Shrinking the Rural Leadership Gap

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Shrinking the Rural Leadership Gap

From Kayla Schnuelle, Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver

 

What happens when the leaders in your community retire, move or step down? Is there a leadership succession plan happening in your community? Is the next generation of leaders being mentored?

Leadership is important and even critical for long-term success and vitality of rural communities. In my experience, leadership tends to be the major factor that distinguishes thriving rural places from those that are lagging behind.

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As we look deeper, it becomes apparent that the transfer of leadership from one generation to the next may be another important factor and could serve as a powerful tool for communities.

The rural leadership gap is real and is amplified because of outmigration of the millennials. According to a research published in the Cornhusker Economics, some young adults, especially young families, are looking to relocate from metro areas to nonmetro areas. They want to live in family-friendly communities to raise their children. They also need a way to support themselves, so employment opportunities are critical.

In most rural communities, the majority of leadership positions — elected service and volunteer — are held by the oldest two generations in the communities. The 2012 Nebraska Rural Poll showed that of young Nebraskans (under the age of 36) that took the poll, only 8 percent held elected offices and less than one-third held formal leadership roles. This is not a new phenomenon. It has happened for decades, but the unique part of this trend is that the lack of leadership transfer is now coupled with the huge transfer of wealth occurrence.

The Nebraska Community Foundation researched the transfer of wealth in Nebraska, predicting that during the next 50 years, more than $602 billion will be transferred from one generation to the next. This will be the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in our state’s history.

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The World War II and Baby Boomer generation own more private wealth than any other generations, with more than $600 billion in wealth. This wealth may be held in real estate, securities, retirement accounts and other assets. Some will go to taxes while most will go to heirs. Due to outmigration, many of those heirs no longer live where the wealth was built and may no longer feel connected to those places. Once wealth leaves these communities, the opportunity for give-back becomes more and more unlikely. (The Nebraska Community Foundation, 2011 Transfer of Wealth Study Summary Report, 2012.)

So, what happens when the transfer of wealth is accompanied by a gap in the transfer of leadership? People will retire and pass on their wealth and leadership positions, but what happens when the next wave of leaders are unprepared and/or nonexistent?

According to the 2015 American Community Survey, in Nebraska’s 86 most rural counties, there is a population dip between ages 20-49 (Figure 1). It is significant in most instances. Many people are not surprised by this. However, when you think about the dip in population, the transfer of wealth and the transfer of leadership brings a significant challenge.

What is the solution? There are no specific answers, but I believe that rural leadership needs to start and continue a culture of ‘giving back to the community.’ This happens with service, financial gifting and becoming a community leader. Current rural leadership also needs to mentor, teach and ask the next generations to participate and lead efforts in rural places.

 

“A true rural leader invites other people of diversity to the table and steps back, guides and supports in an act of service to their community.” – Kayla Schnuelle

 

If you do empower others to serve and guide with a gentle hand, then the opportunities for your community are generative and endless. The young leaders that you mentor are the best attraction and retention for the next wave of rural leaders.

Support your community by supporting a culture of giving, and make intentional plans to transfer leadership by extending personal invites and embracing new thoughts, ideas and people. Slowly but surely, we will see the rural leadership gap diminish.

 


 

Kayla Schnuelle

Kayla Schnuelle

Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver | Rural Futures Institute
@kschnuelle

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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