LEADERSHIP of the Future: #1 Virtual Conversations

I made a list of the top leadership skills that I believe rural community leaders need to survive in the future and LEADING VIRTUAL CONVERSATIONS quickly surfaced and made my top list. (see future blogs to uncover more leadership skills of the future) 

#1: Leading Virtual Conversations

There are very few people that can create an interactive, engaging virtual meeting while also focusing on trust and collaboration — this skill is an ‘unicorn skill set’ and should be valued and utilized.

As a leader with a statewide network, I believe that it is imperative that I can reach people where they are. Asking people to travel several hours for a two hour meeting isn’t always an option. I enjoy the hybrid of in-person meetings and virtual meetings to build trust and connection with people and the mix of both meeting types can create an economic advantage and should be the growth edge for rural communities, schools, businesses and organizations!

I recently had virtual zoom sessions with three Nebraska communities as an on boarding process for their communities host teams to gain a better understanding of the Rural Futures Institute Student Serviceship Experience. These meetings were each one hour long and were designed to share information, set goals for the interns and ask questions. The meetings went great and the host teams had a fantastic turnout! Everyone got a chance to talk and most participants had a webcam so we had visuals of everyone on the meeting. Best of all, the host team participants were able to take the ‘virtual meeting’ from their personal offices.

I also plan to use a virtual platform this summer to host peer-learning circles for the RFI Student Serviceship interns and their host communities as part of a learning cohort. This will serve as an opportunity to check-in, ask questions and create a sense of community when over 20 hours of distance will separate the interns during their summer experience.

I’m a huge fan of virtual meetings. I believe that strong virtual facilitation skills are unique and should be viewed as a important skill set for future leaders. There are very few people that can create an interactive, engaging virtual meetings while also focusing on trust and collaboration — this skill is an ‘unicorn skill set’ and should be valued and utilized.

Why does this matter?379247469aa3c2c543158bfcf9a7ee0038136ee4

  1. Engagement: Community engagement is critical and sometimes the best option is to meet people where they are.
  2. Saves Money: Virtual meetings can save time and money. The use of virtual technology saved my team $390.96 in fuel, not to mention 14+ hours in a car.
  3. Technology is the Norm: In the future working virtually will be the norm, not the exception.
  4. It’s Possible: People are busy and getting busier…and the use of technology now
    makes it possible for people to see, hear and interact with each other in an engaging platform.

Leaders of the future must be able to lead virtual meetings and teams– and lead them well. This will not replace human interaction, however, the hybrid of in-person and virtual meetings is a fantastic combination for any team.

“The secret sauce for virtual community building meetings: interactive and engaging facilitation rooted in trusting relationships!”- Kayla Schnuelle

What do you think about well facilitated virtual meetings? Which platform do you prefer (Zoom, Adobe Connect, GoTo Meeting, Skype)?


Changing the Meaning of Success

Guest Blogger: Tiffany Pearson
Tri County High School Sophomore
Plymouth, Nebraska

Throughout our entire lives, we are taught success is the things we accomplish, and when we accomplish our goals, we will reach happiness. When we are toddlers, success is learning numbers 1-10. In grade school, it is mastering the art of cursive writing with your favorite number two pencil and also earning an A on your report card. As we grow older success bears more weight than it did when we were children playing on the slides of the playground after lunch. As a high school student, I can validate that success is in the numbers; the grades we acquire on our tests, the number of running yards or number of points we make in a game, the score we receive on the ACT. We are more often than not told if we work tirelessly for four years, make good grades, become involved in every organization possible, that we will likely get accepted into the college of our dreams from where we will then truly “find ourselves” and find honorable work in the field of study that we have been yearning for for the past however many years. From that point on, we are told success will be in finding a spouse with whom you may have a family with, and then their success, will ultimately, be your success.

Nevertheless, I have come to the point where I speculate true success is not in the numbers, or what college one attends, or even how large one’s yearly salary is, but it’s in something that others cannot see; it is about our mind and our heart. Which may be a bit cliche, but to me success is being undeniably, doubtlessly and plainly happy with myself and the place I call home.

