Tyler Norris, KNFP-15, President and CEO, Community Initiatives, LLC
This article was originally published in the March 2003 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Quick Fact: Tyler’s firm, Community Initiatives LLC, provides strategic consultation and performance support to community collaborations and healthcare organizations. As a volunteer, Tyler chairs the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Active Living By Design program..
How have you, though your leadership, made a difference in one of your communities?
My primary community is actually a national and, in many ways, a global network of change agents. Over the past ten years, I’ve worked to cultivate teams of people to help them bring about change in their communities. I’ve made some contributions of tools and capacities–community planning approaches, indicator strategies, communications approaches, and the like–but my most important contribution has been to support the creation of these networks.
In the 1990s, a band of consultants like myself, others running organizations and people doing work on-site began to see that the consulting model had huge limits. Our goal became to create a peer network between staffs and volunteer boards working to improve health and the quality of life in communities We worked to bring people together face to face and via technology, to organize conferences less around keynotes and more around peer learning models. We wanted to help develop relationships that could change peer to peer, to connect leaders across the country for teaming.
Now we’re networking networks. “Healthy community” networks are made up mostly of public health and hospital people The “sustainable community” networks are mostly made up of environmentalists, business leaders, and social justice activists. The “livable community” networks are elected leaders, planners, architects, all thinking about the physical design of our communities. Others are focusing on education, the arts, and more. There are movements occurring in these sectors, but there’s not enough crossover. We’re working to create a network that bnngs competencies and resources together to create systemic, holistic thinking about the quality of life.
There is so much talent! People understand the problems, the solutions, and the resource requirements; all that is completely intact. The bigger challenge is to develop the community and political will to move these agendas forward, to connect the grassroots and the leadership. To me, it’s not a top-down or bottom-up model. Each is necessary, but not sufficient. We need both at once. That’s the kind of difference we’re trying to make.
What sustains you in your practice of leadership and your commitment to change?
What sustains me is seeing how many thousands and thousands of community-based efforts are making a measurable impact on the health and quality of life of their citizens. I get to see these stories unfolding. I’m intellectually stimulated by their innovation, emotionally stimulated by their good wilt and results. Below the national media radar screen, I can see the workings of a healthy democracy at the community level, and it’s very heartening. On a spiritual level, I’m sustained and centered by my daily practice of kriya yoga. It allows me to take joy in small things. Yoga and meditation keep me healthy and strong and focused on the work that’s mine to do They remind me of my contribution and allow me to leave plenty of room for others to make theirs.
What do you consciously say to yourself or do that helps you stay on track with your coats?
I’ve had multiple mini-careers. I trained pilots for years. I worked for a senator, produced concert/educational events for John Denver, helped establish the national park system in Tajikistari, and started multiple nonprofit groups. Over the years, I’ve tried to stay true to my vision, have faith, and let providence create opportunities in front of me. That has always given me the opportunity to serve.
What is your passion?
Ensuring that people have the opportunity to share their voice, and that others listen well to allow authentic democracy to occur in communities. That’s what I love to be part of and why I feel blessed to get to do this kind of work. It’s also why I’m so challenged by current strategies at our federal level, which are so deeply disconnected from what everyday people in their communities are saying, wanting, caring about. Our senior political leadership is so Intoxicated with its own sense of self, it’s lost track of the will of the American people. It’s one of my passions to connect the voice of folks across the country with the policy-making process so we have a leadership that is more connected to, engaged with, and guided by a representative democracy that doesn’t leave the civil society behind when it acts.
How do you measure success?
Overall, I look to see if the quality of life is improving in the communities we serve. I judge that in two ways. First, my intuition gives me a sense that things are changing, that the difference is being made. Second, I look closely at tangible indicators that tell us if we’re making a measurable impact on health status, quality of life, and economic vitality in communities. I want to know that all the activity adds up.
If you had to give an aspiring leader one piece of advice, what: would it be?
To the aspiring leader in each of us, my advice is to listen to the voice within that calls you and reminds you of the unique contribution that is yours to make. Leadership at every level is sacred work, so if you take time for the sacred, you will hear that voice and it will guide you. You will see the opportunities that are yours to step toward and the ones you should step away from.
Are you a better leader than you were five years ago? How do you know?
I really don’t know whether I am. I honestly hope so. I do know that I try to know less and listen more. Perhaps I was so humbled by the talent of Kellogg Fellows that I had to learn to suspend my own sense of the "best way” long enough for something new to form from the gifts of others.
Can leadership be invisible? How and why have you practiced invisible leadership?
I think leadership can be very subtle. I don’t believe that the impact of leadership is ever truly invisible. Its fruits are felt. An act of authentic leadership may seem small in the moment. Even years down the road, when that seemingly small act is having a big impact, it’s almost impossible to link back to the subtle and graceful acts of individual leaders. But that’s why I take joy in the small things. I know they add up. I’ve seen it.