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The wind is brisk and the temperature is falling as I stroll through the downtown streets of Brighton, Michigan with my daughter who is home from college for the holidays.
Christmas is around the corner. A touch of cabin fever has begun to set in thanks to the frigid conditions that weather forecasters predicted. Two degrees, to be exact – or what I like to describe as a “single syllable” temperature.
Brighton is my home, situated about 30 minutes due west of my office near Detroit. And with shopping days running thin, it seems like a good time to head into town and enjoy the lights and bustle of what I regard and appreciate as a quintessential Midwest community town.
When I say “community town,” I mean a town in which the citizens who show their faces inside the many boutiques, coffee shops, and taverns are not only the town’s visitors, but its owners. They do not come only to take advantage of what the town can offer them; they come also to offer their presence, their good cheer, and their support for the town’s businesses and, of course, each other.
I find myself rewarded each time I make my way to downtown Brighton. On Main Street, I can chat about my health with the friendly and knowledgeable ladies at The Vitamin Company (one of my favorite stops) and then grab a cup of coffee across the street before stopping into 2 Dandelions Bookshop to check on any interesting works from new, aspiring authors.
Even better, the keepers of these businesses have a tremendous amount of expertise and are willing to share it for the small price of me stopping in to say hello.
Amazon is big, but it can’t come close to matching that personal touch.
The evidence indicating that our mental and emotional health are at historic lows is mounting. People are tired, burned out, and so focused on their smart phones that they can hardly notice the person standing next to them who’s had a difficult day and might feel a lot better if someone would just acknowledge her.
Back in the day, perhaps local marketplaces were much more than where you went to buy stuff. Perhaps they were places where you went to seek and develop the interpersonal connections that kept you sane. Perhaps we are all longing to get back to those roots.
Each time I peel myself away from my computer and all of the noise that I deal with in my life and career, taking a few precious hours to just stroll and enjoy my town with my neighbors, I feel energized as I do now. It’s as if I am reminded that the greatest treasures of life – just when you find yourself needing them most – are more likely to be found downtown than online.
Of course, a vibrant and welcoming downtown does not come by accident. There are significant leadership challenges to which local decision-makers must rise to meet. Local politics can be rough. I’ve experienced it, and it’s not always pretty.
Local leaders have to be smart, principled, and have a backbone that can withstand pressure. They have to have the passion and skill needed to preserve these little downtown gems for future generations to enjoy.
And to do that, we citizens must do more than just elect the representatives we feel are up to the task. We have to be more than just visitors. We have to be owners. We have to acknowledge the local leaders and business owners who are working diligently and honorably to enhance our quality of life, then reward them with our encouragement and support.
It used to be said that politics is local, like the weather. But then came cable news television and the internet which tricked us into believing that our reality stretches from coast to coast. It doesn’t. Our reality begins at our front doors and stretches to the many other front doors that can be accessed within a short drive or walk.
That, of course, includes the doors with the little bells that jingle when you swing them open and find yourself greeted by business owners or vendors who are genuinely happy to have you there. These are the members of your local business community who depend on local leaders to help nurture and optimize the conditions in which businesses can thrive, helping each of us thrive by giving us access to products, services, and expertise that might just help us live better lives.
Many of us have strong opinions about national politics and how our nation is being managed by our elected officials. We should because it matters. But if we can’t effectively negotiate and leverage the reality that’s right in front of us – the reality that connects us with our neighbors and fellow townsfolk – then how can we expect to be effective beyond that? How can we expect ourselves to preserve and protect an entire state or nation?
The answer is, we can’t.
A nation is nothing more than a grand collaboration among local communities. Our future as a nation will therefore depend on these communities and the quality of the leadership that brings and holds them together.
Local leaders in partnership with local businesses, in my view, hold the keys to our national future. Local leaders are the saviors who will deliver us from the noise and guide us to a higher quality of life, one that we can enjoy and appreciate with the many neighbors we have yet to meet.
We are justified in expecting a lot of our local leaders, but we should expect a lot of ourselves as we strive to be more responsible and concerned citizens who recognize the enormous value of our nearby public gathering places.
It may seem like Digitalburg and the virtual town square are the centers of life today, but they aren’t and never were.
Life is not online. It’s happening all around us, but seems to happen with greater warmth and vigor downtown. We need our downtowns and our downtowns need us.
If we can get that right, then we can have some confidence looking outward to the bigger challenges and opportunities that wait for us at the state and national level. But if we can’t, then we’d be wiser to focus on what’s right in front of us.
I wish you all the best in 2023. Make it a priority to visit your local downtown area more often this year. I know that many of you feel overwhelmed and stressed by your many responsibilities. But the cure to what ails you might just be waiting for you…..downtown.
Brighton, Michigan is my home. Where is yours?
John M. Collins is an executive leadership coach at Critical Victories in Southfield, Michigan. He specializes in supporting clients in high-stakes occupations requiring high levels of expertise to earn and retain the trust of the public or other consequential stakeholders. John shares some of his unique philosophies and insights on high-stakes leadership in his 2022 book, THE NEW SUPERIOR – A BETTER WAY TO BE THE ONE IN CHARGE (www.thenewsuperior.com), available in hardcover and audio.
John works with people, teams, and organizations across the United States and oversees. If you are serious about expanding your leadership effectiveness, click below to request a free client strategy call: