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How to be a Great Community Leader

Community Leadership – Lessons of Greatness

During April’s Community Leadership session, the 2012 Bismarck-Mandan Women’s Leadership Program participants were fortunate to learn lessons of passion, fortuity, tenacity, and resilience from several strong women leaders. The women leaders on the Community Leadership Panel included political leaders—North Dakota Senator Margaret Sitte, Mandan City Commissioner Dot Frank, and Bismarck City Commissioner Brenda Smith—and nonprofit leaders—Sue Buchholz, Director of Central Dakota Humane Society, and Shelle Michaels Aberle, Deputy Director of Development for Soldiers’ Angels.

Although their roles, personalities, and stories were unique, each woman had an obvious passion for her community leadership contributions. Senator Sitte’s eyes lit up when she talked about improving our state. Commissioner Frank and Commissioner Smith both radiated a genuine desire to contribute to and develop our cities. Sue sparkled when she spoke about the animals for which she is able to provide care. Shelle’s commitment to our troops shined as she talked enthusiastically about her advocacy activities. These women love the community leadership roles they are pursuing.

In addition to passion, most of the women on the Community Leadership Panel spoke of a fortuitous event or series of events that led to community leadership roles. Some of the women attributed it to divine intervention and others to luck. Regardless of its origin, each was able to see and appreciate a spark that was the beginning of her journey.

The spark, without continued fuel, could have just fizzled out. Each of these women, though, was able to find the motivation and support systems needed to sustain and grow her passion. In North Dakota, most of us work hard. An important key to community leadership is leveraging and channeling our hard work toward a deeper sense of purpose.

According to the women on the Community Leadership Panel, the task of working toward meaningful contributions is not always easy. To protect the integrity of our passion, luck, and hard work, we must also develop “thick skin.” Some of the participants pointed to fear of harsh criticism or failure as one of the main reasons that they might hesitate to become involved in politics or community leadership roles. The Community Leadership Panel provided several suggestions about how to develop the resiliency needed for long-term community leadership, including: synthesize reliable resources and the input of trusted advisors, supporters, and well-intentioned dissenters to make the best decisions you can; educate well-intentioned dissenters on the facts and logic you used to make your decisions; and ignore those who merely seek to degrade you with their criticism.

We can choose to overcome our fears of criticism and failure. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” For each of us, it is a personal choice. We might pause to ask ourselves—do we value bettering our community by vehemently pursuing our passions enough to choose to overcome our fears of criticism and failure? And then, even when we are able to answer this question affirmatively, we may find a deeper fear underneath—a fear of success. As Marianne Williamson said,

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond imagination. It is our light more than our darkness which scares us. We ask ourselves – who are we to be brilliant, beautiful, talented, and fabulous. But honestly, who are you to not be so?

It might sound like a romantic and even idealistic notion to move beyond our fears to seize our own greatness. And yet, the 2012 Bismarck-Mandan Women’s Leadership Program participants learned from five women in our community who are doing just that.


Molly Brooks is a 2012 participant of the Bismarck-Mandan Women’s Leadership Program. She is the Program Manager for the North Dakota Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification Program at the Information Technology Department.

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