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Quint Studer

This is the third in a four-part series by Quint Studer, author of Building a Vibrant Community: How Citizen-Powered Change Is Reshaping America.

It’s really easy for communities to get down on themselves. When they do, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What you believe and say about yourself determines how the rest of the world experiences you. It creates your culture and, ultimately, your brand.

As businesses turn on their “open” signs and folks emerge from their homes, leaders need to already be in culture-building mode.

I’ve seen this truth play out again and again in my work with communities across the U.S. And it’s probably even more pronounced in the current crisis. Once lockdown is lifted and the country begins to reopen, it’s going to be more important than ever to create a positive culture.

Just as the culture of a company determines its success, the culture of your community will determine what you look like on the other side. It drives how people feel, which drives how they talk about things, which drives what they do.

Do you have a culture of optimism or one of hopelessness and negativity? Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t—you’re right.”

We want our communities to strongly believe they can.

Optimism helps us change the conversation. It gets everyone aligned and rowing together toward the same hopeful vision.

If the people aren’t with us, it won’t matter how bold our vision is or how great our plans are. It takes engaged and activated citizens to make a bright future happen.

We need to rally our communities, and this is a job that begins with leaders. Actually, it might be our top job right now.

A culture of optimism, energy, and engagement has always been the fuel that moves communities toward vibrancy. Use the crisis as a springboard to create that culture in yours. It will feel good to people to focus on something positive, so harness that energy to create a stronger, better, more vibrant version of yourself.

I have 10 tips for creating an engaging and positive culture in your community. This week, we’ll cover the first three.

1. Get a solid leadership infrastructure in place.

Hopefully you’ve already laid some of this groundwork. There needs to be more collaboration than ever as communities will rely heavily on local leadership as we start to come back from the pandemic.

Create a guiding coalition that involves leaders from all sectors including business, government, health care, news media, nonprofit, etc. Chambers will be vital in rallying the troops and providing the framework for alignment.

2. Put together a come-back plan with well- articulated, measurable goals. Communicate it regularly.

Put some thought into this. Don’t fall back on what you’ve always done. As world-famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

Try to go to where the puck is going.

Provide regular status updates to citizens. Always be upfront and transparent. Trust is vital. When people see that goals are being met, it will go a long way toward building confidence.

3. Create a deliberate messaging campaign.

Keeping people informed is key to keeping them engaged. Constantly reiterate your plans, and make sure community stakeholders are doing the same. Find bright spots, and focus on them. Pay attention to what’s going well. Are there opportunities where you can cheerlead? Whatever it is that makes you great and different, talk it up. You’re building community pride, and that has a huge multiplier effect.

In the next segment, we’ll explore seven more tips for building a positive brand.

— Studer of Strong Towns is founder of Pensacola’s Studer Community Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the community’s quality of life. Strong Towns is an international movement dedicated to making communities across the United States and Canada financially strong and resilient.