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Optimizing a Leadership Team

By Jamie Hofling | October 20, 2014

ERG 2012-1

As I become more familiar with E-Community leadership teams, I’m recognizing the importance of certain elements of the team that help them be proactive in their approach to building an entrepreneurial culture. It can’t be overlooked that the leadership team and others involved in building the culture are primarily made up of volunteers therefore it is crucial that the right people be on the team and that there be a common thread, a shared purpose among members. I have been in team meetings that give the feeling of being lost on a dark highway with no road map in site. A stated purpose not only provides the road map for initiatives but it attracts motivated people to the group. I returned to Lyon County, one of the first year communities I've been following, to see what I could learn about how they address the need for a cohesive base of volunteers. The Lyon County E-Community leadership team is made up of the Emporia Main Street board, an organization that is in its twenty-third year with a director that’s been in place for five years. When I sit in their meetings what I notice first is an agenda with topics that include review of finished projects and discussion of upcoming projects. I learned from Casey Woods, the Emporia Main Street Director, that each project the group partakes in has a point person and objectives. He presented me with a notebook filled with forms with details of each project. The exercise defines the intended outcome so that everyone volunteering on that project understands the objectives and helps the board see whether or not to pursue the same project again.

So how do they get these people on the board that bring ideas and see projects through? In Emporia, people start on a committee as a trial and their performance is noted by members of the board. When it is time for board appointments they know exactly who to ask. They also seek to have a variety of perspectives and skill sets on the board. Board members actively pursue individuals who they think represent the missing skill or perspective. Casey explained that the diversity on his board makes it easier to know exactly who to ask to speak to specific groups in the community. For example the board member that represents Emporia State University is his point person when he needs to get information out to or from the college. He further explained that it is helpful to have some members who write checks that sponsor projects, some who inspire community members and recruit volunteers, and some that roll up their sleeves and put forth the labor to get things done.

Uncommon Threads

Each board and community is different but these are a few areas that have worked in Emporia and have brought them to where they are today, an organization that is tapped into the pulse of the business community, partners with organizations to put on 35-40 events annually, recruits volunteers for help, engages in two-way communication with its community, and has a diverse board connected by a shared purpose. 


Ideas for Optimizing a Leadership Team or Board

  • Have a stated purpose for the group, to draw a group of cohesive, motivated volunteers
  • Keep meetings focused by using an agenda
  • Engage members with diverse skills from across the community
  • Give potential board members a trial period
  • Make board service active: each member should contribute
  • Assign “point people” to projects and assign specific objectives and outcomes
  • Use current board members to identify potential new members