Since I have reached this conjecture, I have been slowly formulating a list of moments that I believe are able to account for true happiness; here are just a few:

  • Loving yourself unconditionally
  • Being able to love the cards you were dealt, even if at one point, you want to deal your own cards
  • Being kind to those who others are not
  • Listening to music that encourages you to see the world through fresh eyes
  • Finding the rain in rainbows, metaphorically speaking, training your brain to see the beauty in everything
  • Setting goals, but finding success in the journey it takes to accomplish them
  • Finding moments in time when everything is going the way you want it to, and making a mental effort to document that specific time and recreate it
  • Being able to forgive those who have wronged you because you know their mindset is just different, and that’s perfectly okay
  • And most importantly, not allowing others to determine what your success should be. Whether you want to define your success in the grades you get and the places you’ll go, or in the mindset you have attained on your journey to reach the goals you have set in place.Image result for ecological literacy

As a high-school student, I think it is most definitely important to see the success in the smallest of moments every single day, even if your day was a complete wreck. This is apparent in the quote:

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it,” by David W. Orr.  in the book Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World written by Michael K. Stone, David W. Orr, and Fritjof Capra of Berkeley, California.

By changing our outlook on “success” and changing how we think about personal success it will help us live a more natural, kind, supportive and fulfilled lifestyle. I believe society will then know peace. In essence, while aiming for good grades, being involved in many things, and working hard at everything you do is a factor of life, it is important to remember that success can also be defined in being at peace with yourself and the simple things you have accomplished that make you, YOU.

I will leave with one last message – I challenge you, the reader, to find success in being a healer, a giver, and a nurturer; to not be angry with yourself because you didn’t get the grade you wanted, get elected for a position, or get the job that you really needed. Pride yourself on doing your best work, for putting yourself out there, and for breaking your own limits of what you thought defined you. Be overjoyed with the journey, and astoundingly excited for the rest of the trail that you will blaze.


Thank you Tiffany for sharing! You are the youngest blogger we have had to date.


Personal Branding Lessons: From the Makers of Velveeta

Guest Blogger: Ryan Broker

Last September, just below all of the acrimonious pre-election news, the eye-witness accounts of your grandmother’s kidney stone event, and all of the office gossip, there lay unnoticed and unreported – in relative obscurity – a newsworthy event so profound that it had the potential to melt our hardened hearts, bond us again in brotherly/sisterly solidarity, and inspire us all to personal reinvention and greatness:


The velvety goodness of Velveeta cheese was repackaged in individually wrapped mini blocks.

What the what?!

Yes, I agree. It’s true genius.

Velveeta had a once-in-a-century moment – and we missed it. This company, that since 1921 has used the same tinfoil wrapping process for its savory rectangle of liquid gold, had this masterful repackaging moment – and we missed it!

Thankfully, now that we’re informed citizens, we can learn so much (ok … maybe just two things) from this pivotal moment in world history.

Following are (in descending order from most important to second-most important) the two, most important, personal branding lessons from the repackaging wizards at Kraft:


Lesson 1: Don’t change what you are at your core.

Kraft didn’t change Velveeta’s core. Far from it. Velveeta’s smaller, convenient size offers the “same classic Velveeta taste and texture.” Despite growing consumer movement away from Big Food toward unprocessed, authentic foods, Velveeta proudly held its ground and stayed true to its core.

You, too, should stay true to your core. Like Velveeta.

Velveeta knows who it is and what it’s good at. Velveeta is totally and keenly aware of how it’s used in the kitchen. On top of that, Velveeta openly acknowledges and addresses its tendency to go unused. (By the way, consumers repeatedly rank Velveeta as the most self-aware and self-confident cheese on the market.)

While Velveeta continues to sell its classic core, its ease-of-use and convenience, it is also selling peace of mind.

Velveeta’s product is “five, 4-ounce individually wrapped Mini Blocks, so families can easily incorporate Liquid Gold into everyday meals and side dishes, while unused blocks stay wrapped and sealed until ready to use.” Kraft did all of this so you didn’t lose sleep worrying about your Velveeta.

Kraft knew, if not packaged differently, that their unused or underused product could (eventually) become an unsightly, crusty block of rectangular repulsion in the back shelf of your refrigerator. They knew the consumer would hesitate to purchase another giant, JENGA block of cheese if there was a threat of this tragedy reoccurring.

And there’s the genius: Velveeta honed in on a particular weakness but left its core strength and dignity intact and untouched.

Perhaps you need to repackage yourself to become more usable and/or less wasted. Like Velveeta.

