Main Spotlight: Celebrating Community Leaders

October 8, 2019 | Main Spotlight: Celebrating Community Leaders

Wytheville__WV2.jpgMark Bloomfield, Co-Founder of Bloomfield Partners, and Mayor Beth Taylor of Wytheville, VA proudly display their #WeAreMainStreet postcards.

The second month of the We Are Main Street campaign is well underway! This month’s theme is community leaders. From Main Street staff and board members to city leaders and community partners, take this month to celebrate the professionals who are committed to the success of your Main Street by sharing their stories on your social channels using #WeAreMainStreet!

In honor of this month’s theme, we are taking a look back on an article written by Norma Ramirez de Miess, NMSC's Senior Program Manager and Director of Leadership Development, on what it takes to be an effective Main Street leader. (Check out full article here.) While there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all community leader, Norma shares five common characteristics among programs and communities leading successful revitalization efforts and provides insights and perspectives from Main Street leaders across the nation.

Effective Leaders Value People

On Main Street, we are all familiar with the saying “retention is our best recruitment tool.” This doesn’t only apply when we are talking about business development. It also rings true for Main Street America organizations, and the people — both staff and volunteers — that make it all possible. Effective leaders recognize people as the greatest asset for success and strive to leverage their support as a talent source, not simply as a labor force. Valuing people is essential for building trust, confidence, and ultimately, positive and active engagement in revitalization efforts.

We asked you: How do you show your staff, volunteers, partners, etc. that you value them?

Guidance, group input, and collaboration are key ingredients when working with people who are your volunteers, partners, and staff. Expressing appreciation with small tokens or a quick text or email to let them know their work is valued is a great way to continue to show how important they are to your organization. Valued people work harder and create a better environment for everyone. - Carolyn Honeycutt, Ellensburg Downtown Association, WA

Each year we hold a volunteer recognition party in February that the volunteers can bring their spouses/others to just enjoy each other’s company with refreshments. We recognize one volunteer from each of our 5 committees and then announce our Leadership Award winner for the year who is recognized in April at the state level. We continue to have new volunteers join us and I think it is because they can have fun, feel successful and the time commitment is manageable. - Peg Raney, Jefferson Matters: Main Street, IA

Effective Leaders Build Capacity

The role of a Main Street director is often compared to that of a choir director or conductor. Their talents are best utilized as leaders of the entire group. They are responsible for bringing diverse talent together, empowering individuals to find their perfect fit and flourish, forming teams that have common ground, and then leading the entire group to produce the desired outcomes. Just as a conductor is not expected to fill in for the violinist, it is not recommended that Main Street directors take on specific tasks, manage individual projects, or lead committees that others within the organization are able to handle. The director’s crucial responsibility is to lead the entire program and empower his or her base through participatory leadership.

We asked you: What has been your biggest barrier to building capacity and how did you overcome it?

Perception has been the biggest barrier to building capacity. Perception that we were a government agency, perception that the City covered all of our expenses, or perception that we were/were not responsible for certain activities in our community. In an effort to change perceptions, four years ago we led an aggressive communication effort that used multiple outlets to start telling our story. We needed to build understanding and change the negative perceptions. It took baby steps, celebrating the small successes, and continually telling others about ourselves and the positive impact that Main Street has on the community not only each year, but over the long-run. - Cathleen Edgerly, Howell Main Street Inc., MI

I was at a national conference a couple years ago and the keynote speaker gave a quote that changed my thinking and removed a big barrier: “The lack of resources is no longer an excuse NOT to act.” I stopped using resources as excuse and started thinking outside the box. - Linda Haglund, Wenatchee Downtown Association, WA

Effective Leaders Lead Through Strategy

The work of Main Street revitalization is two-fold — there are programming activities that help achieve the transformation of the commercial district, and there is the organizational structure that includes assembling the human and financial resources to make it all happen. Effective leaders understand that both need defined vision and direction.

We asked you: What are your best words of advice for defining strategic direction, staying focused, and not taking on projects that do not serve the community’s vision for your district?

