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Building Stronger Leaders and Regions

By Evan Schmidt

“Regional stewards are integrators who cross boundaries of jurisdiction, sector and discipline to address complex regional issues such as sprawl, equity, education and economic development. They see the connections between economic, environmental and social concerns and know how to “connect the dots” to improve their regions.”

 – Alliance for Regional Stewardship, 2006

Regional stewards provide important leadership by pursuing triple bottom line values, including economic prosperity, environmental sustainability, and social equity. The California Stewardship Network (CSN) brings together regional stewards, like Valley Vision, from across California to seed collaborations, share stories, challenges, accomplishments, and, yes, dinners and drinks. These quarterly exchanges have been occurring for nearly 10 years and have created important relationships and collaborations that set the stage for a united vision of triple bottom line values across California.

In early 2017, the group of fifteen regions decided to widen the net, build leadership capacity, and invite a group of young leaders to join a brand new Leadership Fellows program hosted by CSN. I was fortunate to be invited to participate as a Sacramento region representative, along with Maritza Davis of Unseen HeroesLeah Moehle of California Forward, and Patrick Guild of Sacramento Metro Chamber Foundation. We joined about 25 other Fellows to participate in the exchanges in addition to a leadership program uniquely focused on steward, or service-based leadership.

As the 2017 Fellows program comes to an end, here are some of my take aways from the program and the exchanges that I have participated in:

  • Stewardship is humble leadership that is in service to the greater good, and in this case, to triple bottom line values. This interpretation of leadership resonated with me more than any other that I have heard and has provided an aspirational vision for how to approach work and life.
  • Relationships, relationships, relationships – the key to getting cool things done is building relationships. That’s why dinner and drinks is important – you aren’t surprised are you? The cohort approach helped foster these relationships.
  • Grappling with complexity – in our latest exchange, June 27-29 in Ventura, we were given the time and open format to discuss hard questions. For example, we grappled with how automation will impact the workforce, and meandered from the importance of skill-based job descriptions to preserving the values and qualities that create meaning in people’s lives. This ranging conversation brought about new perspectives for all of us, which in turn created deeper understanding into an important and complex conversation. We need this kind of time and nuance in our age of sound bites and memes.
  • Cross generational dialogue – as a Gen Xer sandwiched between two generations that take up a lot of air in the room (Boomers and Millennials, you know who you are), I know the importance of cross-generational learning. Respectfully, Millennials need to learn and Boomers need to cede some of their power. Just saying. Fortunately, CSN created dialogue and safe space for leaders to explore how to support each other across generations.
  • Regions are where it’s at – It’s easy to get frustrated, or even depressed, about statewide or national policy. Working from the ground-up, sharing successes and failures, and creating spaces, like the CSN exchanges, where leaders share a commitment to stewardship and a vision for the future of California, sets a hopeful path.

CSN has invested in the future leadership of California by bringing new leaders into the fold. Having now spent a year gathering with new and not-as-new leaders through the exchanges, I feel confident that CSN’s investment will seed stewardship values for many years to come. CSN will soon be recruiting new Fellows for next year’s class – I look forward to continuing to work with CSN and to helping usher in a new group of Fellows, strengthening the stewardship network and building new leaders across the state.

Evan Schmidt is Valley Vision’s Director of Strategy and Evaluation working on the Public Opinion Surveying initiative and projects in the Healthy Communities and 21st Century Workforce strategy areas.