Insights Leadership is community involvement

Leadership is community involvement

I just finished participating in Summerfest Tech and I was again struck by how powerful the community is at creating acceleration in business. I’m always impacted by the stories that organizations tell and how businesses are able to harness the energy of their mission to create more from the “sum of their parts”. This year at Summerfest Tech was an outpouring of companies giving their all. They don’t have to be here, they want to be here. They want to be present because being engaged in the community produces results in their own organization’s engagement, as well as builds partnerships that accelerate the greater community.

I’ve heard frequently, “what is the point of community engagement?” and sometimes events are notable not just by who is present, but also who isn’t present. Why do some choose to be engaged and some do not? What does that say about their leadership and the impact in their businesses and community? The below is evidence I’m witnessing based on just the results from Summerfest Tech but is also representative of the impact in the greater community. Think of these as your reasons to engage yourself, your company, and your greater relationships in building community.

Impact #1. You are a lighthouse

The thing about lighthouses is they are both beacons and light the way for others. They also draw others in or convey best practices. The best leaders are engaged in trying new things, exciting their team members, and encouraging them to give back. There are a few notable leaders in Milwaukee, especially Tim Dickson, Sam Hilgendorf, Jonah Turner, Chad Steighner that you not only see creating impact through their engagement, but you see the energy in their teams and their desire to power a better future. People want to be proud of the work they do. They want to show it off. They want to be part of the solution. These leaders could keep their work quiet, but they don’t because part of what powers the acceleration of their team is the momentum created by engaging their teams in the external community. Sam shared the impact of AI on the Fox World Travel business and could have kept that quiet. He didn’t. The reason why is because sharing demonstrates the innovative nature of the business, makes it attractive to work with, attracts the best team members, and encourages his own team members to be better every day.

Impact #2. You attract and engage talent

I already spoke about being a lighthouse attracts and engages talent, but there are other ways to create this momentum. For this I’m inspired by Maribeth Achterberg, who is a powerhouse of enabling Women in Tech through her encouraging presence across multiple sessions, as well as her practical participation in the community. Realize that the engagement in the community is meaningful and creates real and lasting impact by (1) encouraging those who would not otherwise engage in tech to participate and (2) showing it is possible to enter into career domains that perhaps would not always be on the radar.

Impact #3. Building a Region

I’ve heard some say, “what is the point of building a region in tech?” and I can understand the competitive nature of where that comes from. In strong contrast are the results in Milwaukee through Kathy Henrich‘s tireless efforts with the Milwaukee Tech Hub and the amazing Joe Poeschl. The attraction and retention of talent, the encouragement of all businesses to be tech businesses, and the partnership with large investments like Microsoft are all key. Who isn’t talking about Microsoft landing a multi-billion dollar datacenter in our backyard? Who isn’t seeing the impact of MANY businesses working together to create a tech hub? This all increases the talent pool, the engagement, and the cumulative result of many businesses, most of which are non-competitive with each other. The Summerfest Tech experience this year was representative of that work, especially since it has grown year-over-year as one of the examples of the amazing impact possible.

Impact #4. You are stronger

It can be hard to invest time in the community as an individual. You have things to do and tasks to get done. Perhaps your business doesn’t support you going to conferences and you need to take time off. Even when you are there it can be difficult sometimes to see the reason why you are there. I can promise that when a person engages an event like this and puts in the effort to engage, they will see impact. That payoff might not come short term, but it will come as a long-term impact that stays with a person throughout their career. It is a spark that ignites their engagement in the community as a whole through LinkedIn, in-person communities, and talent development. It directs their energy toward technologies and companies that will enable their career. It builds relationships that will follow a person as they progress in their career. There simply is nothing better than the community to power a person’s career journey as it just widens their circle and shows how to give-back as they grow in talent, relationships, and results.

Impact #5. Focus goes where it is needed

For this I want to highlight the mentor sessions. They are small but mighty. Mentor sessions can be odd, because you can often be thinking more about size of the group than the impact on each person. The thing about mentorship is it reminds you that every person matters. I was thankful for each of the mentors that engaged, but two in particular were meaningful for me this year, David Manske and Kate Weiland-Moores. These are two busy people, each of which I’m sure made time to engage in mentorship. I loved how David just got his table going… no prompt needed and engaged them in a meaningful conversation. I can also say that in mentor sessions, we are all mentors and we are all mentees. I always show up prepared with what I’m hoping to convey, but find that I learn as much from those around me (if not more), as I provide in the session. This is the magic of mentorship. You are both growing. If you have never engaged in mentorship before, take the chance when it is offered to you.

Impact #6. Broadening Your Comfort Zone

I know that presenting isn’t always easy. I’ve had my fair share of mishaps and butterflies. This year there were numerous first-time speakers and I was particularly excited to see Christina Velasquez, who I met at IC Stars present on an AI solution that she built for the organization called “Mr. Stars”. It was a joy to see her succeed and present on something meaningful in front of an engaged audience. I loved seeing her community support her as she crushed it and how the broader Summerfest Tech audience was excited about the impact. The same can be said for the Pitch Competition, which is a great opportunity for a wide variety of start-ups to present their ideas and for us to encourage next steps. We need to give as many people as possible the opportunity to engage in experiences that challenge them to be more than they were yesterday. The people you encourage today are the super-stars of tomorrow.

Impact #7. Organizing Matters

They say, “know your strengths and double down”, but also know your weaknesses. I’m less of an organizer than I am a driver. The world without organizers would be a less connected place, because people like Lena DeLaet show that when you bring people together, more is possible. The energy and structure that go into making a successful event is far more than most of us will ever realize. The work that you put into creating a successful event pays off in the way that relationships impact throughout the year. It can be difficult to articulate the value of those relationships when being asked, “what is the value of Summerfest Tech, or events like it”, but it exists and its tangible. I see the same value of organization on the Concurrency front in Amy Cousland, who works to create incredible gatherings, such as the upcoming AI Symposiums in the fall. It is the combination of our strengths that build amazing outcomes.

Finally, I want to convey that if you were there this year, you know. If you weren’t, this is your call to get involved and build community. We all have ways of getting engaged but realize that giving is a value in itself. I find that when I expect something in return, I struggle to see the value, but when I give without the expectation of payoff, I always see they why behind the investment. Here is calling every tech executive, professional, student, or otherwise to get engaged in their community… not because you are expecting some sort of reward, but because it is the right thing to do.