Everyone Can Lead

—by Alicia Collins, CICF director of community collaborations

Empowering residents is a key sustainability factor for long-term neighborhood transformation. Cultivating strong connections with residents involves establishing trust, creating inclusive and welcoming environments, valuing and respecting culture, listening, listening, listening and having hard conversations through processes of goal-setting, strategy development and implementation. All of this takes time… and patience!

It has been a continuous learning experience BUT a privilege and an honor to support and partner with neighborhoods in Indianapolis through the course of my career in community change initiatives. My passion and position has been to champion leadership from the ground up—provide grassroot leaders the resources, skills and tools that they need to sit at tables of power and advocate on behalf of their neighborhoods.

My passion and position has been to champion leadership from the ground up.

During the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance Conference this week, I had an opportunity to listen to Paul Schmitz, author of the book, Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up and senior advisor to The Collective Impact Forum, an initiative of FSG and The Aspen Forum for Community Solutions. There are a few points that resonant with me around leadership and may help other practitioners think about some of their work in helpful new ways:

First, The Definition of Leadership is:

Adopted by Public Allies, an innovative leadership development AmeriCorps program.

  • An action many can take, not a position few can hold – this reverse thinking opens up more possibilities for leadership.
  • Taking responsibility to work with other on common goals – doing whatever it takes to get the achievable result. Leaders own the result.
  • Practice of values that encourage commitment from others – values are about how we lead and not just about what we are leading for.
Secondly, Leadership is like a muscle

Schmitz emphasized that leadership is like a muscle and that everyone has that muscle. The muscle gets stronger with exercise and practice. The goal of any effort to create change should be to answer the question, “How are we building the collective muscle of an organization or of our neighborhoods?” It takes the leadership of many people to solve problems.

With any community change initiative, recognizing and mobilizing community assets is fundamental. The greatest assets of any neighborhood are the people. When considering a community development project or community change initiative, it is the responsibility of the practitioners and investors to discover the superpowers of residents and provide the space and time for new emerging leaders to be nurtured and empowered. Why? Because everyone CAN lead. The implication is stronger and sustainable neighborhoods.

View a segment of Paul Schmitz’s Everyone Leads Presentation:

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