Leadership in Rural America by Gregg Motley

Gregg Motley. President of the Regional Economic Development, Inc. Submitted photo.


In a previous column entitled “Local Patriots,” I made the connection between economic opportunities afforded to a community and the quality of their leaders. It just makes sense that any type of organization, whether it is government, business, or charity, rises or falls according to the effectiveness of the people in charge.

Leadership is even more critical in rural American communities, as we are fighting the megatrends that are making life difficult for us. There are few easy answers, so it requires creative, opportunistic, and steady hands on the helm. It is so easy to take a risk and make a big mistake; or, more critically, miss opportunities that have a short open window.

Over the course of my lifetime, it seems as if we have changed the way we look at leadership and evaluate the people in charge. No matter what leadership books one reads, all describe critical elements of competency, character, communication, and compassion. Seems that many 21st century Americans are willing to overlook major gaps in one or more of these areas if the candidate is willing to support two or three hot-button issues. Leaders should be selected based on credentials, not popularity or showmanship.

Additionally, once we elect people who have been brave enough to run for office, we think nothing of castigating them online or in public forums, whether all the facts have been considered or if even one shred of truth exists in the criticisms. It is no wonder high-quality people are reluctant to run for office, or leave office after one or two terms. Who would want to put themselves and their families through the continual negative barrage?

How do we encourage the best leadership possible in rural America? Begin with encouraging and supporting those who are currently serving. You might be dubious about their politics or uneasy about the latest gossip regarding their personal lives, but we need our elected officials to succeed. Additionally, I consider it the height of cowardice to spread rumors or post half-truths or outright lies on social media about a leader in our community. Get the facts right and go to the people involved; don’t light your hair on fire and go running around saying, “the sky is falling” every time a shadow crosses your path.

Once we have established a pattern of supporting, respecting, and encouraging our leaders, our best and brightest will always be willing to serve. Let’s work together, holding each other accountable to civil and just behavior, and make leadership in Bourbon County something to be coveted and desired again.

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