The Importance of Emerging Leaders

Their successes should have been cause for community celebration.

Yet praise for the successes ignited by the emerging leaders in their towns weren’t always unanimous. Too often those in senior positions seemed more intent on reminding them of their place within their respective hierarchies. 

Unfortunately, this seems to be a recurring theme in much of the community leadership coaching I’m involved with these days.

One such initiative is focused on using parks and recreation to create the places, spaces, and culture that will encourage people to get physically and socially engaged in their communities.

This particular initiative issued a call for partner communities, offering $10,000 in cash as well as in-kind support of about $50,000. The application for funding was not that of a typical proposal as the terms were not spelled out in black and white.

The fuzziness, or perhaps the openness of the call, inadvertedly seems to have attracted young, or young-in-spirit, early adaptors already demonstrating community leadership by connecting the silos and working across business, government and the community sectors.

Somewhat ironically, these “early adaptors” aren’t usually those in senior positions of authority.

Most were already working intuitively and doing all the right things – albeit behind the scenes and often in isolation. Even though they didn’t always have the full set of community leadership tools, they were passionate about improving their communities and were fearless in tackling big issues with energy and drive.

In one community, a planning team of three managed to pull together an amazing cross-section of community leaders who worked together in a meeting to identify community issues and priorities. As testament to the credibility of these three and the correctness of their path, every single person at that meeting agreed they wanted to stay involved in moving forward the development of a citizen-driven Community Strategic Plan.

While things were fine when the planning team was below the radar, positive media coverage resulted in a higher profile. It was then that the higher-ups, more concerned with politics, image, and who gets the credit, were quick to slap them on the wrist leaving them disheartened and discouraged at a time when they should have been celebrating.

In another case, a remarkable young woman was able to convince almost ten percent of her entire community to participate in a day and a half of intense strategic planning that resulted in a clear consensus and direction for the town. And yes, there were noses out of joint there too.

So, what’s up with that? The world seems to be lamenting the lack of young emerging leaders and yet it seems when they surface, we hold them down.

It might just be that we need to rethink what we mean by leadership and management.

According to Gary Hamel, author of The Future of Management, most management is based on intellect, diligence and obedience.

It’s easy to see how this fits the old needs of an industrial based economy. It reflects a hierarchy in which people at the bottom do what they are told to do by people at the top who supposedly know more.

Now, says Hamel, you can buy intellect, diligence, and obedience from anywhere for almost nothing.

The three higher levels we need to add to the stack, if we are to move from old-style to future management, are calling or passion, creativity, and initiative. If we don’t add these three new levels, clearly demonstrated by these new and exciting emerging community leaders, we won’t be able to ensure stronger, healthier more vibrant communities or, in fact, create anything of value.

So what do we need to do?

Simple, we all need to get over thinking that a formal position of authority makes one a leader.  It is passion, creativity and initiative that makes a leader.

Additionally, every one of us needs to take responsibility for recognizing, supporting, and celebrating leaders – regardless of their title.

Posted on 02-24-08


Great article!  Ideas, meetings, emails, and more meetings are not the only answer to getting something done…action is, any action, just SOME action!!  Sometimes those at the top of the heap forget that last part and it looks like our AAC action folks have been the brunt of this.


•Posted by kate  on  02/25/08  at  03:32 PM


Great post Brenda, I can’t agree with you more about the differences between management and leadership. We’ve been electing managers for a long time now, and we’re starting to see where that kind of preservation thinking creates bottlenecks to progress.

The only advice I can give is that your passion or calling must be matched by an equal amount of resolve. The obstacles placed in front of a leader are there to prevent ‘everyone else’ from reaching your goal. Naysayers do eventually get tired. Keep pushing for whatever you want to accomplish keep bringing people in that can reinforce, enhance, and develop your ideas further, and you will eventually succeed.

•Posted by Trevor Twining  on  02/26/08  at  09:20 AM

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