Communities thrive because of their leaders. With few exceptions, though, there aren’t organizations seeking out potential leaders and training them at the community level. The right people have to figure out that they want to be leaders on their own, and go out to find leadership opportunities. They have to take the initiative.
If you’re a business owner, it makes sense that "they" should include you. The owners of smaller businesses have a stake in making sure that our communities are doing well. After all, it’s easier to make sales in a community that's prosperous and growing. But taking up leadership positions is about more than making the next sale, provided you’re willing to invest some time. You can help future employees, make sure that the businesses and organizations your company needs to grow are healthy, and even make the world a better place.
Finding an opening for a leader
You’ll need to spend some time working on finding the right spot for yourself. The first step has to be identifying your community. Where do you want to lead:
- Your neighborhood?
- Your industry?
- An issue or cause?
There are a lot of communities that I would consider myself a part of but there aren’t that many communities that I feel a need to be a leader in. For me, the right spot to work is the geographic area in which I live. There are quite a few entrepreneurs around, but the local small business community has room for more leaders.
It took me a while to identify that need, though. I knew I wanted to get more locally involved, but I had to learn more about the leaders who were already active, the organizations that were trying to help the community, and even the details of local problems. If you’re interested in leading, you first have to learn the situation. Unless you can see the big picture, it’s easy to rush into situations thinking that you’re a white knight, only to get an unenthusiastic response from the rest of the community.
Making sure it’s the right fit
For most people, it’s tough to even consider taking on a huge leadership role right after learning the basics of how a community functions. That’s true whether there’s an official organization in place that you can work through or you’re operating on your own. But not being able jump in head first can actually be a benefit. Not only does it give you an opportunity to learn about issues and other individuals in the community in some depth, but it also gives you a chance to test the waters.
Starting small has its advantages. First of all, it fits better within the entrepreneur’s busy schedule. You also have the opportunity to see what’s really going to work in your community, without committing resources to a huge push.
When I first moved to the area I now work, if I had jumped in and addressed the problem that I thought I saw, I would have wound up with a less than effective approach. What looked to a newcomer like a lack of small businesses in the area was actually a communications issue. The local small business community was there, but it was fragmented based on the types of connections and communications embraced by the people involved. I was ready to go out and try to convince more people to support small businesses, when really, bridging the communications gap was the necessary next step.
Benefiting from leadership opportunities
No one wants to be perceived as taking advantage of a situation, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that a leader has certain goals and objectives for a community that likely overlap with her more personal (or professional) goals and objectives. The only easy answer is that you have to be aware of how you handle a leadership role. You need to be sure that when you’re acting as a leader, you’re working first for the community and second for your own objectives.
That said, it’s worth taking the time to look at how your goals and your community's goals line up. More and more business owners are coming around to the point of view that building up a community is like building up an eco-system. The more that everyone is successful, the more room there is for a given business to grow. If you can take that approach and spend some effort on making the community a better place to operate for every business that comes along, you’re bound to benefit.