By Chris Kotur (WCLP’94), LV’s Leader in Residence
Let’s move from community service to community leadership
We’re living through a period of prolonged crises that is changing how we live and work in ways that we don’t yet fully understand and can’t fully prepare for.
We do however know that we’re all at some risk because the health and economic crisis won’t discriminate between us.
Right now we want our leaders to tell us what will actually happen, when we’ll get back to normal (as if ‘normal’ is out there just waiting for us to come back) and really, what we just want to hear is that at the end of the day (which will come soon, won’t it?), we’ll all be ok.
In other words, we want something from our leaders, experts and people in authority that they simply can’t deliver.
During these months of successive crises we’ve seen, there’s been numerous acts of community service and I’ve got a real sense that now is the time to capture and grow this sentiment into longer-lasting community leadership and act right now, while we’re feeling vulnerable, needy and open to finding ways to be more confident and hopeful about the future.
Where are some examples of community leadership?
Community leaders can be hard to spot because they don’t care about self-promotion, and right now they’re simply getting on with helping people stay resilient and put plans in place that will help their community recover.
You may or may not find them in an organisation, a business or a department because their authority doesn’t rely on a job title or senior position or the backing of a workplace. Some of these people don’t have jobs but are very ready and able to volunteer.
Their leadership can come about because of their own changed circumstances. They’ll be out there in country Victoria today talking with other locals about how the town, district or region can become more self-sufficient, how services can be more integrated, how visitors can be encouraged back and how limited resources can be shared.
You might find them out the back of the building, working on innovative ways to keep their social enterprise going as the recession begins to bite.
You’ll recognise them anywhere where people are not coping because they’ll be asking, “How can I be useful to you?” and later simply say, “… I saw what was needed and just did it!”
What matters to them?
These people are more motivated by their values and care for others than ego, vanity, training, recognition or money.
They can see a good future beyond current stresses and want others to join them in contributing to better times.
What are their services to community?
Put simply, they turn up. And they’re good at getting other good people to turn up (that’s called leadership) thereby improving the chances of making an even bigger and better difference to others.
I bet they’re in your neighbourhood right now running a WhatsApp group, taking turns to check in on lonely people or those not coping, picking up or delivering, volunteering to get community activities back up and running and helping those unfamiliar with technology to get online.
Lockdown restrictions meant closing the community market? Look for the Strathbogie drive-through market to see local innovation that ensures it will survive despite the lockdown.
Check out how a 16 year old high school student has shown how during the lockdown, his news podcast has become the main source of news in a region of 8,000 people after the local newspaper was shut down (ABC News post 22 April 2020).
He could have found a way to reinvent valuable community connections otherwise lost during the extinction of local newspapers.
What does it take to move from service to leadership?
Encourage a mindset that grows resilience and motivation.
The community leaders I admire most think there’s good in everyone, that despite the worst behaviours that emerge during stressful times – the nastiness, divisiveness, resentments and blame – that it’s possible to bring out the best in others, that something better is always possible.
They motivate others without sugar coating hard to hear facts while focussing on what they have left rather than what they feel has been lost. They think we all suffer but we don’t all need to become victims. They think ambition where others think pity.
They simply keep people engaged, especially when they feel lonely or isolated. And incidentally, there’s plenty of research that shows engagement with others and contributing to their wellbeing can help us with our own mental and emotional health.
They network. They’re ‘connectors and joiners’ – people who get involved and who seek out others to join them. They encourage young people to be leaders especially when they see the most vulnerable disengage from meaningful interaction with others.
The challenge now is to gain more scale and value from the myriad of small, dispersed acts of community service that we see and are part of every day.
Perhaps we need better coordination. We certainly need to try to be more impactful. The next challenge then is to maintain that powerful sentiment and effort over a long time, and not just while we’re in a state of crisis.
It remains true that it’s easier to work together across communities during a crisis than afterwards when the current crisis dies down and before the next one begins.
During interviews immediately after the Black Saturday Royal Commission, I often heard people who were trying to stay resilient say “we’re getting all the attention now, we’re on the news every night, but you’ll soon move on leaving us alone to make our own way…”
I believe it’s really possible to grow strong, resilient, long lasting community leadership by assembling and learning from the numerous acts of service we’re seeing and taking part in every day.
We were unprepared for a global health crisis and its attendant recession but that hasn’t stopped a groundswell of unbidden service to others.
If we can’t grow community leadership now we’ll see the quick return of the nastiness, divisiveness, resentments and blame that will weaken us all as members of a community.
For now, while we’re in the thick of changes we don’t want and don’t yet fully understand, I’ll keep backing community leadership – including accruing the lessons from all the small acts of kindness to strangers I see and join every day – to guide us toward a better, more confident and hopeful future.
I hope you will join Leadership Victoria (and me) with ideas and energy to help turn community service into long lasting, enduring community leadership.
Chris Kotur (WCLP’94)
Leader In Residence