The Future Hasn't Been Put on Hold
A guest article by Quint Studer, founder of Pensacola's Studer Community Insitute, highlighting the need for cities to push forward despite the COVID-19 pandemic
Guest article by Quint Studer of Strongtowns.org
Construction on Vista Brooklyn continues in Brooklyn depsite anxiety related to the pandemic’s impact on the local economy.
There is so much anxiety right now. Communities are overwhelmed, and the future looks more uncertain than it ever has. Budgets are strained. Businesses are fighting to stay alive. Citizens are struggling psychologically and financially. Everyone’s plans have been put on hold. In fact, many of us feel frozen in place. It is a helpless feeling.
I have talked to community leaders across the country, and I know they desperately want to do something to help. It is depressing to be stuck in limbo. Yet many of them have no idea where to begin…on a community level or as individuals.
My feeling is that there are two intertwined solutions. They are “Get Stuff Done” and “Be the One.” Let’s address them one at a time:
Get Stuff Done
It is vital to give people something to hold on to and believe in. When we Get Stuff Done (GSD), that’s exactly what we accomplish. Nothing speaks as loudly as action. It shows us that we do have a bit of control over our lives. It gives us hope for the future and generates energy to take the next step, and the next, and the next. “GSD” is the shovel we’re going to use to dig ourselves out of a deep hole.
GSD is about execution. Most communities have no shortage of great ideas. There are so many that it can feel like trying to drink from a firehose. I have always advised leaders to hit the brakes on the ideas and hit the gas on execution. The most successful organizations and communities are those that take one or two ideas and work relentlessly to bring them to fruition.
Tips for GSD
1. Don’t wait for conditions to be perfect. Yes, things are tough right now. But don’t let it scare you away from taking action. Conditions will never be perfect. At some point, you have to pull into traffic.
2. Pick one or two small changes and do them first. Don’t try to bite off too much. By taking a few small steps to make your community better, you will make a surprisingly big impact.
3. Think carefully about sequencing. Often there is a good reason to put Project 1 ahead of Project 2. Just make sure you think it through before setting things in motion.
4. Celebrate early wins. Make a big deal out of them. Talk them up on social media, in the local paper, and so forth. This will build people’s confidence and enthusiasm. When they see that previous efforts worked, they’ll want more of the same. Early wins generate momentum.
5. Communicate relentlessly about projects. It will take a village to get things moving again. You must get citizens engaged and keep them engaged. Be transparent always. This creates trust, and without trust, you are sunk.
6. Don’t let critical feedback stifle momentum. Not everyone will agree with everything you do. It can be upsetting, but try not to let naysayers derail you.
7. Jump-start (and keep feeding) a sense of community pride. This energizes people, strengthens their sense of identity with community, and makes them feel they have a vested interest in working together to meet community goals.
8. Be realistic. It will take time to get bigger projects done as you revitalize your community—especially now. But over time, success will build on success. Just keep moving forward.
Be the One
As I mentioned, there are lots of great ideas out there. Yet there’s often a shortage of people who are willing to step up and bring those ideas to life. It’s easier to complain and wait for someone else to do it. But when we commit to Be the One (BTO), we become the force that moves from talking about stuff to Getting Stuff Done. (If GSD is our shovel, then BTO gets the shovel out of the shed and puts it to work.)
Nick Demana and Teresa Demana, brother and sister co-owners of Benjamin Steel Company in Springfield, OH, are great examples of BTO. They believe strongly in the power of training and development in keeping local businesses—and thus the community—strong and healthy. When they heard about a chance to start up a training and development program in Springfield, they didn’t wait for someone else. They said, “Here’s the seed money.”
Tips for BTO
1. First, shift your mindset to one of ownership. My community is my responsibility. Every child is my child. This will spur you on to take real action.
2. Change yourself first. Others will see you’ve had a personal revival. I got this idea from a National Public Radio interview I heard with Dallas Pastor Todd Wagner on racial reconciliation. He said we wish for some big sweeping revival to happen. But revival doesn’t happen “out there.” It happens in individuals. What this says to me is that when you want to change a community, you begin by changing your own behaviors. This is how you start to influence others.
3. Educate yourself… If you really want to change your community for the better, make sure you know the issues inside and out. Gather the data, talk to the experts, double-check to make sure your information is accurate.
4.…Yet stay open to new ideas. Never assume you know. Humility is so important. An inflated ego can cause us to make big mistakes that negatively impact others. Listen to the “other side” on controversial issues. You may find you change your mind as you learn more.
5. Bring other engaged and committed people into the fold. BTO doesn’t mean you do all the work yourself! It means finding others with the same goals, leveraging their talents, and tapping into their circles. Who can get things done? Don’t just focus on formal leaders who have the “right” title. Informal leaders—often business leaders, educators, physicians, and others who are highly visible and respected in the community—are a powerful group. Get them on board first.
6. Think of yourself as an enabler/facilitator. Make it clear that you’re not looking to aggressively push an agenda or strong-arm others to do your will. The idea is to help citizens help themselves. Collaborating with others—be they individuals or groups—is the best way to solve problems. Someone just needs to galvanize them.
7. Always keep the well-being of the community in the forefront of your mind. This means making sure you really know your neighbors and their issues. Talk to people everywhere you go. Ask questions and get their opinions. It will help you do regular “gut checks” to make sure you haven’t drifted away from the sense of greater purpose you started with.
“Get Stuff Done” and “Be The One” aren’t just catchphrases or nice ideas. They are life-changing actions. Only by doing will communities and individuals improve, grow, and prosper. We can overcome our current challenges and create a vibrant future for ourselves, our communities, and our nation. It may not happen overnight…but when communities commit to action and individuals step up to do the hard work, it will happen.
Article by Quint Studer originally published at Strongtowns.org. Quint Studer is author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America and Wall Street Journal bestseller The Busy Leader’s Handbook: How to Lead People and Places That Thrive. He is founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life, and Vibrant Community Partners, which coaches communities in building out a blueprint for achieving growth and excellence. Quint speaks and works with communities across the country, helping them execute on their strategic plans, create a better quality of life, and attract and retain talent and investment. He is a businessman, a visionary, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to many. He currently serves as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the University of West Florida, Executive-in-Residence at George Washington University, and Lecturer at Cornell University. For more information, please visit www.thebusyleadershandbook.com, www.vibrantcommunityblueprint.com, and www.studeri.org.