Tenets of Community Leadership

Tenets of Community Leadership

Mary F. Ziegler (University of Tennessee, USA), Jeral R. Kirwan (University of Tennessee, USA) and Becky Smeltzer (University of Tennessee, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0062-1.ch010
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Local community leaders know what is needed in their communities. Interest in multilateral leadership is growing as communities aspire to more local control. This type of leadership employs structures and tools that benefit the collective good. This chapter presents five tenets of leadership that exemplify that focus on local control: transformation, communication, collaboration, planning, and integrity. A case study illustrates how these tenets have been applied in a real-world setting. These tenets are the foundation for a vision of leadership centered in the local community.  
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Morse (2004) identifies three national shifts regarding people that affect the local community: cultural shifts as the make-up of the local community more closely reflects the national community in its diversity, more control by local citizens on issues that matter to them, and multilateral solutions to problems. Methods that have succeeded in the past may not be robust enough to address these shifts. As communities are becoming more diverse, top-down solutions to complex, multifaceted problems may not generate the broad-based local support needed to make them effective.

For example, Gibson (2006) suggests that leadership is not an individual or a group of individuals directing a group of followers; rather, leadership is a process of civic engagement. In this sense, leadership includes a cross-section of the entire community who become engaged with one another, identifying problems by including multiple “voices” or even rivals, to solve common problems. The civic engagement view of leadership differs from that of the charismatic leader who directs a group of followers toward his or her vision. One individual, one agency, or one sector cannot address complex systemic community problems. “Issues cannot be siloed; they must be addressed multilaterally” (Morse, 2004, p. 183). Interest in multilateral leadership is growing as communities aspire to more local control. What is needed is a different vision of leadership, a multilateral one that employs new structures and tools that benefit the collective good.

In this chapter, our goal is to approach community leadership with a view toward establishing a set of tenets that describe not only what community leadership is but how it is to function. We chose the word “tenets” because it is a belief generally held in common by members of an organization or in this chapter, a community (Tenet, 2011). What is key is the phrase “held in common” meaning one of the key roles of community leaders is to translate the tenets so they become “transparent” and “held in common” by the citizens who are a part of the community. First we describe the five tenets drawn from the literature on community leadership and our own experience working closely with local communities. Second, we review a case study that shows how these tenets come alive in the life of a real community. Finally, we conclude with implications for practice.



We define community leadership based on Temkin’s conception of community leadership (2011) as a distinct leadership style. What differentiates community leadership from its counterparts is the way that communities and community organizations draw on basic leadership skills to face common challenges and find workable solutions. These tenets describe leadership characteristics required for what Gibson (2006) calls the “ethos of engagement” (p. 2). In practice, the tenets are not discreet since they overlap with one another in any given situation. In order to examine them more closely, we have separated the characteristics into five categories: transformation, communication, collaboration, planning, and integrity.

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