I had the opportunity to participate in the first official convening of the Community Progress Leadership Institute (CPLI) the week of March 15th in Boston. Like so many trainings on community development in addressing locational poverty, you go and you just hope to find some kernel of relevancy to the reality back at home. In my case, home is the Twin Cities Metropolitan area, where I am a program officer at the McKnight Foundation.
As I begin to reflect back on my experience at CPLI, there were two exchanges that were particularly potent.
The first was with Marty Linsky. Marty’s session on Adaptive Leadership was the first time I’ve seen leadership training be “slipped into” a community development training program and, I have to admit, I was dubious as it got underway. However, as it went on, I realized that, in fact, the material Marty was sharing with us could not have been more relevant. Times – as they say – have changed. But systems that support our communities’ health have not. Adaptive Leadership hones in on how each of us behaves as a leader to support the kind of systemic change that is absolutely required in these times. We are dealing with post great recession institutions that must adapt to new ways of working that support community interests and align diminishing resources for greater impact. If that isn’t a leadership challenge, what is?
The second potent exchange of ideas came from Dan Kildee. Dan’s dissection of the tax forfeiture system and management of vacant and abandoned properties by local communities was a powerful example of how a system initially established to solve problems, over time, can begin to create problems, working against community goals in unexpected ways. Time, technology, economic incentives and bureaucratic inertia all play a role in allowing local communities to lose control of land that could be transformed into a community asset. Dan’s analysis included an alternative financing mechanism that could actually create new resources to pay for the improved disposition, re-use and management of tax forfeited properties.
In combination, Marty and Dan provided a powerful concoction that offers new approaches to addressing long-standing issues like vacant and abandoned properties with a new mechanism to make change happen. Adaptive Leadership seems to me to be particularly crucial at this moment in time and definitely necessary for governmental and institutional leaders who have the capacity (but not always the will) to use systems with creativity and flexibility to achieve better results. As I return to my community, I now feel more prepared and supported, especially by the other Minnesotans that attended the training with me, to expand the will to see change happen here.
Eric Muschler is a program associate with the McKnight Foundation in Minneapolis, Minn.