What kind of community will best serve our current and future citizens, businesses, and visitors? This question sounds daunting, but the reality is that it is really easy to answer. I work with governing bodies across the nation, and members are always surprised that no matter how divided they are politically, when broken into small groups (which cross political boundaries) to describe the community they want to build, they are always at about 95% agreement on their vision for the future. They sometimes disagree about methodology, but rarely disagree over the vision. One of the most powerful things you can do to make your vision achievable is to start by discussing it in a way that blurs political lines and really focuses on the mutual vision. As the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” Start by asking, “Where do we want to go?” You will be surprised at how much agreement there really is.
What kind of leadership does it take to create this kind of community? Once you know where you want to go (the vision), ask what type of leadership it will take to make that vision a reality. Unfortunately, we give lip service to believing that strong leadership makes a huge difference; but then we elect and appoint and hire leaders who are either not aligned or not equipped to make the strategic vision a reality. Once you know what you want to become, engage in a similar collaborative discussion regarding the kind of leadership necessary to make the vision a reality. Then, discuss whether those leaders are on the team or available to be drafted to the cause. Don’t waste your time pursuing a vision without the right leadership. Also, don’t forget that raising up the right kind of leadership must be holistic. It includes civic leaders, elected officials, appointed boards and commissions, and staff leadership. A transformational vision does not come to fruition through the efforts of one visionary leader; rather, it spreads virally as the influencers throughout the community catch the vision and begin evangelizing for it on their own. Viral transmission of the vision only occurs with multiple leaders willing to sacrifice for the greater good. Making your strategic vision a reality must be a team effort.
Are you willing to pay the price necessary to make the vision a reality? Successfully transforming a community from what it is to what you want it to become is, by definition, pushing people to change. The more bold and dramatic and world-changing the vision, the stronger the resistance will be. A meaningful strategic vision will be resisted and criticized and ridiculed by those who are clinging to the status quo. Overcoming the naysayers and making your strategic vision a reality requires courage, strength of character, and community buy in — which is a direct byproduct of broad-based and effective leaders who know how to sell the vision and persuade the community that it is worth paying the price that is necessary to make the vision a reality. If your community leadership can agree on what they want your community to become; if they are able to raise up the right civic, elected, appointed and staff leaders to make the vision a reality; and then can agree that they are willing to pay the price to make the vision a reality… anything is possible.