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Leadership Snohomish County (LSC) is a nonprofit that connects, ignites and develops county-specific sustainable leaders to strengthen our communities. Each year, we help experienced and emerging leaders in Snohomish County gain an understanding of the critical issues affecting the region and the stewardship capabilities needed to resolve them. Through our nine-month Signature Program and Young Professionals Program, we work in small teams with the business, government and nonprofit sectors as Community Impact Project Partners. LSC features more than 700 alumni who remain strongly invested in Snohomish County.

Inspiration from Local Leaders

What defines a community? It's not always what you'd think.

What Defines A Community?

Erika Olson

Psst… Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting applications for its signature and young adult program for 2016-2017. Know a great leader? Nominate that person today for this amazing program!

By Sara Haner, Signature Class Member

Leaders wear so many hats. Visionary. Therapist. Cleaner-upper of messes. Community builder. (Sometimes, all of these hats are worn before 9:00 a.m. on a Monday. Yikes.) This month, I’d like to take off the hats and take a closer look.

Before we can talk about building a community, we need to know exactly what defines a community. It’s not always what you’d think. The Positive Leadership curriculum explains that a community is a group of people who are connected through certain attributes that work together over time to meet common needs and solve common problems. Attributes can be defined by living in close physical proximity, common interests, or working towards a common cause, among other things. But, as we discussed in class, having a group that is defined by some of these attributes isn’t enough to make a community.

Think of a group you’re affiliated with that might meet this criteria. Maybe it’s an extended family, a workplace, a volunteer opportunity, or a social circle? It’s possible this group is a community, but it’s also quite possible that this is merely a place of association.

Places of association aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re a leader looking to make a big impact and real change, you should be striving towards community building instead.


Building a Community

Communities can’t just happen overnight. To build a community, a leader needs to focus on three key stages: galvanize, organize, and mobilize.

Galvanize This stage is all about rounding up your squad. It’s identifying and bringing together individuals and calling them to something greater. Of course, this something greater must speak to each of them as a whole, so the galvanization stage must include shared values and a common purpose.

Organize After you’ve identified your crew and agreed on your purpose, the leader must provide the tools for the community to move forward cohesively to accomplish its purpose. In this stage, rules and norms should be established, giving your community members clarity and a sharper focus on why they became a community in the first place. In my personal experience, I’ve seen leaders skip over this stage, or get stuck in it without moving forward. Organization is so important to a community, but is also a fine line. Too little organization creates confusion. (Been there). Too much organization feels stifling and confining. (Been there). The right amount of organization equips your community with the tools it needs to remain focused on its mission, and move together as one unit. (Luckily, been there, too!).

Mobilize To me, this is the fun part! In this stage, you’ve assembled and identified your community, you’ve equipped community members with the tools they need to succeed, and now, you point them in the right direction and cut them lose! In this stage, your community gets to act on its purpose, and it feels so fulfilling! This is such an important stage, because in the words of the Positive Leadership Curriculum, communities need to move, or they will stagnate.

In some communities, each of these stages can happen organically, but an effective community builder understands the importance of building a community deliberately, and making sure each stage is complete before moving on to the next.

As I’ve been working through the concept of community building, I’m reflecting quite a bit on one of my favorite communities right now – my Leadership Snohomish County cohort. In this community, members are encouraged to be themselves (authenticity). When times are tough, people pitch in to help each other (resiliency). People feel developed because the organization wants them to grow (advocacy). These and other qualities make this a positive, healthy community. If you’re interested in being part of a community like this, it’s the perfect time to join us! Leadership Snohomish County is now accepting applications for its 2016-2017 classes!