronger, and to learn and grow your skills for the future. Community leadership programs recognize the inherent social capital within the room, and set up programming to bring those different perspectives together, to work on a common goal. Fellows in programs practice and gain real transferable leadership skills (conflict resolution, for example) by working with others outside their normal industry realm, thus improving their own performance and benefiting your business and industry.
Expand Philanthropic Goals to Impact Our Community
Community leaders have impact. Real tangible goals are met, targets achieved, just like in business. And just like in business, none of this work is done alone. It requires a shared vision with your employees and supporters, and the community at large. Ideas can come from any corner, any person, and need to be nourished. A true visionary leader recognizes that employees with varied backgrounds and disciplines are vital to their success. Leverage those varied interests to grow expertise in some aspect of our community’s fabric, or some interest in solving larger community problems, and you will also develop cross-sector solutions that benefit your business and the community at large. With your involvement, we will have a thriving, vibrant community for all. That’s good business.
Carrie Summy is Program and Development Coordinator at The Oak Park River Forest Community Foundation. Her work includes Leadership Lab, a 10 month community leadership program designed to create stronger, more engaged leaders for a thriving and vibrant community. Applications are now being accepted for Lab 2. Learn more at http://www.oprfcf.org/leadership-lab.