Strong, resilient leadership is necessary to move collective or group action goals from the concept phase to opening the co-op to the first 5 years of business. No one is an expert or has all the competencies. A core group of organizers or steering committee must collectively have the following skills.
- Respected and trusted within the community
- Good communication skills
- Ability to build trust amongst the stakeholders, advisors, and future members of the proposed enterprise
- Confidence and ability to instill confidence of others
- Respect for confidentiality
- Time to devote to project
- Understand complexity of the business model
- Understand financial statements
- Understand challenges of start-up businesses
The steering committee provides early leadership and this effort maybe largely voluntary. The committee invests significant time leading meetings of potential co-op members, meeting with stakeholders (legal, finance, accounting, insurance, contractors, economic development, codes enforcement, etc.) The committee may seek out and secure funding for technical advisors to conduct a feasibility analysis and develop a business plane. The committee may secure funds to hire a project manager who may or may not move into the general manager position. When such a person is hired, some of the leadership responsibilities shift away from the steering committee. However, the steering committee must remain involved to provide guidance and oversight. The steering committee will morph into the organization’s initial board of directors. Members of the steering committee will likely draft and sign the articles of incorporation and adopt they bylaws. They will call the first membership meeting. Some of the members of the steering committee may experience founders’ burnout as the launch of the co-op is time consuming and exhausting. Even at this early stage the steering committee needs to create a succession plan in order to bring competent and energetic leaders to the organization. On the other end of the spectrum, the new co-op can be impacted by founders’ syndrome as passionate steering committee members may not want to give up their roles and become vocal in their dissent about the new leadership team, its decisions and the trajectory of the organization.
Effective leaders are the driving force in cooperative enterprises. They achieve compromise amongst the stakeholders. They are problem-solvers and strategic thinkers, overcoming barriers and obstacles. They are passionate and driven to achieve the long-term success and vision of the organization.