When presented with opportunities, stay true to your mission. As intriguing as a partnership or project may be, if it doesn’t fit within your organization’s mission and strategic plan, you need recognize it and move onto a project that is a better fit. Our downtown is experiencing a period of growth, which includes a plaza area that will be privately owned, but under management by a soon-to-be established non-profit entity. As important as we think the plaza will be to our downtown, when asked to include it in our streetscape fundraising campaign, we were unable to do so since our plan calls for us to focus on specific streetscape features. - Carol Lilly, Community Main Street, IA

Our mission is very clear, if an appealing opportunity is not within our mission, I would encourage the volunteer in question to consider finding another organization to pursue said opportunity. If this opportunity is indeed in our mission, then I would ask the volunteer to agree to be chair. No chair, no project. The greatest idea is worthless without a volunteer to manage it. - Joe Jennison, Mount Vernon-Lisbon Community Development Group, IA

Effective Leaders Stand on Solid Ground

The strength of the Main Street movement is demonstrated by the passion and commitment of everyone involved. Stakeholders bring a range of interests and diversity in perspectives regarding the needs and ideals for revitalization. Main Street leaders have an important role in helping build an environment that not only welcomes diversity of expression, but offers a path to building consensus and confirming a common vision for the future of the district. This role requires leaders to stand on solid ground as proactive advocates for the district and ambassadors of the vision for its future.

We asked you: What are your best tips for advocating for your district and creating an environment that welcomes diversity of expression? What have you found to be the best means for resolving tension due to conflicting priorities among stakeholders?

The most common conflicts we face result from a difference in values. Some people simply don’t value community cores, public amenities, entrepreneurship, or quality of life efforts. We have to make sure that we clearly state our values and why we believe our values are important. Communicating the necessity of equitable reciprocation within partnerships prior to engaging in initiatives can help diffuse some issues. But, conflict is inevitable whenever you are creating change. Conflict should always be mitigated, but not at the cost of progress. As long as people have a clear under-standing of everyone’s value system, short term goals, and partnership requirements, common ground can usually be found.      - Casey Woods, Emporia Main Street, Kansas

Honest, sincere, and regular communication with our community has allowed us to keep conflicts to a minimum. We work hard to develop partnerships with our City leaders and Council as well as the district businesses so that we can build channels that allow that two-way conversation. We invite participation in our events, on our board, and within our volunteer pool, from different ethnicities, different age groups, and genders. - Kelly Haverkate, Dayton Community Development Association, OR

Effective Leaders Never Stop Learning

We often say that there is never a boring moment on Main Street, but there can be plenty of overwhelming ones. It’s not uncommon to think of the position of Main Street director as a master of all trades, encompassing wide-ranging areas of expertise normally led by several different individuals within local government or community development organizations. To be most effective in this capacity, Main Street directors must bolster their own skills by maintaining a strong commitment to professional development and encouraging the people they serve with to learn alongside them. This ultimately will foster an environment for continued innovation and growth for everyone involved in the revitalization effort.

We asked you: How do you prioritize and address your individual professional development and that of your leadership base to continue to enhance and innovate your revitalization and community’s efforts?

Well, honestly the National Main Street Conference has been a game changer for me. In the first few years in this job, I used the excuse of money. Now when I come back from the conference, my brain is full of ideas and I simply see things differently. So much so that my board automatically includes it in my budget. We need to see things new or we get stale. Get out of your town and visit other Main Street programs at the very least. See what works and what doesn’t. - Linda Haglund, Wenatchee Downtown Association, WA

I try to schedule one workshop a quarter to attend from these or similar organizations in areas where I have less expertise or simply wish to refresh myself. It is amazing how many ideas and initiatives that we have pursued in Bandon have germinated from this personal development. And realizing that, you understand that you must let that culture build throughout the organization. I believe that leadership is an action we all can take. You must create the space for leadership to emerge. You actively support and mentor your staff and volunteers’ professional development. When that development leads to their departure to another place inside or outside the community, you have another party to network with outside of the organization and another opportunity opening within the organization for someone else to develop professionally. - Harv Schubothe, Greater Bandon Association, OR

Which characteristics would you add to this list? Please post on your social channels using #WeAreMainStreet and stay tuned to our social channels (Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook) for additional insights and perspectives of community leaders from across the country on what it takes to be an effective leader.

As a reminder, November's theme is GIVING THANKS! There’s no better time than the month of Thanksgiving to share your gratitude for all the people who power your Main Street program in ways both big and small. Check out the full list of monthly themes in the official We Are Main Street Campaign Toolkit.