Fill Your Cup
By: Paula Jensen
A friend called me a few weeks ago in tears. She serves as a community leader in a progressive small town, yet the local negative narrative had her feeling down and out. Unfortunately, it had been building for a while. She was feeling alone and struggling to find any reason to celebrate her community’s successes this year.
The old adage states, “Fill your cup, because you can’t pour from an empty cup.” The phrase, to fill your cup, means to replenish your stores of mental, emotional, and physical energy which are required to be a great community leader. My friend’s cup was near empty.
Too often, this scenario is the reality for many leaders who carry the heavy day-to-day burden of creating a thriving community. Being a community leader requires energy to vision for the future, make hard decisions, analyze risk, clearly communicate, deal with local naysayers, complete projects, and most importantly, thoughtfully reflect.
In its simplest form, reflection is about wise consideration. But the kind of reflection that is valuable to community leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves making meaning — naming what’s happening, seeing patterns, identifying structures, weighing actions, and analyzing outcomes. This kind of reflection by community leaders becomes crucial to the ongoing development of the community, yet few leaders make time for it. Why? For one, it requires leaders to do several things they typically don’t like to do: slow down, adopt a mindset of not knowing and curiosity, tolerate messiness and inefficiency, and take personal responsibility.
At her lowest, my friend took the time for reflection and meaning-making. She helped her community celebrate the highs of their success by engaging a group of community leaders to “Name the W.O.W.” This group took 30 minutes to brainstorm a list of the key community projects and milestones in the past 12 months. Their list contained 20+ big successes to celebrate and learn from as they think toward 2023.
As we move toward a new year, how might we stop, reflect, and recharge as community leaders? My challenge for you is to do what my friend did – Name the W.O.W. I’ve provided some brief instructions below.
Name the WOW (Wall of Wonder)
Source: ToP (Technology of Participation)
This is a group reflection tool, that enables a group to review their history and progress. Through the process, they identify events that have taken place and place them on a visual timeline or write them on a flip chart. This process enables the group to slow down for a reflection of their journey over a specific period, remember what projects have shaped their journey, reconnect to what brought them to their current position, and recharge through celebration.
Start Here with a Reflection Question: What are the key events and milestones our
community or organization accomplished in 2022 that are moving us toward a thriving [insert your town]? Capture your list on a whiteboard or flip chart.
Next, make meaning through group conversation (below are sample questions)
What catches your attention on the W.O.W. list?
What was easy? What was hard?
What do you see as a turning point during this time period?
Thinking back over what we did, where were key insights for you?
What happened to us as a group as we completed this work?
What new issues or questions have emerged for you?
What is the significance of the work we accomplished this year?
What bold steps could we take together in the upcoming year?
Lastly, share your W.O.W. with the community. Taking a few minutes to create your Wall of Wonder will have a lasting impact and help you clearly
communicate the story of your success to the community.
About the author
Having a passion for community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula resides in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 348+. She serves as a Strategic Doing practitioner, grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a mission-driven 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution working to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities. Contact her.