Local leadership can take many forms. From mayors to members of congress to teachers, firefighters or business people, there is no restriction on where community leadership can come from.
While there’s no clear definition of where local leadership originates, successful community and local leaders seem to possess similar qualities. Whether they’re a billionaire entrepreneur that invests locally, or a founder of a local nonprofit, we tend to find the following qualities emerging again and again from local leaders.
These are the people who ensure our communities are safe, healthy and vibrant. They ensure we have things like drinking water, access to resources and good jobs.
Here’s what it takes to become a stellar leader on the local level:
Successful local leaders understand the importance of diversity beyond rhetoric.
Diversity, in this regard, can take many forms. It can mean a diverse and varied background, a commitment to the inclusion of multiple voices in the decision-making process, and much more.
Regardless of the leader’s individual background, a commitment to diversity allows them to become successful in the community. When Harvard Business Review asked prominent CEOs to explain why diversity mattered to them, one stated: “People with different lifestyles and different backgrounds challenge each other more. Diversity creates dissent, and you need that. Without it, you’re not going to get any deep inquiry or breakthroughs.”
And this holds true on the local level. Local communities are made up of different people from different economic, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and successful local leaders understand the importance of including all of their voices, not just the ones that are the loudest or most prominent.
Mayors can’t do everything themselves, as much as we might like them to sometimes.
The best local leaders know when and where to delegate responsibilities and authority. In a way, it’s a form of selflessness: knowing that sometimes being a good leader means getting out of the way and letting other people do their jobs, and trusting them to do it well, even when it might not be the same way you would have done it.
And local leaders are often juggling multiple duties and demands. A teacher who also leads a local council, for example, will need the skills of others to complete tasks on time.
Not to mention, local councils and organizations are often dependent on volunteers. Enabling individuals with meaningful responsibilities will go a long way towards motivating them and keeping them engaged.
Local leaders can be responsible for some of the most important aspects of our day-to-day lives, from things like ensuring a clean water supply to safe roads. When disaster strikes, we look to them for support in the midst of crisis.
The best local leaders are always prepared and understand their role in engaging the community in disaster preparedness. Jerry DeFrancisco, President of Humanitarian Services for the American Red Cross, says that local leaders “have a tremendous opportunity to bridge the gap between their communities and state officials to devise the most appropriate way to deploy resources during a crisis.”
Mayors, fire chiefs, religious leaders and business leaders can all play important roles in the midst of a natural disaster. In a disaster, emergency funding and the release of aid can often be in the hands of state or federal officials, but in the critical first moments it’s up to local leaders to work together, often saving lives in the process.
Engaging with other leaders and inviting the community to be part of the process creates resilient communities that are prepared for anything.
And for the best leaders, this extends beyond disaster preparedness. They are able to see the big picture when challenges come up and begin engaging key stakeholders well before a crisis actually arrives.
Willingness to lead beyond formal powers
While mayors might be enabled with the power and authority to create policies or pass legislation, much of the time leaders on the local level are not given many formal powers or authority.
Being a CEO of a local company doesn’t have to include creating local organizations or endeavors geared towards improving the community, but business leaders often take steps to do so anyway.
Religious leaders don’t have to take an active role in providing aid to the homeless, but they often do.
Regardless of the formal authority local leaders actually have, they show time and time again that they are willing to go above and beyond those roles to create impactful, meaningful change in their communities.
Leadership comes in many forms, from many people of all backgrounds. But if you look closely, a few key qualities begin to emerge among the leaders we look to in our community when challenges arise. The next time you see some news around a local project or initiative, take a moment to look at the people involved in the process, and the qualities they all share.