Leadership is an Activity: Visioning and Building Together
Updated: Mar 22
When I accepted the position of interim CEO for Prosper Waco, it was simply to allow the search committee and board of directors sufficient time to conduct the national search they were undertaking. I knew it was such an important organization for our community, and as a community member, I shared the desire to have the right person in that role for the next season. My time as interim was focused on short-term things: things like operations, processes, finances, within a lens of identifying and implementing those improvements or tweaks could I make in the immediate short-term that would leave the organization and its next CEO positioned for success.
By the time that the Board voted to invite me to apply for the long-term position, I had the sense it was something I would love to pursue. Theologian Frederick Buechner wrote that vocation is that “place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Like you, I have hopes and aspirations for our community, for Waco to be a place where all our residents can prosper and thrive; where our systems (schools, healthcare, government etc.) realize their missions equitably; where the business and social climate both are healthy and harness the power of good. I truly believed (and continue to believe) that in working together toward a vision we as a community all accept and share, we will accomplish more than any one entity could on its own. One important role for a collective impact organization is to convene and listen and help the community cast, and build consensus around, a shared vision- and then to help align efforts and resources as we all work in our own spaces towards that vision. Serving our community and seeing us measurably improve educational, health, and financial outcomes for all in our community is my deep gladness, and indeed such deep need.
It sounds corny and trite to say that I’m honored and humbled to be entrusted with this role, but it is true. It is also true though that real leadership is an activity, not a position. In their book, “When Everyone Leads,” authors Julia Fabris McBride and Ed O’Malley note that leadership is not about authority, or a position. Leadership is about engaging others to solve daunting problems, “mobilizing people to make progress on the most important challenges,” they write. That is my hope and vision for the future of Prosper Waco. That we can show leadership by engaging and mobilizing partners across the community to work together to solve the most daunting challenges that we face. That we collectively have the courage to name the things that aren’t working, whether in the systems or institutions in place or in our own work and efforts, and to balance realism and pragmatism with optimism, as we aspire and work towards change. That we can help our community focus on what matters and will change things the most and to prioritize those efforts. That we can work with the community to identify our shared dreams, our goals, and to put those markers down as aspirations worthy of our work in our own spaces. Mark Twain wrote that, “without dreams and goals, there is no living, merely existing, and that is not why we are here.” I believe we are all called here to serve and to lead in our own spaces. In stepping into that place where our gladness meets the community’s need, we can accept that calling and fully live, as we labor towards a shared vision and dream and goals for a thriving, prosperous Waco. When we come together to organize around a shared vision for the future, we create a sense of purpose, calling, and direction for our community – and a sense of collective ownership for the future of our community. We share responsibility for the place we leave our children and their children. I look forward to listening to and learning from and working alongside many of you, as I step into this role, and we together dream the big dreams and do the hard work to build the future Waco we want. I hope you will join us in this collective impact work, for indeed the biggest challenges facing our community are bigger than any of us can solve alone. The most daunting challenges will require all of us to act and show leadership, in our own spaces and together in the community, in the large things and in the small, as we work with gladness to be who Waco, today and tomorrow, needs us to be.
Jessica Attas was just named Chief Executive Officer for Prosper Waco.