Monday, October 19, 2009

Community Leadership


As I think about community and what that means, it strikes me that the word "leadership" probably has as many different definitions as the word "community." When I think of the kinds of partnerships that will carry my own various visions forward, that sense of working toward a common purpose seems best served by seeing eye-to-eye with another person rather than making demands or issuing orders. Of course, I still have the responsibility of carrying out my vision for my life, even though I am in partnership with other people.

A community vision is a bit different. Many people with many different ideas about the way things should be. At the very least there are likely to be different opinions about the best way to accomplish a vision. I have been in communities where everyone tries to take the lead and pursue their way of doing things, and the ensuing chaos didn't bring us any closer to our purpose. I have also been a part of communities in which no one wanted the mantle of leadership because it was viewed as carrying the burden of responsibility for doing everything successfully. That model wasn't any more effective.

My ideas about leadership have been developing over the last several months, so it only makes sense that my ideas about leadership in the context of a community have been growing. Although there are varying styles of leadership, a leader is first and foremost a vision-holder. Collective partnerships can certainly lead a community in the direction of their vision, and in a connected and purposeful community, leadership may even shift fluidly among different individuals at different times. But often it takes an individual to take a stand in order to propel things into the next step.

One thing I am realizing, however, is that a leader can help a community discover its vision. A leader can even guide a community in how to step into that vision. But a leader can only take a community where it is willing to go. Otherwise, the community will choose a different leader, by one means or another. I suppose one could try to be a chameleon, but if a leader's vision is different enough from the community of which he is a part, this seems like a short-lived solution. In fact, true leadership may involve having the integrity of personal vision to trust that communities which share a similar purpose will emerge in partnership.

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