“Working together to strengthen our community by inspiring people to lead.”

LEAD Brevard’s mission statement is a call to action for a feature that is the backbone of every strong region — community leadership. Established in the early 1980s in collaboration with the Melbourne and Cocoa Beach chambers of commerce, LEAD Brevard has morphed from a group of collaborators to an organization that promotes volunteer leadership. Through the organization’s Leadership Brevard program, businesspeople from around the Space Coast are able to gain a greater understanding of their region, develop lasting relationships with classmates and strengthen their professional networks. In this edition of One on One, we sat down with Kristin Bakke, LEAD Brevard president and CEO, to discuss the importance of strong leadership, what inspired her to join the organization, and her thoughts on Brevard County’s future.

RR: What drew you to leadership organizations such as LEAD Brevard?

KS: I was probably predisposed to the service sector based on my mother’s many years of work as a social worker for the state of Wisconsin. I think that tradition of service served as an inspiration to me. When I first went to Staunton, Va., I worked for the American Red Cross, and the board chairman there also held the same position at the Chamber of Commerce. He suggested I consider a chamber job, which led to community-based work. That’s when the fire was lit.

RR: How important is strong leadership in building a community?

KS: I don’t know if I can emphasize just how important it is. It’s critical, necessary and key to any community initiative, because otherwise regions would stagnate. Part of what we’re hoping to accomplish with our leadership program is to inspire others to lead, because frankly, community leadership can be a thankless endeavor. It’s almost 100 percent volunteer and usually outside of whatever your career is, which means additional time away from your family, friends and hobbies. However, if not leaders, then who? There are always community actions that need to be taken, and it’s community leaders who take issues and advance them forward.

“If not leaders, then who? There are always community actions that need to be taken, and it’s community leaders who take issues and advance them forward.” – Kristin Bakke

RR: What LEAD Brevard initiatives have had a lasting impact on the community?

KS: One of our signature events is The Community Stakeholder Summit. Since 2011, LEAD Brevard has convened with community leaders for a conversation around current issues and potential solutions in our county, as well as to celebrate community success and address future challenges. The work we’re doing is exciting and forces us to think about our communities in a whole new way. I can’t imagine how we would traverse the complex nature of this economy and the challenges we face without the community leaders we have brought together at this event. Another event we host is The Leadership Awards, which features the “4 under 40” and the Rodney S. Ketcham Leadership Icon awards. Established in 2005, this event celebrates “emerging” community leadership while also recognizing legacy leadership.

RR: How has community leadership in this region changed over the years?

KS: The conversation about leadership in this community has broadened; you used to be able to name the 10 leaders in the area. Today, you have a bigger list, and this is a mirror of society. More people are feeling empowered to have a leadership voice, and perhaps technology has helped that a little bit. It’s easier to collaborate; we don’t have to have a standard meeting at a facility in order to accomplish something. There are more ways to communicate and collaborate. While you can’t do everything digitally, I feel technology has been an asset to community leadership.

RR: What are some other programs LEAD Brevard hopes to implement in the future?

KS: We’re in conversation with our board of directors about a skills-based leadership program, which would be different from Leadership Brevard because we don’t teach skills in that program. It’s more about community information, connections to existing leaders and building a relational network within each class and connecting those classes to others. We’re also hoping to implement a leadership action project called Leadership Impact within the Leadership Brevard class of 2018. This would lead to the creation of a board volunteer non-profit matching service. One of the ways we hope to inspire people to lead is through this service, and while it may not be for everyone, it’s available for those who want to serve.

Last year, approximately 400 organizations filed 990s, the non-profit tax return. Let’s say you have 10 board members each at 400 non-profits. Now you need 4,000 board members. Where do they come from? How do they become good board members? That’s one of the circles that has evolved. Mind you, it has taken time and will continue to take time, but I think leadership itself is an evolution.