The community rebuilders: Linetta Gilbert and Kelly Lucas
Question: Considering all spheres of endeavor, who would you nominate as Leader of the Year in 2010? Why?
I have two nominees with whom I have had the privilege of working; both are professionals in the field of philanthropy. They are profiles in leadership and capture the vision, passion, courage, skill and tenacity needed to bring about real community change.
Kelly Lucas is the president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Greater South Wood County (CFGSWC) in Central Wisconsin. Linetta Gilbert is a recently retired senior program officer at the Ford Foundation, and founder of a new philanthropic initiative. In 2005 these two leaders' paths converged and shaped an initiative that is transforming the culture of the economy in the mid-region of Wisconsin.
In 2001, shortly after Kelly assumed her position at the CFGSWC, the region's major employer was sold to a Scandinavian corporation and, in the ensuing transition, 500 jobs were lost. Although the area had experienced a decade of closings and relocations, this loss constituted an undeniably devastating blow to the region and put the need for attention to economic development front and center. At a time when the community most needed to come together, fear, insecurity and anxiety became impediments, and public displays of hostility and divisiveness were becoming the norm. Conflicts would erupt at school board meetings and other public venues; letters to the editor were accusatory and distrust was rampant.
Kelly and the CFGSWC board, who were already in the process of strategic planning and evaluating the role of the community foundation, questioned how to best respond to the situation. At the same time, the field of philanthropy was debating whether the traditional functions of foundations--asset development and grant making--were still appropriate in dealing with the constantly changing reality that so many communities face across the country. This moment of reflection, evaluation and planning led Kelly to form a collaboration with the Heart of Wisconsin Business Alliance. Together they created the Community Progress Initiative (CPI), a comprehensive economic development effort with the vision of increasing innovation, developing jobs, encouraging entrepreneurial activity, developing community leadership and increasing social capital in the region. Kelly and her colleagues realized that economic recovery and sustainable community health required a strong network of leaders with a different set of leadership skills from the usual. They chose a non-traditional approach to a problem common to thousands of communities.
Kelly shared the community's situation and the vision of CPI with Linetta Gilbert, received insightful feedback about their ideas, and was encouraged to respond to the crisis with a sense of clear mission and a comprehensive plan for recovery and growth. The CFGSWC worked with all of the surrounding municipalities and discovered that what was missing in their already impressive beginning was adaptive leadership development. They could have easily selected the traditional community leadership model of training that occurs in hundreds of communities, but Kelly recognized that the circumstances demanded something different and she persisted in obtaining it.
Linetta Gilbert, who just retired from the Ford Foundation where she worked as a highly regarded senior program officer, was widely noted for her portfolio of national programs that addressed economic development through the lenses of social justice and equity. In conversations with Kelly, Linetta immediately recognized the uniqueness as well as the universality of the issues facing central Wisconsin. She knew that the standard approach to economic development in failing communities would not suffice and arranged for funding that would help CFGSWC train a diverse representation of business, education, civic, government and social-service leaders in adaptive skills--those skills required when the problems are complex and seemingly intransigent, and when those with the problem must be participants in solving it.
The effects of their efforts are impressive. A hundred established and emerging leaders from all over the region have gone through the Advanced Leadership Institute (ALI). In addition to equipping leaders with adaptive skills to lead and manage change, resolve conflict constructively and take ideas from concept to commitment, ALI alumni have helped to develop significant programs in workforce development, environmental stewardship, public civility, communication and education. With the support of the CFGSWC, a small group of ALI alumni launched "Speak Your Peace"--an initiative to promote civility in political and social discourse. Another alumni group served as key partners in launching "Workforce Central," an initiative that has redesigned the region's approach to workforce development and helped Central Wisconsin become one of two rural sites in the country to be awarded a grant from the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. And there are other indicators of a remarkable transformation in attitude and community efficacy as well: increased collaboration between the region's municipalities, planning for regional transportation and shared recreational trails, and a revitalized downtown development effort.
It is rare to find a community facing such difficulty and challenge that has been able to deal so effectively and constructively with adversity. Although my company provided the ALI training, it could not have succeeded without the visionary leadership of both grantee and funder--two leaders who grasped the enormity of the problem, saw the potential in crisis and committed to making certain that the real work of change and use of adaptive skills would happen. It is unusual to see an institution engage in the deep work of honestly evaluating its mission and changing its strategy to respond to community need, using a model that integrated technical and adaptive skills and inner and outer work. But that is exactly what CFGSWC, under the leadership of Kelly Lucas, did. It is rare to have philanthropic leaders risk departing from traditional views of grant making to support those leading change with a different perspective and set of skills, but that is exactly what Linetta Gilbert did.
Linetta and Kelly recognized that investing in leadership cannot be a philanthropic fad of the year; it is risky business, and every bit as important as the most adroit financial investment decision. The payoff from an investment portfolio is tangible, measurable and (with any hope) lucrative; the payoff from an investment in leaders in a region that seemed "down and out for the count" is cultural transformation and increased social capital in a community with the capacity to respond capably to adversity--priceless outcomes!
These two nominees for leader of the year know that creating viable communities must be continual work, and that success will have no specific end point. It will be measured by a series of thoughtful and sometimes extemporaneous movements, toward the direction of a shared vision that holds a community and its citizens in trust. Both of these leaders exhibit the wisdom and resilience that comes from having experienced adversity, and from learning time-tested lessons of survival.
Kelly and Linetta remind us all that excellence in leadership exists in many places and cannot be equated solely with visibility. They, like so many other leaders, may never grace the cover of a national magazine; yet each one has had an impact on thousands of lives and future generations. Their nomination is recognition of this, and of all leaders who are making their communities safe, inclusive, caring and viable places for people to live and make meaningful contributions to society.
Katherine Tyler Scott
December 22, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Category: Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Economic crisis , Nonprofit Leadership , Teaching Leadership , Women in Leadership Save & Share:
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