Surviving Community Change

Guest Blogger: Donelle Wolters
Entrepreneur from Atwood, KS

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change.”–Unknown

What if we replace the word “species” in the quote with “rural communities?”

“It’s not the strongest rural communities that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change.”

Strength and intelligence are important, but I believe the biggest key to rural sustainability is the last part of the quote—the ability to respond to change.

Change is something we talk a lot about when it comes to rural communities. As young people return to communities and assume leadership positions and suggest doing something new or in a different way—well, the struggle for change becomes real.

Sometimes response to change is measured on the community itself—are they willing to embrace a few (or a lot!) of new ideas, or prefer to do things they way they have always been done?

It’s easy to “place blame” for lack of progressiveness on the community. I believe that response to change also needs to factor in how the young, new leaders approach the idea of change within a community. What steps can we as individuals take to help community members and organizations be more open to something new or different?

When I moved to a small town, population 1,200, a few years ago, I immediately got involved in some organizations. I was excited to “dream” about what could be done differently and how I could share ideas and strategies I had experienced.  What I quickly realized was the “bull-in-the-china-shop-approach” maybe isn’t the most effective way to implement change! My over-zealous excitement was sometimes met with resistance, some doubt and even a little discouragement.

As I analyzed what I could do as a new leader to influence change, I realized there was a need to refine the approach. And I believe this can be true for many young leaders within communities.

Before moving to a small town, I was involved in youth leadership development and training. One of the basic concepts I learned and taught focused on audience engagement. In order to keep people’s attention and bring them along with you in a workshop, speech or presentation, it is important to “change their state.”  That simply means find ways to engage them throughout the presentation. This can be influenced in three ways:

  • What They Think—ask questions, provide interesting facts and information; engage their brains
  • What They Feel—appeal to emotion; may be through stories, examples, and finding what they are passionate about
  • What They Do—physical movement or activity

All three of these strategies get audience members involved, sparks their attention and engages them in the experience.

I believe we can apply this same facilitation strategy to ourselves as young leaders influencing change in communities: we have to approach the community and organizations like they are an audience. When we “change their state” as individuals and organizations, the more likely we will work together to achieve long-term change in the community.

How do we do that? As young leaders, we need to actively seek out information from people in the community:

  • What People in the Community Think—ASK QUESTIONS!  The best way to rally people behind an idea is to ask questions and get input. This also helps you understand the history and tradition of how things developed.  I discovered that when I ask questions like, “What’s the reason the schedule is like this?” the answers are, “because we’ve always done it like this.” That leads to a realization from community members that maybe we could try something new.
  • What People in the Community Feel—LISTEN! Sometimes it’s too easy to come in with our best ideas without really listening to others. When we listen, we learn what is important to people and what connects with them on an emotional level. And then we can engage those individuals in the process of change.
  • What People in the Community Do—ASK THEM TO DO SOMETHING. Many times we think people aren’t excited about change, when in reality, they simply want to be asked to be involved. Ask individuals to be part of a new project based on their skills and talents.

If we want communities to be responsive to change, I believe we need to approach that with purpose and perspective. When we consider what communities think, feel and do, we are more likely to work together and achieve long-term growth and sustainability.

Donelle Wolters.jpg

A special thanks to Donnie for sharing her thoughts!


Power of an ‘Ask’

Recently I was asked to serve on a board in my community of Diller. One of the members of the board came to my home and extended a personal invite for me to join their cause. It was an incredible display of trust and made me feel welcome. I share this experience because it was extremely impactful for me as a young leader.

I’m an implant to my community of Diller, which means I didn’t grow up in the community. Oftentimes, it’s difficult for implants to integrate into communities and become part of the interconnected leadership structure. This isn’t a new phenomenon – decades of implants will tell you similar stories, such as: “it is hard to get involved” or “I don’t know where to go to access services” or “it’s not sure how to make friends.”

There is a great deal of buzz around attracting college students and young families to rural communities. Essentially this is a conversation about talent. Talented individuals want to be involved but they don’t always know how to access the inter-networks of your community. It is also intimidating for these young leaders to navigate the system and determine how to

When I hear community leaders say, “why don’t the young people volunteer” I usually suggest that they extend a personal invitation with a summary of responsibilities and a timeline.  When extending the invite make sure to offer what the invitee brings to the table such as a fresh perspective or specific skills.

