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Reflections from True South Central Appalachia: Leadership Values for Building a People Ready Community

An Introduction to People Ready Communities

People Ready Communities place equity at the center of leadership and community development and are positioned to answer an increasingly common question from business, industry, tourists, remote workers and others: “Is this community a great place for a diverse workforce to live, work, and play?” Haley McCoy, CEO and President of the Kentucky Association for Economic Development, explains that communities think about physical infrastructure and a ready workforce, but they often are not able to respond to questions about how the community is considering inclusion, who is in leadership, and how will they welcome a diverse workforce. “When I heard that Kentucky was losing out on economic development projects because communities couldn’t answer questions about how they are addressing issues of diversity, I realized that we have an opportunity to craft a narrative that says we want a diverse workforce to come, and we are ready for them,” she says. People Ready Communities is a community strategy that connects quality of life for all people with economic development.

Local leaders are recognizing that quality-of-life issues influence economic development. A 2022 Brookings Institution study in the mid-western United States indicates that smaller places that focus on improving quality of life experience higher employment and population growth than communities that simply lower taxes, promote inexpensive labor, or relax environmental regulations. Rural Appalachian communities seeking to renew their economies can benefit from an approach that recognizes both infrastructure and quality of life as fuel for local economies.

A People Ready Community offers reasons for all people to say yes to a question of whether they belong in the community. Getting to yes is a journey that involves multiple sectors that impact quality of life: Education, health care, social services, utilities, local government, churches, nonprofits, civic groups, and others. Getting to yes means leaders across sectors work together to build a community that is welcoming to all people. People Ready Communities make space for everyone to participate in the economy, no matter one’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, culture, socio-economic status or ability. Moving a community along this path to an equitable quality of life requires strategic leadership over time. And leadership needs to be fair and accessible; therefore, People Ready leaders commit to six core leadership values that are People Ready in themselves.

Brushy Fork Leadership Values for People Ready Communities

Leadership for a People Ready Community is centered in equity. People Ready leaders recognize the interconnectedness of all community members. They commit to putting into practice values that inform every leadership decision and action and that distribute influence and power. The leadership table in a People Ready Community is both large and accessible—and the result is a place-based, people-oriented, and equity-driven focus on quality of life. People Ready leaders commit to practicing the following values:

People Ready leadership is inclusive.

People Ready leaders value all people, celebrating and embracing diverse backgrounds and perspectives. They foster a sense of belonging for people seeking to engage in community leadership and build avenues not only to lift up their voices but also to break down barriers to decision-making power, especially for people who are often marginalized from both input and action. The commitment to this value increases both social and human capital.

People Ready leadership is community-based.

People Ready leaders listen to local voices and are accountable to the community. They actively seek out the perspectives of those most impacted by issues the leaders are working to solve, and they actively involve them in implementing solutions. Efforts to move the community toward becoming People Ready must be led by local people for the benefit of all community members. Commitment to the value results in sharing influence and power and bringing on-the-ground experience into addressing issues.

People Ready leadership is cooperative.

Inclusivity is the foundation for cooperation, thus when People Ready leaders embrace working cooperatively, they are operationalizing inclusivity and community-based leadership. Cooperative values support cross-sector collaboration, resulting in productive connections and innovations to addressing systemic issues. As people work outside silos in sectors, they also find ways to work cooperatively across the multitude of identities in a community—gender, race, politics, faith, age, sexual orientation, and other characteristics. People Ready leaders recognize that good group process leads to effective group product.

People Ready leadership is developmental.

As People Ready leaders create accessible spaces for cooperative leadership, they create accessible opportunities for growth and learning for themselves and others. To support a People Ready Community, leaders must be adaptable, honoring that community needs and interests change over time. Being developmental means maintaining awareness of how the community is changing and the resulting needs and opportunities. To be sustained, the work requires expanding and deepening the number and diversity of people taking on leadership roles by mentoring emerging leaders and sharing power.

People Ready Leadership is ethical.

People Ready leaders commit to fulfilling a vision that recognizes the interconnectedness of community members. These leaders strive to do no harm and to develop clear cultural agreements on what is right and wrong, especially regarding how decisions and actions impact other people. They do not take on leadership roles and power solely for personal gain, though they acknowledge and share their interests in leadership.

People Ready Leadership is effective.

People Ready leaders recognize that it is important that something gets done to move toward the future the community wants to see. They support public trust in leadership by saying what they will do and doing what they say, demonstrating integrity with their commitments. They help identify measurable indicators based on a vision for the future and connect the many small steps required to make systemic change to those indicators.


People Ready Communities are foundationally inclusive in leadership and community development that focuses on a quality of life for all. That inclusivity begins with broadening access to leadership and power to create opportunities for diverse community members to address myriad issues related to quality of life for all people. Committing to practicing these six leadership values will bring many hands to the work.

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