Leadership Skills: Being a Doer to Become a Leader



Leadership Skills: Being a Doer to Become a Leader

By Walker Zulkoski, Executive Director of Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage)

I’ve never considered myself a “leader.” My philosophy has always been to do and steer. Meeting gets out of hand; get it back on point. People are complaining about a constant problem; address said problem. I don’t do these things because I think of myself as a leader. I do them because I only have so much time and energy—and to sit in a meeting talking about the same thing over and over again is a waste. My thoughts turn to, “Let’s get things done and move on to the next project.”

If you are in that stage of life where you work hard, you produce, people count on you and you consistently think of the next idea, then you, like so many of us, are in this state of leadership purgatory.

Many of us with this mindset are at the same point. Millennials are reaching the stage in their careers at which they master their trade and naturally begin to find new ways of accomplishing tasks more efficiently and effectively. Rather than buckle down and work harder, we step back, analyze and work smarter. We spend more time planning, listening, navigating and dreaming—knowing that we can’t do it all and that we must allow others to conquer the task with their own skills. It’s important to act on these ideas, take note of the outcomes and understand that these activities are creating future leaders.

When we do take on these initial leadership roles, we don’t completely move on, and that’s fine. As Charlette Beers describes in her article, The Three Stages of Your Career, “No one is a leader all the time,” tackling a leadership role when we need to and then reverting back to being a doer is a natural cycle. The idea doesn’t have to be something earth-shattering that turns your entire business upside down. Simple changes or projects can get you the same experience and give you the confidence to do it again.


“When the new idea comes to you, run with it.
Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk and lead the charge.”


When the new idea comes to you, run with it. Step out of your comfort zone, take a risk and lead the charge. Then go back to being a doer and think of the next idea you want to act on. The more times you do this, the more experience you gain.

Document your experience. Reflect on it to understand what did and did not work. How would you change your approach? Take your experience, and turn it into an elevator pitch. Nobody will remember that you did a good job unless you tell them. The more projects and charges you lead will add to your toolbox of knowledge and make you better the next time. Let these experiences mold you into the leader you aspire to become. It’s a never-ending process, but it needs to start now. Take your idea and run with it then go back to being a doer and think of the next one.



What will you do to define the future?



Walker Zulkoski

Walker Zulkoski

Executive Director | Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage)
Connect with Walker on LinkedIn & Facebook.

Walker Zulkoski is the Executive Director of Gage Area Growth Enterprise (NGage) in Beatrice, NE.  Originally from Ord, Nebraska, his mission is to help rural Nebraska prosper.  Walker is a graduate of the State Chamber’s Leadership Nebraska class, the RFI Leadership Development Program, Leadership Beatrice, and is currently a member of the Sherwood Foundation’s Catalyst class.  He holds a bachelor degree from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, a Master Certificate from Villanova University, and an MBA from Nebraska Wesleyan.




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Young Nebraskans Week

Young Nebraskans Week


Young Nebraskans Week

Originally published by Greater Omaha Young Professionals

Allison Hatch, Nebraska Department of Economic Development
Kayla Schnuelle,
Rural Futures Institute 
Tom Beckius, Keith Peterson, Jaime Henning & Kayla Meyer,
Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group
Luke Hoffman,
Greater Omaha Chamber Young Professionals


The face of young American workers, their jobs and where they work is changing.


By 2018, employers will see as many as five generations working side by side. More than 60 million baby boomers will exit the workforce, and by 2025, only 40 million new workers will enter to replace them. Advancements in technology will help elevate some labor shortages but not in all sectors. Estimates suggest millennials could make up as much as 75% of the U.S. workforce by 2025.

Young workers today are more likely to be underemployed, earning less, living at home with their parents, delaying marriage and dependent on technology. They are less likely to be affiliated with a political party and connected to religion.

Here is what we also know. Today’s young workers are highly engaged with their work. Additionally, the jobs of today’s young workers are more mobile than they have been for any other generation. Good jobs can be as easy to locate as a good internet connection, whether you are in Albion or Atlanta, McCook or Miami, Lexington or London. As the mobility of jobs continues to increase, communities must ask how they can become more attractive to young workers. Community vibrancy is an ever-increasing factor in today’s job marketplace as workers can often choose from where they work instead of simply locating to where jobs are located.

