One of the Circle of Impact Guiding Principles is that we should ‘act locally.’
The focus on these actions is our local community. Here we can have direct relationships with the people who benefit from our leadership initiatives.
What is a ‘local community’?
Is it just a place where people live?
Is a local community simply a place for economic activity?
Communities are not just places where people sleep and shop when they are not at work.
They are where their kids go to school, where first responders protect and serve, and where generations live out their family traditions.
What creates a local community isn’t stores and houses, but people. With people you get traditions and values that create a distinctive community culture.
In my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change, I write about a project that I did for a large, community based business. Our purpose was to develop a values statement. This followed a period of time where the senior executives of this company had financially benefitted from their positions in an unethical way.
In developing the values statement, I learned that this company was deeply embedded in the culture of their city. It was a place that kids who grew up there wanted to go to work there, and spend their entire careers there. What the experience of unethical leadership taught them was that their community values were fragile and under threat by people who did not have their community’s best interest in mind.
A root of the problem for this company and its community was the unacknowledged assumption that all economic advancement is good. However, quite often over-investment overwhelms a local community’s culture and character.
I have seen this in communities all over the United States. What is it that I see? Three images.
Travel from one city to another and not be able to tell what city I am in. More importantly, it really doesn’t matter. I can buy the same products, stay in the same hotels, eat in the same restaurants, and shop in the same national chain stores. This sameness represents a loss of something valuable to a local community.
Travel to suburban communities I see empty storefronts and abandoned factories. Investment made and gone, emptying those places that once were centers of community activity. As a result, people learn that it is just easier to shop online.
Travel to small, economically marginal towns away from the wealth of large cities, where their citizens are deeply engaged with caring for what little that they have.
Local Traditions and Values
The Ideas dimension of the Circle of Impact has four aspects to it. There are Values, Purpose, Vision and Impact.
These ideas are how we distinguish our sense of identity as persons and as communities. Our purpose for impact can change. Our vision for the future can change. But what is nonnegotiable are the values that support who we are and how we define the impact that we want to have.
It is the same for communities as it is for individuals.
For example, in chapter 12 of the Circle of Impact, Creating a Culture for Leadership, I tell a story about Craig, who is a local businessman whose focus is on supporting the whole of his community. He is motivated to develop his business because he wants his community to be a place where young people grow up and can stay, do good work and raise their families. These are community values that drives Craig to invest in the structures that serve people.
One of the ways we see a community’s values represented are in the traditions that matter to the people whose families have lived there for generations. Our family lived in a town for several years who had a tradition of a fall festival. One of the activities of this festival was a parade for the fire departments for the region. All the community would gather on a Friday night on the streets of our town as one fire company after another would parade through with lights flashing and sirens blaring. It was a tradition whose value may be obscure to an outsider, but mattered to the local residents because most of these fire departments were staffed by volunteers from the families they served.
These kinds of traditions are the core of what makes a local community healthy. I’m also certain that it is what attracts people to want to live there. At least until, over investment drives out the traditions because they can be obstacles to economic development. The end result of over investment in a place are the empty storefronts of once local businesses and the loss of economic vitality because a balance between the economic and the human dimensions was ignored.
Caring for Local Communities
Recently, I spoke with the owner of one independent bookstore in a suburban community outside a large city. She told me about how people are now looking for smaller places to shop, like a bookstore. She said her store is up 17% in sales because her store is engaged with the people who live there.
I am not the only one who believes that we should support our local communities. However, we need to see that supporting our schools, our local businesses and the organizations that care for people is not enough. We need to see a local community as an integrated whole. It isn’t just about economic development, but also a local community’s values that have existed for generations.
Taking Personal Initiative
We need, therefore, to take personal initiative in two specific areas.
First, we need to talk about community values. Especially, if the community needs to say no in order to preserve its culture and traditions.
Second, we need to support local businesses and organizations. Support them with our patronage and with our financial and volunteer support.
My Campaign for Local Independent Bookstores
I have been committed to the support of local communities since I established my consulting practice in the mid-1990s. During my book promotion tour, I have talked with hundreds of people. They have altered my perception of what is now important. We need to be more intentional about caring for our local communities, regardless of size or economic vitality.
I’ve concluded that local independent booksellers are a key business that needs our support. A local bookstore is a resource for local information and gathering place for people in your community. They feature local authors and host local events. Here’s how you can join me in supporting them.
Go to your local independent bookseller and purchase a copy of my book, Circle of Impact: Taking Personal Initiative To Ignite Change. Take a picture of the receipt clearly showing your purchase of the book with book title and store name on it. Send me the picture (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I will in turn send you a signed copy of my book. All I will need is your mailing address, and to whom you would like the signed copy to honor.
The Transition Before Us
One of my guiding principles is that ‘the greatest change that we go through is in our self-understanding.’ It is just as true for communities as it is for individuals.
The transition before us requires us to think deeply in conversation as members of our local communities to decide who we are and what kind of community do we want to leave to our children and our grandchildren.
If your community is in transition that fills you with concern, then let’s talk. It is time local communities talk about their future.