Community Belonging – August 2023

Community Belonging – August 2023

Which would you rather work on today?

___Building a clinic addition to serve more of your community’s medical needs, or

___Building capacity for your community to address the factors that impact health beyond the medical building (like housing, child care, access to healthy food, and other social determinants of health.

While building a clinic may be more in your direct line of responsibility, your community needs you to bring your talents outside the healthcare walls. The need goes both ways, especially in rural communities where the hospital/clinic is a major employer and contributor to the community’s financial stability. In turn, without the community’s support of your hospital/clinic you can’t survive. It makes good business sense to strongly support community health initiatives that may not have an immediate and direct payoff.

What does this have to do with belonging? The leadership approach that works best in building strong communities is all about the skills that foster belonging.

There is a place for multiple styles of leadership but the following chart offers some nuances in shifting your approach from directing to collaborating. If the left column below is more your comfort zone, the rest of the chart can offer actions for growing connections in your community, (and they will also work inside your building).


Hospital/Clinic Leadership is often valued for: Community Leadership needs you for: To shift to more Community-Styled Leadership that fosters belonging:

Being in charge of a team

Being a partner on a team

  • Let others lead. What kind of follower are you?
  • Give away credit in specific ways through gratitude and recognition of what others bring to the table.
  • If you get put in the position of being a “chair,” ask for a co-chair.

Accountability for results

Bringing your organization’s resources to the table to complement others’ resources

  • Share your resources without taking over how they are used.
  • Join the effort beyond sending money. Financial support is great, but you “shake hands with a person, not a check.”
  • Ask for what is needed before offering what your organization will contribute.
  • Manage the tension between outcome and process. Process takes longer and is often less clear but it is important. 
  • Bring someone with you, or delegate some of the community work to the people on your team who have great people skills and who you want to develop.

Driving the agenda with community input from your board of directors

Being one of many passengers

  • Use more inquiry, even when someone asks you to be the advocate.
  • Answer a question with a question some of the time, e.g., you might have a decisive answer for, “What should we do about x?” but instead of stating it, try responding with, “What do some of the others in the community think about x?”  Not always; this isn’t about becoming passive. It’s about sharing the driving.
  • Know going in that there will be more “2 steps forward and 3 steps back” when solving challenging community problems. People are complex and can have varying views on how things should be accomplished.

Getting results fast

Keeping the faith for results that come slowly

  • Bring your skill at defining a vision to the table.
  • Find ways to bring up the desired vision and keep it front and center when things feel stuck.
  • Develop patience for a very long view that is never “done.” Community work is often planting seeds that will germinate and flower long after you are gone.
  • Put things like, “go to the meeting and be engaged” and “spend 5 minutes kindly listening to that one person on the committee” on your to-do list. Satisfiers are important, and if you can see these relational tasks as value added, you can feel like you did something valuable even if progress seems achingly slow.

Being direct

Collaborating in a facilitative way

  • Collaborating means I am giving something away. Generally, this means giving up some control. What does that look like for you?
  • The adage, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together” is applicable here. Write this somewhere you can easily see it during meetings.


Making use of your influence

  • Influence is all about relationships of trust, which has more power than authority in the long run.
  • When there are requests for help or doing the hard thing, go first, and invite others to join you.
  • Be a connector, honing your skills at introducing people and helping them to find where their needs and resources intersect.
  • Be the “Vital Friend” who builds others up, opens doors for opportunities, and makes sure no one is left out.
  • Every single person (not just the power brokers) who shows up for the community work has value; connect with them. People will be drawn to places where they feel like they are a part of things.


Finding common ground

  • Use a go-to question, “where do we agree?” or “what do we all want in the long run?”
  • Know processes for eliciting the wisdom of the group – or learn them, or delegate your team members who have strong facilitation skills and tools at the ready.



Jo Anne Preston In Jo Anne's current role as Organizational and Workforce Development Senior Manager at the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative (RWHC) her aim is to offer to leaders straightforward tools and inspire the courage to use them.
Leading The Way In Five Mintues A Day

Lead the Way in Five Minutes A Day: Sparking High Performance in Yourself and Your Team, by Jo Anne Preston is currently available for purchase.

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