‘Asks’ are not just important but are critical because they wash away barriers and allow a sense of security. You want this to happen so that new and emerging change-makers will come to the table at your invitation and will be able to offer skills and time to your cause.

I cannot put into words the eloquence and trust that the Diller Community leadership has shown me. They are kind, respectful and willing to create space for questions, ideas and big thinking. I’m blessed to be part of a progressive minded community that believes in intergenerational leadership.

Honoring the HopeMonger

Blog Artist: Kayla Schnuelle

It is with a heavy heart that I write this to honor the HopeMonger, Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D.

An amazing man passed away, but his legacy will continue through my work and the work of so many others. Gallup Senior Scientist Shane Lopez passed away last month. He was young and vibrant and he introduced me to an entirely new way of thinking. It is for that reason that I am writing this blog to share with my network and the world.

Shane came to us through his book, Making Hope Happen. Through his lens of hope, coupled with research, he talks about how hopefulness can move people and communities into change. My conclusion is that he was not only on target, but that hopefulness is so powerful in rural places.

Shane came to the 2015 Rural Futures Conference and spoke about ‘HOPE.’  He was magnificent! We even themed our conference “Hope Inspires Vision” because of how magnetic his message was for the Rural Futures Institute team.  In-fact, after the conference many participants called and emailed to share the impact he made on their thinking and why this matters for them.

He spoke about community well-being, hopefulness and the power of having a strategy of hope in our communities. What are the hopes and dreams of your community? How do we champion the message to others?  See his message by viewing the Video: The Importance of Hope

This brilliant man will be a missed, but his contributions to the academic field and his message about ‘hope’ will leave a lasting mark for so many rural people and places.

He changed the world by sharing the message about hope and I’m honored to continue sharing his message with you.


This blog was written to share with Shane’s family and friends! Pass it along.



Working at the Fringes

When we work at the edges and combine different perspectives and ideas into the decision making process, we get crazy wild creative ideas. Is this scary? Probably, but I’d rather have a creative idea than a status quo idea.

The fringes, also known as the borders or outer edges, is where true innovation occurs. So play there and help others learn to do the same! -Kayla Schnuelle

Rural America needs community members to play at the fringes and experiment with new ideas to set them apart and help create desired futures. The need for innovation has never Innovation-quotes.jpgbeen greater. Often times we play it safe or keep doing what have always done because we know it has a safe outcome.However, as time passes this keeps us and our communities at status quo and our community starts going backward. Where is the innovation and bold thinking?


How do we develop innovative ideas that propel us or our communities forward? Here is what we need to know:

  1. All new ideas are combinations of existing ideas
  2. At the fringes, we have better ideas
  3. By getting out of our comfort zones, we create more opportunity for innovation
  4. Diversity creates more innovative ideas (diversity of people, backgrounds, thoughts)
  5. Bringing people together from different fields or professions is key
  6. Develop a platform for innovative problem solving and big idea generation

I’ve seen some incredible examples of playing at the fringes and it is leading to some very cool outcomes in rural communities.  Try it. Get out of your comfort zone and challenge yourself to think bigger, futuristic, more creatively.

A community is only as good as its leaders and in rural communities there is a constant need for good change makers. Part of being a good leader is being innovative and encouraging others to be innovative with us, that is when we create communities of the future.

Be a catalyst in your community and play at the fringes and encourage others to do the same. You might be surprised with the crazy cool ideas that emerge.

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The job search for young leaders!

Guest Blog Artist: Steph Miller, McCook, NE
Nebraska Aureus Group, an affiliate of C&A Industries, Inc.

The job search can be an overwhelming and exhausting process for sure.  In some ways, the entire process reminds me a bit of dating.  Two parties getting to know one another, trying to figure out if this relationship could be mutually beneficial.  Will this relationship sustain long-term, or will it turn into a summer fling?  It can be tricky.  I’ve been in the recruiting world for the past 11 years and on a certain level, I consider myself a professional matchmaker.  There’s nothing more gratifying in my line of work than helping a professional find that perfect match…their soul mate…in the form of a new job!

