By NARDIA SHERIFF*

WHEN the chips are down, it is human nature for communities to rally together, especially in Australia and especially in regional communities. 

But the crises and disasters that we are most familiar with such as drought, floods and bushfires look nothing like the one we are currently facing in COVID-19. With no playbook to guide us, how do we ensure that we not only survive, but once the fog clears, we thrive?

As the executive officer of Northern Mallee Leaders Inc. and a 2009 graduate of the Northern Mallee Leaders Program, leadership in our community, or community leadership, is at the heart of what I do every day. I facilitate the pathway that provides tools and learning to everyday people that are wanting to actively contribute to their communities. 

Everyone has leadership potential, and leadership skills can be developed and applied in many different contexts. We can be leaders in our workplaces, in our sporting clubs and amongst our networks of friends and family. You do not have to be in a position of leadership, in order to be a leader or to demonstrate leadership.

Community leadership is multi-layered. Positional leadership seen in local government representatives, industry CEOs and organisations involved in the decision-making and progression of our region play an important role.

 But that is just one layer. Community leadership is more than just people from the top holding the lantern to light the way. It is the people who care about the community, who are willing to step up and support it regardless of where their influence may extend. 

You know them, you are them. We see it in our footy clubs, our workplaces and within our not-for-profit sector. It’s evident in organisations and groups that rely on volunteers.

Community leadership comes from WITHIN the community and is driven BY the community. It is us and it is you. So, what does community leadership look like in these COVID-19 times? For me, it comes down to one thing. Don’t underestimate the role you play as an individual in making a collective impact.

Like the grasses that always sprout after long overdue rain, every member of our community, the actions they take and the words that they say, have a significant impact. During these difficult times and the years that follow, it will be the contribution YOU make that will ensure our community thrives.

Let that sink in for a minute. The contribution you make matters. That’s community leadership.

And it is easy to do. You can start by being an ambassador for our community. 

Support locally-owned and operated hospitality businesses through the Friday lunchtime campaign #forkitlocalfriday; purchase through local businesses instead of large online entities; be a friendly voice or face in your workplace; keep us all safe by advocating the social distancing restrictions and call out the behaviour of friends and family who aren’t following the guidelines. 

These are all very simple actions you can take, and take today.

But you can step it up a notch. The words you speak and the narrative that is passed from person to person is something that we all influence. 

In recent times, our elected leaders have faced a barrage of criticism. A quick view of comments on any Facebook feed shows the keyboard warriors out in force, quick to lambast and pass judgement on the latest mistake or ill-timed holiday. 

And whilst people are unquestionably entitled to their opinions, a good leader knows when and how to effectively express theirs.

Think about how you influence the narrative that circulates, in person and on social media. Are you singing the praises of our community? Are you building us up when you speak, not only of our region, but of the people who are trying to make it a better place? 

Or are you tearing us down with commentary that isn’t based in fact and perspective? Are you choosing not to engage at all? 

Every seemingly off-the-cuff comment or throwaway response contributes to the strength of our community. There is most certainly a place for scrutiny, particularly in politics and public decision-making, but as you turn to gripe about the situation to a friend, or post a comment on Facebook, consider the role you are playing in keeping our community strong and connected. 

Does it help, or does it hinder? Can we do better?

Whilst we could all do with a crystal ball to see how this plays out, the most impactful thing that each of us can do, here and now, is to own our behaviour and take actions that are meaningful. 

Do not underestimate the role you play as an individual in making a collective impact. You do not need to be a manager, a club president or the graduate of a community leadership program to influence change. You simply need is to understand that your seemingly small contribution is exactly what our community needs right now.

* Nardia Sheriff is executive officer of Northern Mallee Leaders