Because, let’s face it, the more you appear (and are) usable, the more you will be used. Similarly, the less you appear usable, the less you will be used, and, therefore, wasted.

It’s true. You can be wasted.

Asking questions about whether you (i.e. you core skill set, your experience, your key functions, your passions, etc.) are convenient, easy-to-use, and attractively packaged is important.

Questions like: Are you easy to get a hold of? Are you easily found online? Do people know how to use you? When was the last time you told someone how best to use you? When was your last packaging redesign? Is your “liquid gold” sitting unused and crusty in the back of the world’s proverbial fridge?

Lastly, do you know your niche…your core? Can you maintain and better-promote what’s “classic” about you while making yourself more useful to others?

Those are all, good, Kraft-like questions to ask yourself.

Lesson 2: Kraft/Velveeta can (apparently) afford a once-in-a-century repackaging effort. You can’t. 

Get on it.



Thanks Ryan for blogging!

Pod Cars in Rural- yes, please!

Blog Artist: Kayla Schnuelle

When I think about ‘pain points’ for rural people living across this great nation usually my mind goes to: access to healthcare, quality daycare, community infrastructure, community leadership…the list goes on. But let’s take a ride into the future because many of the pain points in rural would be lessened if only we had a quick and affordable way to transport humans from the eastern border of Nebraska to the western edge of our state in 60 minutes. The tagline would be: “anywhere in Nebraska in 60 minutes or less.”  Sound impossible?

Dream with me… if you have a job in which you commute long distances it usually takes up several hours of your week. In my life, I estimate that on an average week, that requires no additional work travel, I’m in my car more than 10 hours. This is one entire day of productivity plus an hour for a nap!!!

Pod cars are a possible solution! The wide-use of quick, energy efficient pod cars would get us where we need to go, but also open options to access points for products and services. Imagine your grandma going into surgery in Scottsbluff, NE and you finding out at 6AM and being able to make it to the hospital by 7AM. Or envision working for Sandhills State Bank in Valentine but being able to visit all your branch locations on the same day to talk to your team about a new product that the bank is releasing. What if your child is sick in the middle of the night and you can make it to the pharmacy and back in 10 minutes when it used to be an hour drive.


Does this change the rural landscape? Does it provide a turning point in how we do business, find products, work with talent–yes! Are there risks? ALWAYS –I can think of several reasons why having quick travel across our state would be viewed negatively, but the world is changing quickly and we need to think out 10 years and dream big about what might be in-store for rural people and places around the world.


Now come back to 2017! Did you know that pod cars are already ‘on the streets’ in gated communities in Singapore. Read more here!  Some of these pods can hold up to 24 people.

Is this the next wave of serious change for rural America? Thinking back to Lewis and Clark, the gold rush of 1849, the invention of the telephone and now cellphones, the internet, wireless service in remote areas…I’d say anything is possible!

I hope that my post has challenged you to think forward and dream ‘a little’!


Why Rural? Why Now?

Guest Blogger: Andrew Ambriz
University of Nebraska Graduate 12/2016

For the first 10 years of my life, I never really understood that there was life beyond Los Angeles. It was a place you never had to leave because it had everything. Entertainment, food and toy stores were all you needed to keep a child occupied. When we moved to Pender, Nebraska in 2005, my first thought was, “Is this it?” When we moved to West Point, it didn’t seem to be much different. Rural Nebraska seemed to look the same no matter where you were. My siblings and I talked about moving back, going back to the center of it all in Los Angeles, seeing our family back there and living the life we remembered. Even now, I get starry-eyed thinking about everything it has to offer.

Living in Lincoln through college, I got glimpse of that autonomy and a taste of what city life was as an adult. Live music, restaurant options, local and chain retailers, and the convenience of a “want it, get it” urban culture. For 3 years, Lincoln was home and a place I could see myself for the long-haul; big enough for the feel, small enough for convenience.

The Downtown District in Lincoln, Nebraska is the newest and coolest addition to Lincoln’s night life. 

Up to that point, at 21 years old, I had only heard of McCook twice. I couldn’t have told you where it was on a map if I tried. After applying and being accepted to the Rural Futures Institute Student Serviceship program, I learned that McCook would be ‘home’ for a nine week summer internship.  As a result, my wife and I moved to McCook and the great unknown.