Unfortunately, not all partnerships end in eternal bliss.  A common break 0065up theme I’ve encountered while working with candidates who are contemplating a career move relates to a disconnect between perception and reality.  I’m not placing all of the blame on the candidates.  Hiring managers are equally guilty of trying to create a particularly rosy picture of what it looks like to be a part of their team (cue the Lego Movie song “Everything is Awesome”) when the reality is that no situation is perfect.

Every job has aspects that aren’t particularly glamorous and challenges that will surface over time.

If I had to offer one piece of advice to young professionals who are contemplating a career change and wanting to avoid the above mentioned pitfall, it would be this:

 “Be the best version of YOU, plain and simple.” – Steph Miller

This might seem incredibly obvious.  Yeah, it kind of is, right?  But in reality, I think we often lose sight of it during the process.  We invest all this time and energy researching the company.  We review sample interview questions and have our perfect answers ready to share with the hiring manager.  We pick out the perfect interview attire….

I’m not suggesting preparing for an interview isn’t important.  It absolutely is!  I spend much of my time prepping candidates for their interviews with my clients.  What concerns me is when we get to a place where we’re trying to morph ourselves into a version of what we believe the hiring manager wants us to be and, in turn, lose sight of who we really are in the process.

So, how to we avoid falling into such a trap?  Here are three key factors to finding AND falling in love with your dream job:

1) Determine what your motivating factors are for making a job change
2) Evaluate whether prospective new employer can fulfill your motivating factors
3) Make your decision from a place of knowledge versus emotion/fear

Determining your motivating factors simply involves really getting to know yourself.  What makes you tick?  How do you measure your own success?  What is lacking in your current job situation that leaves you wanting for more?

Perhaps you’re finding yourself in a situation where you’re working for a company that doesn’t support the notion of continued growth and learning…and you’re the type of person who finds great fulfillment in learning new skills and increasing your knowledge.  Maybe success at your current employer is primarily defined through promotions to manager level roles, but you recognize you enjoy being more of an individual contributor.

Perhaps you’re at a point in your life where achieving a better work/life balance is really important.

Once you’ve taken the time to really reflect on what motivates you as a professional, you have a framework through which you can begin evaluating new opportunities!  As you’re going through the interview process, you can ask pointed questions that will provide valuable insights.  For example, if continued learning is really important to you, what does the prospective new employer do to specifically provide training and development for employees?  If finding more of a work/life balance is a main factor for leaving your current employer, how does the new employer foster this among team members?  Use the list you’ve put together in the first step to determine if this new opportunity will truly fill whatever voids you’re experiencing in your current employment situation.  Talk to current and former employees about their experiences, do some research via social media.  Does the company seem to have a good reputation?  Do the values they promote seem to fall in line with yours?

Finally, consider the ‘growth edge’ factor, meaning, does this new opportunity challenge you and push you to new levels in your career?  It’s so easy to unconsciously fall into the complacency trap.  Doing what we know is comfortable.  Stretching ourselves takes real guts.  It’s scary.  I get it.  There are unknown factors.  The possibility of failing at something doesn’t exactly sound appealing, right?  But ultimately, we have to be willing to accept those risks knowing that potential rewards are so much greater.  Even if we experience some setbacks along the way, we’re learning and growing from those experiences.

So, you’ve invested time and energy identifying the key factors for your career move.  You’ve compared/contrasted this with what the new employer can offer.  Now you should be in the right frame of mind to make a decision–a decision based on knowledge versus emotion.  You’ve been REAL throughout the process and that, my friend, is so important!  If you go through this entire journey trying to portray a certain image to land that perfect new job, the foundation of this new professional relationship is weak.  You’re going to find yourself annoyed and miserable within a short period of time.

Be YOU, okay?  I guarantee you’ll be way more appealing to the right employer than some overly rehearsed version of the perfect cookie cutter employee.

The_Millers_2015-79.jpgThe Miller Family
(Chad, Steph, Charlotte (3.5 yrs old) & Willa (19 months))

A special thanks to Steph for sharing her thoughts!

