Chautauqua aims to revolutionize rural leadership development

· 4 min read

Chautauqua aims to revolutionize rural leadership development

Lindsay Hastings, a professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication, stands in front of a whiteboard.
Courtesy | Alyssa Mae
Students in Lindsay Hastings’ Interpersonal Skills for Leadership class participate in a synergy exercise in November 2017.

Rural Prosperity Nebraska is leading the charge on revolutionizing leadership development for Nebraska’s rural communities by hosting a leadership Chautauqua on Nov. 8 in Kearney, which kicks off a multi-step revisioning of traditional leadership development programs.

Funded by a grant from the North Central Regional Center for Rural Development, Rural Prosperity Nebraska has teamed up with the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the Heartland Center, Iowa State University and the Nebraska Community Foundation to run the Chautauqua.

The event brings together leadership professionals, economic development directors, university scholars and individuals who support local leaders to engage in conversation that rethinks community leadership development. The long-term goal is to arrive at a consensus on the most effective methods of developing leaders and leadership capacity within communities.

“So much of community leadership development has been dominated by programs where a cohort meets once a month, does some sort of trade-based leadership development and visits a local business,” said Lindsay Hastings, ALEC professor and event co-organizer. “That’s not necessarily wrong, but does it really enhance leadership capacity? We just haven’t seen data to support that idea.”

The term “Chautauqua” refers to a meeting in 1874 at Lake Chautauqua, New York, that brought together Sunday-school teachers to discuss biblical studies. The word, however, has evolved to include any meeting that brings together diverse voices and perspectives to arrive at a consensus on a topic. The Chautauqua approach for leadership development will concentrate on creating community-based systems that support community members in increasing their efficacy and capacity for leading change.

“That’s the idea behind this project — bringing together diverse voices to revolutionize how we do community leadership development,” Hastings said.

Deb Cottier, executive director of the Northwest Nebraska Development Corporation in Chadron, agrees that current leadership development programs could stand to be revamped.

“Our biggest shortcoming is the recruitment process — getting business owners to buy in and sponsor a participant,” she said. “I believe we are not utilizing the previous participants (alums) like we could as a source of encouragement and identification of specific participants. A module/curriculum/example of how to organize that would be of great help.”

The Chautauqua will include guided conversations that address the concerns of local leaders. Topics will include common assets of leadership, communities’ successes and challenges, what leadership research looks like in practice, how to think differently about community leadership systems, curriculum delivery methods between individuals and cohorts, mentoring structures and the most effective locations for leadership training.

Interactive discussions will cover inclusive methods of delivering these programs to those typically excluded, such as those who work late shifts or have limited transportation.

During the dinner hour, attendees will participate in a “progressive dinner,” where different food stations will tackle different topics, ranging from developing collective leadership capacity to revolutionizing best practices for leadership development. Participants will take home a guided workbook to think through how the communities they serve might revolutionize their approach to community leadership development.

“Building lasting friendships and business relationships is the best way to assure a community thrives and remains a place where others want to live,” Cottier said. “People need to be able to respond to needs within their own communities, and being able to recognize which people are best served by which task is a great skill to have. It truly takes a village.”

Key findings of the Chautauqua will be shared through publications and presentations to those within Nebraska Extension, leadership faculty and leadership organizations in Nebraska’s communities. The Extension Bulletin is accessible to Nebraskans engaged in leadership development. A policy brief is also planned, which will offer recommendations for communities and leaders as they work to bridge the gap between leadership development education and implementation.

The leadership Chautauqua is noon to 7 p.m. Nov. 8 at the Crowne Plaza Kearney, 707 W. Talmadge St. It will coincide with the Nebraska Community Foundation’s annual celebration, “Dreams Inspire Dreams.”

Registration is available on the Nebraska Community Foundation’s website. Registrants can use the code “Leadership2023” to waive the registration fee. Meals will be provided, and travel assistance is available.

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