How to become a community leader

By Karen Schwartz

Becoming a community leader is one of the most fulfilling roles you may ever undertake. Are you a citizen who wants to bring about change to your community? Do you look around your town and see things that need improvement? Perhaps you believe:

  • A crime-watch organization would benefit your area?
  • You can contribute to your school system’s quality?
  • A food pantry should be set up in your community?
  • A stop sign needs to be placed at a busy intersection?

Whatever your concerns, you can develop the leadership skills that will bring about real change in your community.

Get involved in your neighborhood

Though you may not think of yourself as a natural-born leader, it’s possible to develop strong and credible leadership skills. Both extroverted and introverted people can be excellent leaders…it’s all about the passion.

“Even people who don’t think of themselves as leaders can get involved,” says Chevy Chase, Maryland, resident Barry Hager, president of Hager Associates, a Washington, D.C.-based legal and consulting firm.

Hager was appointed by the town’s mayor to head a committee to address zoning issues. “Even if you weren’t a leader in high school, you can do what needs to be done,” adds Hager, who, along with others in his town, successfully limited some of the residential over-building in his community.

Listen to others

If you wish to be a vital leader in your community, it’s important to listen closely to what others have to say. Value others’ opinions. Other people will become more involved if they know their opinions are important. “You really have to be willing to spend the time listening to other people because people don’t want to hear a speech, they want to have a conversation,” Hager says. “You have to be willing to listen to your neighbors, talk through issues, develop a consensus, and take the time to do this.”

Improve your public speaking skills

Another part of being a good community leader is the ability to speak in front of people, whether it’s just a few individuals, or a crowd of people. That’s a skill that not all people have, but one that can be developed over time. “Good public speakers are confident, prepared, and knowledgeable, and they have subject matter expertise,” says Daniel Rex, executive director of Toastmasters International.

“In addition, they need to have thought in advance about what they want to say, and how they are going to support what they are going to say,” he says. “Are they going to use a microphone, walk around the room or use a whiteboard?”

Practice makes perfect

No matter how you address your audience, there’s no doubt that the more you practice getting up in front of a group to deliver your message, the more proficient you will become as a public speaker. “Confidence comes from practice, and getting in front of an audience as often as you can,” Rex says.

The rewards are great

Serving as a community leader certainly has its rewards, Hager says. “You do get to bring about change, and make new and stronger friendships,” he says.

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