Connie Loden

on Sunday, 13 May 2012. Posted in Leadership Interviews, Action Motivated Leadership

Connie Loden
, Executive Director, Heart of Wisconsin Business & Economic Alliance,
Connie Loden

Connie Loden , Executive Director for Heart of Wisconsin Business & Economic Alliance, coordinates community economic development projects in Central Wisconsin , and has become an internationally recognized leader in rural development, holding leadership roles with the Community Development Society and National Rural Development Partnership.  

The Community Progress Initiative program Loden developed in partnership with the Community Foundation of South Wood County to revitalize their economically struggling community has received award recognitions on a state and national level. 

She served as Past-President of Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program and Wisconsin Rural Partners, the state’s rural development council. Connie also served as chair of the Wisconsin State Trails Council, Wisconsin Community Leadership Summit and Wisconsin Community Resource Teams (now TeamWorks!). 

Connie consults as a community economic development specialist, having assisted over 30 communities in the US , Australia , New Zealand , Cuba , Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Interview with Connie Loden

How did you come to be interested in the area of leadership in the community?   
I became involved when I was 22,  operating a resort business and someone asked me to chair a committee for a community event, then after a couple of years, I was leading it. What truly got me interested in and created a passion for leadership and developing my skills was my participation in the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program in 1994-96.

What do you see as being the essential ingredients for individuals to become community leaders and initiate to completion a leadership project?

A vision and passion to make it happen -- A "can-do" attitude with integrity -- A willingness to take risks, lead change and make a difference.    

How can community organisations create partnerships for community development?  Are there any key strategic partnerships that all communities should strive to develop?

 Strategic Partnerships are key to healthy vibrant communities. We are better together! To create a successful partnership for community development, identify the key stakeholders and how do they complement each other -- what can they accomplish together by pooling their strengths, versus operating alone and missing necessary skills or connections? Clearly identifying the expectations of the partners at the start is extremely important to a partnership where all the parties feel a win-win relationship leading to a partnership that is sustainable.  

For a complete how to create partnerships for community development, please see my article on Creating Strategic Partnerships -- attached or on-line at    

A key strategic partnership that our organization has developed is with the Community Foundation of South Wood County. Our organization the Heart of Wisconsin Business & Economic Alliance brings the community economic development expertise and the Community Foundation brings the funding assistance and community development convening skills.  For more information on this partnership 

In your work with communities to achieve a culture in which all citizens have increasing opportunities to enjoy and engage in the community, which areas and groups do you focus on and what have been some of the issues that you have encountered in your attempts?    

In working to create a culture shift of community engagement, we have tried to focus on as many areas of the community that we can at one time. Although this may seem like a large challenge, which it is, we purposely have taken this on as to really be affective in creating change, you can not only work with one segment and have the results you want.  As the community operates as a system, it is important to work with the entire system as the individual components effect one another. T he intention is to create a synergy and to integrate activity across the community providing vehicles for most any citizen to be involved in. We have done this through leadership programs (a foundation required for successful communities), introducing innovation through dynamic speakers, developing visions for the communities (provides a context and inspiration for their work), engaging inclusive community teams, youth led initiative for decision making input, youth participation in all community development groups, entrepreneurship support and development (both social and business), business industry networks to identify new economic opportunities and foster collaboration, promoting philanthropy to ensure capacity and sustainability, and coaching to build capacity to develop structures and maintain momentum.    

One of the issues we have encountered is the continued need for capacity building and coaching in developing people to take on being drivers of their own destiny. This is new territory to many, when they have existed in a very dependent culture for decades. Three key components to transferring the decision making and responsibility to the community citizens are commitment, capacity and structure. If they have the commitment, and you build their capacity, by developing and putting structures into place for collaboration across the community, you provide sustainability to continue forward movement into the future vision.  

Another issue has been a change in power structure that is more dispersed across the community and is not necessarily embraced by the old power structure. They enjoy a sense of power when the community remains dependent on them. As the community moves toward having the capacity to move forward, if they are on board or not, this becomes threatening.  

It creates voicing of scepticism by the old power structure to diffuse the momentum. It is best not to spend to much effort in bringing these people in, but instead work to inspire and generate the momentum from the grassroots community involvement, which will, through their enthusiasm and success, tip the conversation and over come the nay-sayers.  

What have been some of the outstanding examples of leadership that you have come across in the US and why have you been impressed by the people behind them?   