Upon moving, questions raced around in our heads: What is the community like? Are the people friendly? What services are provided in town? What kind of volunteer organizations are there? For both Alix and I, our home communities of Spencer and West Point are small towns and we were eager to see how we would transition from our big city life in Lincoln, back to our small town roots.

“The Bricks” in Downtown McCook is lined with entrepreneurs that have been serving McCook for years. (photo by: Andrew Ambriz)

What makes rural communities so attractive? We can list the usual suspects like safety, slow pace, “everybody knows everybody”, etc. but there’s a remarkable difference between towns that survive and those that thrive.

In thriving communities, there’s an intriguing mindset. A mindset where people appreciate what they have paired with an attitude of wanting more. When people have an idea, it’s met with “why not?” and “how do we do it?” rather than “why?” and “we’ve already tried that”. People create buzz around ideas and possibilities because of genuine excitement. The community is not afraid of failure.

I think about those city lights back in Los Angeles, the Silicon Valley, the live music of Nashville, and the artistic vibe of Denver and rather than thinking “I wish I was there,” I think “how do we get that here?” Rural America is allegedly the ‘finish line of coastal trends’. I think there’s some truth to that. For years America thought you could only have “X” if you lived in “Y”. Rural communities have put that to rest. Live music is found all over small towns in the Midwest. The arts have been embraced by rural communities. Technology has found its way into the culture here and has created a wave of entrepreneurship that brings a spark to rural areas.

My wife and I are now full-time residents of McCook and proud ‘McCookites’. The time we spent here this summer reminded us of the riches that small town America has to offer. But these things aren’t exclusive to McCook, they are in other rural places too. Small towns are becoming destinations for young professionals, established businessmen and women, and entrepreneurs because they offer more than just a job. They offer a safe community busting with creativity, support and progress.

Urban was then, rural is now. – Andrew Ambriz

andrew-ambrizAndrew Ambriz



Thanks Andrew for the thoughtful post!


Success is…

Guest Blogger: Selena Aguilar
University of Nebraska Graduate, Dec 2016

Grand Island, NE

After the new year starts and you are crafting your 2017 resolutions it seems to be an appropriate time to think about SUCCESS. Many people have a love/hate relationship with this word. What is success?

Success is measured in a variety of ways.  We can look at the success of people like Bill Gates and the results are evident.  Sadly, we are not all Bill Gates, nor is it realistic for all of us to be.  But what if, Gates felt success the first time he had the idea of Microsoft.  We tend to look at success in a concrete tangible way.  We need to graduate high school, graduate college, get married, have kids, buy a house, volunteer, etc.

What happens when you achieved all you want to?  Do you lose purpose? What if success was measured by being proud of oneself? We can be successful by having fulfillment in our lives and I had to change what my perception of success was. For example, these are a few goals that I set for myself to determine if I had a successful day:

  1. Go an entire day without have an anxiety induced melt down
  2. Make time for something that makes me happy
  3. Set  daily goals, but understand goals change, and that’s okay
  4. Accept the things you cannot change
  5. Make someone else feel good

The definition of success has shifted for me and now I’m focusing on what makes me feel fulfillment.  Turn success and fulfillment into synonyms.  Persevere to meet future goals, but also make sure you’re happy in the present and not constantly chasing the success train.

…make sure you’re happy in the present and not constantly chasing the success train. – Selena Aguilar

The process of this happening came from the realization that I need to take charge of my own success.  This process starts with a change to a healthier mindset, much like that of changing your perception of what success is.  Focus on what you can do, and not what is beyond your control.  Be prepared to be reactionary and find enjoyment from the journey. Focus on being fulfilled and be purposeful with your work.

Stanford research has uncovered the, possibly, one root to a successful person.  That root is delayed gratification.  In a study, researchers tested young children by their ability to wait patiently alone with a marshmallow, with the promise of a second if they could refrain… 40 years down the road, children that showed the will-power to delay gratification were more successful in that they had higher SAT scores, less obesity, less substance abuse, and better social skills.

Before you throw in the towel, understand that this is not a black and white issue, and it also may not be ‘just who you are’.  In a similar study, the same researchers found that children without the ability to delay gratification were influenced by the reliability of their environment.  Those that had experienced false promises were more likely to give in, due to a lack of trust.

