Great Leaders Serve Their Communities

Gulf Coast


Titles and leaders are two different things. I’ve been reminded of this early and often in my work at Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

Take the Gulf Coast board of directors. Their collective résumé lists bona fides that would rival any organization of our kind. But they are more than a board full of titles. They are a board of courageous leaders. They allow Gulf Coast to take calculated risks, venture into new territory and redefine what it means to be a community foundation. It’s what I so admire and rely on in them.

Right now, we need more service-above-self leadership from all sectors. Fortunately, there seems to be a swell of interest across our demographic and political spectrums in local, action-oriented leadership. Where such waves originate is open to debate. But the more productive question to me is, How do we help aspiring leaders turn instinct and inspiration into positive impact?

I turned to the curriculum of our annual Gulf Coast Leadership Institute for some ideas to share. Louise Hill, the University of Georgia faculty member who expertly leads this program, reminded me of five behaviors of exemplary leaders that she discusses with every leadership class.

The practices were identified by academics Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner in their 30-year-old book The Leadership Challenge. Paraphrased and ordered in the way Louise likes to address them, they are:

  • Challenging the process
  • Inspiring a shared vision
  • Enabling others to act
  • Modeling the way
  • Encouraging the heart

You can explore these behaviors further in Kouzes and Posner’s book or on its companion website. (Or by applying for this year’s Leadership Institute!)

Whether it’s planning the future of Sarasota’s Bayfront or trying to address the causes and effects of an issue like homelessness, leaders would do well to employ and embody the practices listed above. From my own experience, I’ll add an underlying approach in executing each of them: Be authentic. Over the long haul—and leading is a long haul—authenticity matters.

The best community leadership is about the community, not the leader. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.”

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation.

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