The attraction, retention and development of young workers is vitally important for communities hoping to remain relevant in the rapidly expanding and diversified economy of the 21st Century. It is with this focus in mind that community leaders across the state of Nebraska have developed strategies to target this talent pool through attraction and retention efforts, including a specific priority to ask young workers what the community can do to make it more attractive as a place to live and work.


Yet, no one community knows all the best practices in attraction, retention and development of young talent, and leaders and communities are constantly faced with limited resources.


Yet, no one community knows all the best practices in attraction, retention and development of young talent, and leaders and communities are constantly faced with limited resources. As such, a concerted statewide coalition of leaders working together, sharing best practices and resources across the state, to focus the spotlight on young talent and vibrant communities together is the next step in making sure we are at the forefront for young workers.

Young Nebraskans Week will be a carefully curated series of speakers, discussion panels, workshops and networking opportunities hosted by communities across the state that celebrate the talent, insight and energy of young professionals working in Nebraska while also exploring the intersection between cultures and cities. Developed by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development and modeled after Lincoln’s Young Professionals Group’s annual YP Week, Young Nebraskans Week aims to concentrate our state’s focus on growing, retaining and developing our youngest members of the workforce. We know that highlighting the best of what Nebraska offers is how we win the fight for young talent and helps to keep Nebraska prosperous.


Collaboration is the new competition.


As we launch Young Nebraskans Week in 2018, we will be working throughout the state with local partners to create a dynamic environment focused on young workers. We will call upon industry, labor, chambers of commerce, economic development partners and many others to help make this initiative as strong as possible. We ask every Nebraskan to join our coalition in the fight to attract and retain young workers to our state. Collaboration is the new competition.



Kayla Schnuelle

Kayla Schnuelle

Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver | Rural Futures Institute

Kayla Schnuelle directs the RFI Student Serviceship program, coordinates the state-wide network of young professionals, Connecting Young Nebraskans, and offers her expertise in facilitation and leadership throughout many of RFI’s initiatives.

She has developed a deep understanding of the opportunities and trials that young professionals are finding in rural places. With an immense support network in place, Kayla has coordinated three statewide summits and has assisted in planning two national Rural Futures Institute Conferences.



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NEWS RELEASE: Rural Futures Institute’s Connecting Young Nebraskans Network Announces Steering Team

Andrew Ambriz at 2016 CYN Summit


LINCOLN, Neb. — April 28, 2017 — Connecting Young Nebraskans, a network of the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, has announced its 2017 steering team. For the next year, the team of 17 will direct the engagement and professional development efforts of the 840-member network of young leaders located throughout Nebraska.

Fourteen Nebraska communities—from Cody to West Point to McCook—are represented by the steering team as are many professions including economic development, tourism and education.

“Connecting Young Nebraskans is designed to be guided by a group of young leaders who have shown future-focused thinking and immense dedication to rural Nebraska,” said Chuck Schroeder, RFI Executive Director. “We are proud to work with these leaders and the entire network to facilitate critical conversations and actions that will benefit individuals and communities across the state.”

According to Connecting Young Nebraskans summit attendees in October, the biggest challenges young leaders face in rural communities include isolation, lack of formal transfer of leadership practices, leader burnout, limited opportunities to engage with peers and lack of professional development opportunities.

Connecting Young Nebraskans addresses each of these issues to connect, empower and retain young people ages 21 to 40 in rural communities. It expands young peoples’ networks, grows their professional and leadership skills and helps them think boldly on behalf of their communities. In total, 118 Nebraska communities, not including Lincoln and Omaha, are represented in the network.

“Connecting Young Nebraskans is all about the future, including motivating our young people and facilitating progress within our local communities that creates impacts,” said steering team member Chelsea Luthy, Community Development Specialist for Central Nebraska Economic Development District. “The Rural Futures Institute having the Connecting Young Nebraskans network is critical in terms of entrepreneurship and collaboration. RFI helps us ideate and makes our ideas available in a way that stimulates our rural areas.”