A couple of examples of outstanding leadership in the US:
Elizabeth Doyle -- she is a servant leader with utmost integrity.  I was very disappointed when she dropped out of the presidential race.
Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton -  Barbara has been willing to put herself up to stand for election again, after first losing. When the Institute for Women's Policy Research "Status of Women in Wisconsin " report weighed in with a low C- grade for our state, Lt. Gov.Lawton, took this issue on to raise the grade during her administration. The office of Lt. Governor is one that often is a lame-duck position, one of waiting for the Governor to step down. Instead, Barbara took action in a way that can make a difference for advancing the prosperity of women and for our state.  Her approach has been tireless and has engaged women and men across the state to seriously look at the issues, develop solutions and implement them. I have been honored to serve as her co-chair of one of the initial issue identification task forces on leadership and political participation.  
Another leader I have been impressed with is our previous Governor and US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson.  Tommy Thompson led our state with an unbridled energy and desire to make a difference, willing to deviate from the norm in government and looking to reinvent how it operated. He took that same approach to Washington, when he served as Secretary of Health and Human Services.  He brings a vision and innovation that transcends the bureaucracy and generates results.
On the community level:  There are few that match the contributions that Nodji Van Wychen has provided for her small community of Warrens, Wisconsin. She is a cranberry farmer, who put the community of Warrens on the map, with the development of the Warrens Cranberry Festival, which draws about 100,000 people to a town of about 200. She has enthusiasm and energy flowing from her to all those who come in contact with her. She serves on the County Board, the School Board, Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association, Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program and many others too numerous to mention. She has been recognized as the recipient of the Wisconsin Community Leadership Award in 2003.
In addition, I'm impressed by the numerous people taking on making their communities a better place. Also, those who have developed collaborative skills and seek to create partnerships. There are many people who come to mind for me in this category.

What is the objective of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program and why have certain areas been chosen for the leadership education program?

 The mission of the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program is to develop leaders to be catalysts to strengthen communities.  The program helps to develop the individual, their involvement in the community and their involvement across communities.  It helps participants: 1.develop leadership across communities (global perspective/connections);  2. To think globally and then act; 3. To ask the right questions; 4. Look beyond the obvious;  5. Creating catalysts to strengthen communities. The premise of our curriculum design is around issues exploration with skill development interwoven. The seminars are a collective course connected together. Issue seminars include: State Government, leadership, Understanding Urban Life, Technology and Where It Is Taking Society, Global Economics, Appreciating Diversity-Finding Common Ground, Environmental Issues, The Debate/Tension Between Individual Rights and Community Rights.  Three out of state seminars round out the broader global perspective. The Regional Seminar explores the issues, concerns, challenges, barriers encountered by leaders outside of the Midwest. Recent topic of the Regional Seminar has been Diversity held in Atlanta, Georgia and study civil rights issues, others have looked at Native American issues, The National Seminar takes a focus on the federal government, with a theme, such as energy, through which to explore public policy. The International Seminar looks at another area of the world that offers exploration of a timely issue theme as well, often corresponding with the theme of the Federal Seminar. Examples of countries we have learned from include Australia, China, Vietnam, Thailand, Hungary, Turkey, Russia, Brazil and others.  Interspersed throughout are lessons to build skills in ethics, public policy, tension of funding - who pays- who decides-who benefits, how do we know what we know?, historical perspectives, and the tension of individual and community rights.

Are there any comments that you would like to make about what has impressed you about community leadership in Australia and areas that need further strengthening?

 I have been impressed by people like Jane Moritz in Hyden who played an integral role in a community where there is virtually 100% volunteerism. This community is amazing in its 'can-do' attitude, and taking charge of their future. I am also impressed with the accomplishments and legacy of Monty House MLA, who as WA Minister for Primary Industries initiated Progress Rural Western Australia. Progress Rural Western Australia is one of the most successful community economic development programs, I've encountered. It created change and stimulated innovation across the rural countryside in Western Australia. It is the framework, which I have applied in our own development of the Community Progress Initiative, enlisting the assistance of David Beurle, who served as the Principle Project Officer for House on Progress Rural Western Australia.  One other lesson I have learned from leadership in Australia is to think BIG -- if you think you are thinking big, think BIGGER!   Where leadership could be further strengthened would be removing the Tall Poppy Syndrome. Building partnerships was an area that needed development when working previously with communities in Australia, however, when I was there in November 2004, I could see more partnerships had formed and were successful.

How have you developed and nurtured your leadership potential?

 I continue to be hungry to be a life-long learner and expand and develop my leadership skills as I go. I attend conferences, collaborate with others, travel on study tours, lead study tours,  S tepping out and taking risks -- getting out of my comfort zone always stretches me and helps me grow. I ran for the state legislature in 2000 and that was a definite case of out of my comfort zone and a tremendous positive learning experience. I observe and learn from others, building relationships and expanding my resources and networks. Relationship building is definitely a key to learning to be a leader. One of the most valuable motivators for me is to think BIG and the ability to generate my future.

Do you try to help women develop their leadership potential and how do you achieve this?

Yes, I do try to help other women development their leadership potential. I find it very inspiring to watch young leaders blossom and grow. My work with the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program is an example. I have mentored and encouraged some of the local high school students in taking on state-wide leadership roles, including working with the Lt. Governor to put on a State-wide Young Leaders Forum as a component of the Wisconsin Women's = Prosperity Initiative. I invite young leaders to try new leadership positions and assist them through mentorship and support. I designed and delivered the Heart of Wisconsin Community Leadership Program and the Gogebic Range Leadership Academy. I initiated and chaired the  Wisconsin Community Leadership Summit to provide continued leadership development programming. I began and manage the International Community Leadership Network a ListServ community, sharing a passion for community leadership around the world. I work with the Girl Scouts as a Mentor for Camp CEO Job Shadowing. The Wisconsin Women=Prosperity Initiative allowed me to really make a difference in advancing women in leadership roles, as the research and recommendations, our Task Force on Leadership and Political Participation brought forward, directly effect policy changes.