Networks: Investing In People and Their Passions

Blog Artist: Kayla Schnuelle

I’ve seen and heard many stories of investing in projects, programs and bricks and mortar. Sometimes I’m very surprised to see incredible results when ordinary people have small amounts to invest in their communities. Often I hear of amazing stories with transformational change for an entire community of people. This is important work! However, the one thing that I seldom hear about is investing directly in people. I’m not talking about giving someone $100 to attend a conference. I’m talking about really investing in people within our communities and immediate circles and allowing them to explore their passions freely without judgement.

We don’t invest like this because it’s hard to track and it isn’t always viewed as trendy. It’s hard to get immediate results because changes in world-view, idea generation and perceptions are much harder to gauge. It has been proven over-and-over again by Gallup and other research institutions that when people do things they are passionate about, they are more engaged and produce better outcomes. So why are we missing the step of investing in people and their passions?

I’ve recently been invited to be part of an incredible network and the network concept is about investing in people and allowing them to gain knowledge, skills, or ideas that they are passionate about. The network also allows them to share their ideas and wisdom with others in the network through a peer-learning framework. It is powerful when you are told, “I believe in you. Go pursue something you are passionate about or are aspiring to”. It is also essential to provide ambitious people with a space to share ideas and a support-system to cultivate new ideas.

I’m not suggesting that we quit investing in projects and programs, but I am suggesting that building hope, confidence and network relationships for rural leaders is critical for futuristic programming. Rural communities can isolate people, if only by geography, and in isolation we are also in silos. Without a strong network of creative thinkers we lose innovation and creativity and both are critical factors to making brighter futures for rural communities.

“…building hope, confidence and network relationships for rural leaders is critical for futuristic programming.” -Kayla

If you are in a community that doesn’t value the social capital and unique attributes of those at the table, my advice is to find a network that does and allow the new-found network to help you frame your ideas. By identifying networks outside of our communities it does several things:

  1. Allows us a platform to share ideas, knowledge, wisdom that we have gained
  2. Builds relationships and helps bridge our communities together
  3. Helps frame new ideas so we can infuse ideas into our own communities
  4. Creates a safe space to brainstorm

Advice to community leaders:

If you aspire to create an incredible community with highly engaged citizens it is important to invest in the people (i.e. social capital) that reside in your community. Investing in knowledge gain (i.e. schools) is critical, but you also need to invest in passions, energy, creativity and innovation of community members. You don’t have to build a new building to do this, sometimes it is as easy as allowing someone a space to share ideas or giving them permission to build a network of good thinkers.

Investing in people and their passions can drive community change over a lifetime, not just an 18-month project. Think big and allow others to do the same!

A Half Changed World

Guest Blogger: Melissa Garcia
Custer Public Power District

I can be overwhelming.  It seems I am always questioning the status quo.  It’s because of some of my particular personality traits mixed with my ingrained millennial view of the world.  It’s one thing to look at it as my own individual circumstances and a whole other to consider the idea that maybe society, and certainly the different teams we are a part of, are split at the very fiber of how we view the world.  After hearing Seth Mattison, Founder of Custer headshotFuturesight Labs, I starting thinking about this a little more deeply.  He believes we live in a half changed world.

Often in rural America we have leaders who have earned that title over time, working up the ladder in a hierarchical world.  Enter Millennials.  We don’t see the world in the form of a chain of command or organization chart.  It’s flatter.  A world of peers bound together through a web of networks.  I value the CEO at the same level as I value a high school senior.  But, therein lies the square peg, round hole issue.

How do we meet people where they are when members of our own teams fall at polar opposites on the wide spectrum of understanding the world of leadership? How do we move forward- together- with an authoritative culture that values power and security and mold it with a new wave of leaders reared in an open source world?  Like anything, it takes compromise.  It takes finding the common, shared goal and collectively committing to it.  It means respecting differences and asking questions about those differences.  It means taking down walls and offering trust.  Often, it means following a champion we can relate to.

No matter if we see the world in corporate ladders or a tangled web of shared influence- legacy worthy work in Rural environments only works when we roll up our sleeves and work toward a better future together.  Authentically valuing each others strengths and insights across generations and world views strengthens the roots of the works we are growing.  It takes time, intentionality, patience, and acceptance.  It takes letting go of our definition of success and opening up to thoughts that the end goal can look a number of different ways.  And, if committed we can ask the right questions to find the best way to get there.

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Thanks Melissa for sharing!