2017 Connecting Young Nebraskans Steering Committee

  • Ginger Ady | Ady Marketing & Consulting, Founder, North Platte, NE
  • Selena Aguilar | Nebraska State Fair, Entertainment Assistant, Grand Island, NE
  • Andrew Ambriz | McCook Economic Development, Interim Executive Director, McCook, NE
  • Bradley Averill | Nebraska Extension, Extension Educator, Neligh, NE
  • Mary Berlie | Grand Island Area Economic Development Corporation, Executive Vice President, Grand Island, NE
  • Tina Biteghe Bi Ndong | West Point Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director, West Point, NE
  • Tiffany Crouse | Hasting Downtown Center Association, Director, Hastings, NE
  • Abigail Frank | Full-Time M.A. Graduate Student, Neligh, NE
  • Jonathan Jank | Seward County Economic Development Corporation, Executive Director, Seward, NE
  • Chris Kreikemeier | Nielsen Center, Manager, West Point, NE
  • Chelsea Luthy | Central Nebraska Economic Development, Community Development Specialist, Cody, NE
  • Andrea McClintic | University of Nebraska-Lincoln Career Services, Associate Director of External Relations, Lincoln, NE
  • Jacie Milius | Southeast Research & Extension Center, Assistant Extension Educator, Nelson, NE
  • Penny Parker | Nebraska Total Care, Community Relations Coordinator, Kearney, NE
  • Crystal Ramm | Central Community College/Ord Learning Center, Regional Coordinator, Ord, NE
  • Kayla Schnuelle | Rural Futures Institute, Leadership Engagement Director, Diller, NE
  • Rhonda Veleba | York Chamber of Commerce, Towne Centre Coordinator, York, NE

For more information visit ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/CYN. CYN is active on Facebook and Twitter.

NEWS RELEASE: Connecting Young Nebraskans Summit in York Oct. 28 to Include More Than 225 Leaders Statewide

LINCOLN – October 19, 2016 – Futuring, coaching, sharing, managing—the list goes on for the 2016 Connecting Young Nebraskans (CYN) Summit, a time for young professionals throughout the state to come together to network and explore solutions for themselves, their organizations and their communities.

Hosted by the Rural Futures Institute (RFI) at the University of Nebraska, the summit entitled “Creating Life Balance” will be held at the Holthus Convention Center in York, Neb., Oct. 28, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. More than 225 participants are anticipated, and 51 communities are already represented. Details and registration are available at http://ruralfutures.nebraska.edu/events.

CYN is an ongoing statewide network of more than 750 professionals between the ages of 21 and 40 that works to connect people in rural communities to each other, professional development training and community leadership resources.

“What we have accomplished with Connecting Young Nebraskans is at the core of the work of the Rural Futures Institute in that it creates a space for community leaders to come together to share ideas and opportunities in an environment that is dedicated to facilitating action-oriented discussions,” said Chuck Schroeder, Executive Director of RFI. “This summit in particular will be an incredibly valuable use of time not only for the participants, but for their employers and rural communities as well.”

The summit agenda was led by RFI coordinator Kayla Schnuelle and created in conjunction with a steering committee of CYN representatives throughout the state. The keynote will be delivered by Lisa Gunderson, certified reality-based leadership coach from Dakota Dunes, South Dakota.

Coffee shop discussions will provide space for networking, idea generation and thoughtful reflection, and Nebraska leaders from Albion, Benkelman, Broken Bow, Grand Island, Hastings, McCook, O’Neill, Ord, York and more will provide professional development breakout and power-up sessions.

RFI Chief Futurist Dr. Connie Reimers-Hild will help attendees explore trends, emerging technologies and inclusive leadership that will innovate community engagement. Schroeder’s remarks will highlight the importance for rural communities nationwide to focus on developing young leaders.

“I have greatly enjoyed collaborating with the Connecting Young Nebraskans steering team to help coordinate the 2016 Summit,” said Rhonda Veleba, Towne Centre Coordinator for the York Chamber of Commerce. “The steering team brings a wide variety of backgrounds and ideas that will make the summit a well-rounded experience with broad topics, innovative ideas and powerful energy. I’m very excited for this statewide event to take place in York this year.”