LIFT: A Focus for our Future

by Ruth Ellen Whitt
LT Executive Director 

Imagine that you own your own business. If you want your business to progress in any way, it is essential that you clearly know where you are headed–what results you are shooting for–so that you can align the actions of everyone in your business to achieve those dreams.  In short, you need a focus for your future.  

The same is true for any institution or organization, and likewise, for any community.  It’s indisputable that if you don’t know where you’re headed, any road will do. Having a Focus for the Future is the foundation of Working Smart.  

Imagine Texarkana is our business. Imagine the potential benefits to Texarkana of having a Focus for our Future.  Imagine if we in Texarkana USA, as individuals, businesses, organizations, institutions, shared a common understanding of the results we wanted as a community. Imagine if that Focus for our Future was adopted and endorsed throughout the community and used as a common referent for establishing priorities and setting goals, for measuring our progress, for celebrating our achievements, and as inspiration for actions that move us forward from here to there.  Imagine if we used it to develop a rich community narrative to communicate our competitive value to those looking to come here with a business or family.     

As part of Leadership Texarkana’s LIFT (Leadership Initiative for Texarkana), we are excited because an offhand request by Texarkana, TX City Manager John Whitson in January motivated us to develop just such a Future Focus for the community based on summaries of citizen input which we have been using in Leadership Texarkana for several years, drawn from decades of visioning exercises past and present.  Mr. Whitson suggested to us that if the City of Texarkana, TX had access to that kind of community input, and if the Council endorsed its use, it might be a valid and worthwhile tool for the City to use in setting their goals and allocating their resources.  

Eureka! So it might!  

Of course, the idea of identifying a community vision and goals for our community is not new at all; there have been forty plus years of valiant and repeated efforts, costing tens of thousands of dollars, and generating voluminous input from multiple hundreds of citizens from every demographic. The striking realization is that we citizens have been repeatedly expressing the same enduring dreams and values for our community over the years, as well as the results we want to see.  The details have varied somewhat, but the pictures painted of the ideal Texarkana community have consistently reflected community values of excellence, pride, progress and always of working together.  

Given the interest expressed by John Whitson on behalf of the City of Texarkana, TX, Leadership Texarkana, in the spirit of LIFT, pulled together the citizens’ ideas from years past and present in one document, as a Focus for our Future–a broadly defined FRAMEWORK which captures the ideas and results desired by those who live here.  

The Focus for the Future identifies the five basic result areas valued by citizens over time: We want Educational Excellence as well as Cultural Riches, we want to have Pride of Place, we want Economic, Social and Personal Well-Being, and we want a Culture of Excellence and of Working Smart.  In sum, we not only want to be One of a Kind, but also to be Second to None–a thriving center for education, business and culture which attracts and serves us all.   

 At their City Council meeting Tuesday evening, the City of Texarkana, TX passed a resolution in support of LIFT’s Focus for the Future, stating in part that “The City Council enthusiastically embraces the desired community results as presented by Leadership Texarkana and hereby incorporates the desired outcomes into its strategic planning and commits and directs the city staff to continually document the city’s production and contributions to the achievement of the desired community results.”

Just as John Whitson and the Texarkana, TX City Council see the value of the Focus for the Future as a framework reference for the city’s goal-setting and resource allocation, so could others.  To be clear: Even though it includes some details about desired outcomes in each area, the LIFT Focus for the Future is not an action plan, nor is it a one-year focus; rather, it is a Framework Plan with enduring validity as a basis for goal setting and action planning for years to come.  

The Focus for the Future has the virtue of providing the unifying voice of vision essential to any forward-thinking organization.  As importantly, it includes a call to action for each institution, organization, business, individual to identify, take responsibility for, and OWN a piece of our future.  No one institution nor entity nor sector can produce all of the results we want as a community. Each sector (public, private, non-profit, media) and citizen has unique roles and responsibilities to play, and creating the results we want will require the efforts of everyone.  

The Focus for the Future will challenge each to:

  • Endorse the whole 
  • Determine your particular opportunity for taking some measure of responsibility  (what you might “own”)
  • Identify first priorities for action, working solo or in alliances 
  • Set measurable goals; Track your progress
  • Celebrate success as a community - and keep moving forward!

The LIFT Team will be proceeding by trial and error as we take the Focus into the community, but with a focus on results:  Is THIS process getting us the results we say we want?  What might we modify to get better results?  The Future Focus will be anchored in celebration from the start, as we benchmark what is already being done in our community toward the desired results.  Going forward, LIFT’s Focus will provide regular opportunities to say  “See what we are doing!” 

Why the optimism?  Our community has proven that it will take more than just a single document to create the buy-in, ownership and actions required to produce the results we’ve long desired.  Given the numbers of plans gathering dust on the shelves, why might we expect a different outcome to follow from this? 

Good question and no assurances.  Success is not guaranteed, nor would it be immediate.  The Focus for the Future is admittedly just the starting point.  On the other hand, I do know these things: 

  • The LIFT efforts are driven by a group of outstanding leaders committed to producing results–a guiding team with the credibility, skills, connections, reputations, and formal authority required to provide change leadership. (Who’s in the loops? Chair Fred Norton, James Henry Russell, Dr. Emily Cutrer, Tom Sadowski, Curt Green, Buddy Allen, Bob Nelsen, Joey Martin, Jeff Sandford, Charles Nickerson, Chris Karam, Shelby Brown).  
  • Leadership Texarkana is dedicated to its mission: Cultivating, connecting and engaging leaders in working together for community excellence, pride and progress–engaging all takers who are willing to take some measure of responsibility for our community.  LIFT is our vehicle for creating the conversation and engaging all in the possibilities captured in LIFT’s Focus for the Future.  LT has an outstanding and established board of directors, as well as numerous community businesses and individuals who support our work as partners because they value the work we are doing. 
  • The actions of the City of Texarkana, TX are significant in the model they will provide for moving forward.
  • Our community is the way it is because of all of us; we make the choices and expend the efforts which create our future. Fortunately, the greater Texarkana USA area is a community full of good, caring, smart, generous citizens who value and desire community excellence, whom we believe will welcome the leadership focus and personal challenge of LIFT’s Focus for the Future, to take responsibility for a future which can the benefit us all. 
It’s time to imagine Texarkana is our business, because it is.
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