Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Building Sustainable Communities: Leadership Development along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

Building Sustainable Communities: Leadership Development along the U.S.-Mexico Border

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Much attention to revitalization in central urban neighborhoods focuses upon economic development and the infusion of economic capital. Throughout the United States, many organizations and communities have sent their "best and brightest" representatives to various types of leadership training programs. Leadership training, through promising as an investment in human capital, warrants greater attention as a catalyst for social capital. This study explores the potential for social capital development in an ethnically diverse community facing rapid growth, high levels of poverty, unemployment, severe economic disparity and serious environmental threats. Will individuals identified as community leaders, if exposed to general leadership skills training and substantive information about current problems facing the community, develop consensus over goals and a unified a commitment to work together to addressed community problems? Although preliminary results suggest orchestrated cohorts may play less of a role in evolving value consensus than previous personal affiliations like ethnicity, participants reported enhanced relationships.

INTRODUCTION

In communities across the United States, promising women and men are being encouraged to participate in community affairs. (1) Individuals volunteer in local schools, serve on boards and organize community festivals of all kinds. Collectively, the relationships they forge in a community can be characterized as a form of capital upon which a community can rely to sustain itself. At some point, these "promising women and men" had been identified and encouraged to participate in community affairs. Just as organizational members identify mechanisms for the development, promotion and succession of talented employees, so too, must communities provide the means to identify, develop, encourage, and reward future community leaders. In this regard, many civic organizations have provided a structure to scout for leadership talent in their community. For example, in many locales, the Chamber of Commerce assists in the development of community leaders. Although template programs (e.g. "Leadership -insert city name") are available in many communities across the U.S., there is no formal, educational program for community leadership development within the national Chamber of Commerce (Langeland, 2000). Instead, similar to the diffusion of program and policy innovations, leadership programs offered through local chambers have come into being as a result of a chance discussion at a state convention or as chamber members move to a different community with new ideas (Walker, 1969).

One such leadership development program offered in a large community along the U.S.-Mexico border is discussed in this paper. Although communities have a variety of avenues to identify and mentor their "best and brightest," insufficient research has been done to determine the utility of these programs to develop the personal skills and the relationships and social networks necessary to generate social capital. A deterioration of social capital is considered a serious threat to community sustainability. For many public administration scholars, practitioners, and others concerned with public policy delivery, programs to develop leadership and civic participation in a community are of great importance. Concerns about eroded community will or capacity to address the "wicked problems" facing many locales have prompted public administration scholars and elected officials to call for greater investment in community leadership and administration grounded in civic participation (Rittel and Webber, 1973:160; King and Stivers, 1998:196-198). Decision-makers anticipate that such training contributes to the skills and ability of individuals, enabling them to guide their community or organization to some higher level of performance. Sustained community development requires a cadre of skilled community members to respond to shared threats or anticipated concerns. …

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