North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

November 7, 2011

Leadership: Do you have what it takes?

By Teresa Vise
The North Jefferson News

COMMENTARY — We are moving in to an election year, and now is a great time to take a moment to consider the requirements of board membership, civic involvement and municipal elections. Many will consider accepting board appointments, renewing commitments and running for office.

As we look to the future and anticipate growth, it is important to prepare for the evolving and increasing demands of these responsibilities. As we have written here before, if called to service in an elected office, it is important to enter with a certain level of contemplation and humility. It is an important service role, and one that most would decline if asked to shoulder.

However, if you in fact do feel called to take on public service as an elected official or as a volunteer, please consider some of the training and self direction that may help you fill that function at a higher level.

As we have discussed here before, this is a decision-making role that is done for the voter and constituent, and not to them. In the words of Sen. Brown from Massachusetts, it is the seat of the people, not the elected official.

There is a reason that elections occur periodically, and painful as it may be, we the voter are subjected to a seemingly endless parade of campaign ads, and maybe even the occasional personal visit or fund-raising event invitation. I highly endorse that you accept and go. Please go and shake hands with potential candidates, look them in the eye, get to know the issues and by all means get to know the ideas and visions of those that may carry the flag for you.  

Truth is, it is a bit tough to find a standard for candidates with regard to any best practice measure. A desire for formal leadership training and development is really not required. We should not assume that someone will be capable of leadership or leading, but that given the circumstance, the leader will emerge. So it really is up to each of us to put personal leadership development on our list of very important skills on which to work.  

I would suggest that the process of leadership training should be streamlined so as to meet a more common understanding of “best practice.” When there is a unified view of what “good looks like” for the mission and vision of a city, area, state or ultimately, country, then we will more likely move in a more synergized direction. Do not misread me here. I am not suggesting that everyone read the same sheet of music, but I do suggest strongly that we have a system of expectation of basic skills and abilities before someone takes office or holds a board position.  

I strongly suggest that an active leadership development program which is supported by civic, chamber and elected leaders be developed and participation encouraged. Maybe we can call it something like “Leadership North Jefferson County,” and create a program hedged toward the successful integration of trained leaders representing all manner of participants barring race, gender, geographic, political and economic persuasion. A good place to start will be any current board member, council member or elected official in your town or mine.  

Pulling from the play sheet of the Alabama Community of Excellence book, leadership development should support basic skills such as planning, problem-solving, teamwork, interpersonal skills, conflict management and valuing diversity. Tying this in to a youth leadership element will provide strong mentor opportunities and everyone will benefit from that. Lastly, a strong leadership training program will be real-world and connect our leaders in a positive manner with the community improvement plans and constituents that make it happen. Do you have a structured and trained sales team to promote the city? Do the members of your industrial development board, economic development team or staff attend state conferences for leadership, collaboration and training? What are the workforce and training education programs for your community?  

There are many untapped opportunities for leadership development not touched on here. Many elements for some cities have been achieved or are in the works to be achieved, but now is not the time to take a breath. Just like any call to leadership, the work is never finished. I am not certain who said this, but I like it: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists; when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, we did it ourselves.”

Take some time to think about this idea this week and let me know if you have any ideas on the topic. The purpose of this weekly business column remains to address the business concerns of our north Jefferson area and to learn how to better navigate the shifting waters of business, politics and civic action, all which affect your viability.

You have been reading my ideas for going into three years now. Perhaps you have some ideas too.

Teresa supports the Fultondale Chamber of Commerce. You can find additional readings at http://businessadvise4u.blogspot.com. Email her at visemedical@bellsouth.net.