ON THIS BLOG...Our staff and partners highlight acts of courageous leadership, and opportunities for you and your community to engage in creating a vital shared future.
There’s something about a Chautauqua tent that twists your mind just enough to let in new perspectives and create inspiring connections. That’s what happened last week on the beautiful campus of the University of Minnesota-Morris for the first-ever (we think) Leadership Chautauqua. I want to thank all of the participants and our co-hosts, the Leadership Learning Community and the Center for Small Towns, for pulling together such a refreshing event.
Over 80 people who run, study and/or fund community leadership development programs in the Upper Midwest gathered there near the confluence of Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, in the refreshing chill of the early prairie summer, then rain and wind, and finally good old summer heat and humidity. Many participants stayed and joined in with community leaders from across the region for the Symposium on Small Towns, which shared the theme of “Reigniting Community Leadership: Being Bold in the Face of Change.”
Being outside under a tent was, for me, a good physical reminder of leadership itself – some days you have absolutely perfect conditions for clear sailing ahead and others are dark and stormy. A great sense of community builds when you’re huddled together– not from listening to one lecture alone, but from listening to and sharing with all 80 of the accomplished, experienced people within the Chautauqua fabric. Through the rain and shine you persevere and discover what millions of people also discovered in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: that “for many the Circuit Chautauqua was a welcome sight providing entertainment and enlightenment. As one spectator concluded, "[our] town was never the same after Chautauqua started coming.... It broadened our lives in many ways."
Given the vigorous discussions, I think the Leadership Chautauqua broadened perspectives on the idea of leadership itself, from the more narrow definition we often ascribe to being a “leader” (someone who’s in charge) to the idea so aptly explained in The Community Leadership Handbook (Jim Krile, former director of the Blandin Community Leadership Program, 2006): “Community leadership occurs when anyone, regardless of their official position or lack of it, works to develop and sustain the health of their community.”
If you want to read about more of the “entertainment and enlightenment” we experienced in the tent on the prairie, here’s a great description from one of the participants, Dennis Deery: Small Towns & Leadership, Does It Get Any Better?
Talk Back to Bush
Do you have misgivings about the word and intent of the concept of “leader” and/or “leadership?” Can we reclaim the idea of community leadership as active citizenship – people working together on what’s possible in their community to improve its vitality – no matter title or authority or lack thereof?