In order to be successful you need to train yourself delayed gratification.  This can be as simple as regularly working out, to train yourself that over time you will become healthier.  Start your day with work and not play.  This will give you incentive to get work done.  Sacrifice the time to cook your food at home, rather than picking up fast food.

With small incremental changes, you can train your brain to see the incentives in the long-term. With the power to persevere and continue to struggle you will no doubt, feel fulfilled, and help you to achieve success.

Taking delayed gratification a step further…a famous speaker, Simon Sinek, suggests that there are 10 rules to success.


  1. Break the rules
  2.  Train your mind
  3. Be patient
  4. Take accountability
  5. Outdo yourself
  6. Stack the deck
  7. Be the last to speak
  8. Be authentic
  9. Find your passion
  10. Start with why

Watch the video!


One of Sinek’s major points is about asking the question WHY? Why are we doing this? The why is what people are drawn to. Why do we do this work? Why should they care? When we talk success we feel the most gratification when we do things that give us purpose and that we are passionate about. Do an audit of your personal world and your work world…what gives you joy, what keeps you up at night because you are excited? Why are you getting up in the morning? Those are the areas of your life that you should spend the most time. People who believe what you believe will help you grown in your work, and your life’s mission. Find the work that gives you joy and find the people that believe in you.

Successful people understand that it takes work, time and effort to achieve but that is also okay to delay gratification. The world at our fingertips (technology) also requires patience. They also have a good sense of purpose and find a way to surround themselves with those that give them energy.

Take some time to think about your patterns of behavior. Listen to Sinek’s video. Can you train your brain and be patient? Are you asking yourself the ‘why’ question and finding purposeful work?


Thanks Selena for sharing your ideas on our blog!

“Hopeful Grit”

BLOG ARTIST: Kayla Schnuelle

The holiday season has me thinking about hope. What is the deepest meaning of this word? Many think it is something whimsical, fluffy and often tied to this holiday season. Let’s shift our thinking…

I believe that hope is a magnetic and powerful force that works in relationships, communities and is universal for people around the world. We have had several Presidential campaigns who have won elections on “hope.” This has been a powerful theme in social change movements for decades. When we are hopeful about the future, we are giving ourselves the permission to own our desired path to the future. Hope is a tool for us to shift our viewpoints, be empathetic, rally support and create vision. Can you recall the last time you were really hopeful? Now think about a time when you were a passive participant? Both are okay, but finding the ‘things’ that make us hopeful is important.


When people own their desired futures they create change and catalyze within their place. If I unpack this more I draw the conclusion that hopeful leadership is an important indicator to community sustainability and growth.

GRIT is the drive that keeps us going against all odds. It is our struggle, passion, perseverance and reaching deep when it gets really difficult. According to Angela Duckworth’s book, grit it is the power of passion and perseverance that comes to life for us. This word is not just about entrepreneurship, which it is often associated, it is about people, spirit and is tied to hope. It is a powerful force that divides those who create change and those who sit back as a passive bystander.grit

“Turns out that grit — the perseverance that keeps us going — is a lot more important than you might think. In fact, it’s the best predictor of success among West Point cadets.”

According to Duckworth, a major component of grit is “purpose” or having a sense of the greater meaning of your work and understanding how it is important to others and their lives work. Purpose creates the vision but hopeful grit supplies the passion and perseverance to achieve our goals and tackle the barriers.

What I offer today is the pairing of the words HOPE and GRIT. “Hopeful Grit” is something we all need more of. It is my growth edge. How can I use my hopefulness for the future combined with my grit to ignite change? It’s the dream and the action. It is the trials and the success. It is a vision paired with the confidence to go after what you really believe.

Hopeful grit is something that we develop with new experiences and with deep relationships. I have a network of relationships that supply me with renewed hopeful grit, they are the catalysts, they are those that create change in their place. Hopeful grit is the defining characteristic that emerges when we are challenged to find our purpose and grow it. It pushes us towards our growth edge.

Those with purpose can discover hopeful grit…but it isn’t forever. We constantly need to recharge our batteries and renew the grit and reestablish what gives us hope. Find a network of deep relationships that give you permission to be yourself but also challenge you to be your best — and work on deepening those relationships.

Hopeful Grit is the defining characteristic that emerges among catalysts when we are challenged to find our purpose and grow it.”