Homegrown Leaders

On any given day, if you happened to pull up next to me at a stoplight, you probably catch me singing a favorite tune, certain that my version sounds just as good as the voice I'm emulating on the radio.  The last couple of days, you would hear me bellowing out one of my favorite Zac Brown songs, Homegrown.  I just can't seem to get the lyrics to that song out of my head, especially the last lines of the refrain...

'Live in a small town where it feels like home
I've got everything I need, and nothin' that I don't.'

On Monday our Armstrong McGuire team had a great opportunity to visit with leaders from the NC Rural Center.  Special thanks to Patrick, Todd, and John for sharing insights about the challenges facing rural communities in our state as well as the strategies they are championing as they live into their mission of developing, promoting, and implementing sound economic strategies to improve the quality of life of rural North Carolinians.

One area that captured my attention was the Center’s focus on enhancing the leadership skills of civic, faith and business leaders who call one the 80 rural counties in North Carolina home.  Their Homegrown Leadership program seeks to support inclusive, connected, informed, and creative leaders by:

  • Increasing understanding of data and trends in a region,
  • Increasing understanding of comprehensive community economic development,
  • Teaching skills in effective collaboration at the local and regional levels,
  • Increasing knowledge of resources available to local communities and how to access them,
  • Building regional networks of community leaders that promotes peer learning, resource sharing, and collaboration

As a proud product of rural North Carolina (shout to my friends in Mount Gilead), I am grateful for the commitment the Rural Center makes to the people who live, work and raise their families in these special places.  

Nonprofit leaders thinking about their organization's leadership pipeline can learn a great lesson from the Center about developing the "homegrown" team members working inside your own organization. Just as communities seek homegrown men and women to start businesses and provide civic leadership, so can nonprofits nurture the talent that is hiding in plain sight inside their programs and services teams, finance and HR offices, communications and development shops, etc.  The key is to be intentional in identifying them, cultivating their talents, and building their passion for your work. Some of the keys to your homegrown success include:  

  • Making investments in professional development opportunities and identifying talented team members who demonstrate the leadership attributes that are important to your organization.
  • Helping staff at all levels and across all departments appreciate the significance of your organization's work.  
  • Helping employees appreciate how their role fits into achieving your mission.
  • Encouraging teams from different parts of the agency to collaborate with each other.
  • Inviting staff from across the agency to participate in special events, strategic planning activities and other organization-wide efforts where they can network, learn more about your mission and find additional ways they can help impact your success.

Being intentional in these efforts will help you attract, develop and retain the next group of leaders capable of taking your organization to new heights.

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