At a First Business Bank Emerging Leaders event, Jason Ilstrup, President of Downtown Madison Inc. spoke on the importance of emerging leaders’ involvement with their communities and how that can benefit the development of the emerging leader, the growth of the organization in which they work, and how it can ultimately lead to mutually-meaningful work engagement.
As Madison area resident, Bruce Holoubek, owner of Contracted Leadership, and Host of The Development Exponent Podcast is familiar with the city’s business development and networking circles and has known Jason for some time. But it was how Jason’s presentation precisely resonated with Bruce’s mission to help business leaders build mutually-meaningful work engagements, that moved Bruce to invite Jason to the podcast to take the subject further.
Downtown Madison Inc., is a member-based nonprofit organization striving to create the best quality of life downtown for everyone. It brings community boards under its umbrella where professionals from various organizations come together to serve and create solutions. As President of Downtown Madison Inc., Jason has an eagle’s view of how new emerging leaders come in to discover their opportunities, and grow from there.
Initially, Jason sees two general categories of volunteers. The first type of people are the ones who come full-hearted with the purpose of fulfilling the mission of the board they serve. The second type of people are the ones who only want to network for personal and professional gain.
However, he also sees how the cross over happens: a member who comes with the purpose of networking and networking only, becomes engaged and passionate about the cause they serve and then genuinely becomes an advocate and solution driver for that cause. They become a true leader and giver to their board.
Witnessing this positive change, this first ripple in the pond, reinforces Jason’s own sentiment for how meaningful this profession is to him. He finds meaning in the fact he can work with different kinds of people from different industries and unite them to work together for a better way of living. The combination of public, private, and nonprofit sectors joining to create local solutions to local problems is especially powerful. Being in this mix is also extremely beneficial to the personal and professional growth of emerging leaders.
For emerging leaders being on boards allows them to become part of a future-building conversation. By being present and being a part of the group they learn how to become leaders. Being present helps people build trust, and building trusting relationships helps to create mutually meaningful work engagements. It’s personal as well as professional development. Personally, they learn more about other people, about how the world works, and about themselves. Professionally, they learn networking skills, how to work with other people, how organizations work, how different roles in those organizations work, and about the different ways of leading meetings and events.
As you encourage your emerging leaders to grow their networks and join boards, encourage them to come to know as many people as they can just for the sake of knowing them. Especially, encourage them to come to know people who are different from them economically, ethnically, etc. If most of the people we know look and think like we do, then we are likely to run into confirmation bias. Having that diversity of human influence around us helps to clear our blind spots and think better. Moreover, practicing taking in differing viewpoints and opinions helps us become more open and receptive, which helps our organizations be better off.
With all of this positive return on having your emerging leaders volunteer for the community, it’s almost difficult to not feel a little guilty. Are we really gaining more than we’re giving? That depends on whom you ask. Either way, the answer will always be filled with gratitude.
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