We’re looking for aspiring leaders who want to start their leadership journey with us! Growing Local: Emerging Leaders is a leadership education program to support emerging leaders in southwest Minnesota. In partnership with University of Minnesota Extension, we provide tools and resources to build your confidence and empower you to shape the future in places that matter most to you.
Khou Lor coordinates Growing Local as part of her work at Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF). In her role as Rural Equity Specialist, Khou is a resource for communities across the region, while helping build and strengthen local Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizations in southwest Minnesota. Khou is involved with the Hmong community in southwest Minnesota as a leader and organizer.
As a first-generation immigrant, Khou’s younger years were spent navigating systems and being the voice for her immigrant parents. Through these lived experiences, she realized her love for creating space for people to speak on behalf themselves, in their truest form. We asked Khou to share her experience in becoming a leader with those considering applying for Growing Local: Emerging Leaders.
What has your leadership journey looked like?
My leadership journey has been a whirlwind but a very good whirlwind. I am humbled by the experiences and the people I’ve met along the way. There was a place and time there where my passion for community was contained by four walls, and when I say four walls, I mean I was the only one in the room. I was the only one who knew about the excitement and passion I had. I had all this energy, all these ideas, but nowhere to channel them. It wasn’t until I was introduced to someone who was a city council member at that time that I was able to connect with community and let my passion flourish. If it weren’t for his leading, and his consistent push for allowing me a spot in the light, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What lessons have you learned along the way?
- Your ideas are as good as anyone else’s ideas. The more you sit on them, the more they become just an idea.
- Just because you lead doesn’t mean people will follow. To be a leader you need to lead with purpose and intention.
- Good leaders make space for new leaders. My favorite analogy given from my mentor is, “In a forest of trees, big trees must move aside in order to allow smaller trees to absorb the light and energy.”
- Community is the heart of all things driven by humans. If you give people a reason to feel the love of a community, that is when community is created.
- Leaders are not determined by the by the size or height of a person, it is not determined by the ability to provide the most dollars towards a purpose, but it is determined by the ability to nurture relationships, raise up others and bring purpose to their life .
What were the hardest parts on your path to leadership?
The hardest parts were, giving myself permission to embark on the journey of becoming a leader and actually believing in the fact that others believe in me.
Where did you get support from and what difference did that make for you?
Connecting to people who believed in me made it possible for me. I didn’t have support at first — not because I didn’t have anyone who believed in me, but because everyone was working to find their own purpose, and I don’t blame them. I thankfully had a great mentor who gave me time and space for ideas. They were rooting for me, and every opportunity they knew I could shine, they made sure to let me. That made the difference for me.
How will this program help not only leaders but also their communities?
By participating in this program, my hope is that emerging leaders will be given that opportunity to shine and by shining, their communities will get to say, “That leader came from my community!” I hope a new wave of leaders will bring energy to their communities.
By nurturing these leaders, communities will be able to invite fresh perspectives, have boards and commissions that reflect the make-up of their communities and invite the intention of belonging in a community space. As humans we all long for connection and the feeling of belonging. I can’t imagine a community that wouldn’t want that in their community.
What would you say to someone who is on the fence about applying?
There is no one roadmap to leadership that you can expect to be handed on the spot. BUT! what you can expect in this program is that you won’t have to take that leap of faith on your own. It may be what you expect it may not be, the only way to find out is by clicking the button and releasing that passion outside of those four walls.