There are three essential pillars that comprise commonly accepted standards for a vibrant small town community;  good schools, good city government and good hospital/healthcare.  These pillars make all else possible — meaningful economic development, the recruitment of good teachers, good city services and a sustainable quality of life for everyone.

vibrant small townYou take any one of the three out of the mix, and you will end up with a community in decline.

Hospitals and healthcare are particularly important.  Many companies will not build a factory or relocate operations to a town that does not have adequate healthcare.  Young teachers with their own children do not want to live in a town in which access to healthcare is restricted by available services or distance.

In the early 1990s I saw this play out in a small community with a county-owned hospital that had fallen on hard times.  The county was on the verge of closing the facility when a small consulting company helped the commissioners and concerned citizens keep the doors open until a long-term ownership plan could be developed.  The nearest comparable hospital was 26 miles away.  The tertiary care center was more than 60 miles east, so having a strong healthcare service was essential.

In the end the concerned citizens and the consultants made a compelling case for keeping the facility open and a large percentage of the registered voters overwhelmingly voted to create a tax district to support the hospital and expand the medical staff.

The secret to their success?  The hospital’s supporters showed the residents how not having a hospital would negatively impact their community — with an immediate loss of 60 jobs, the inability to attract new businesses, or even essential other professionals and, finally, would over time, erode the medical staff as the remaining physicians retired.

While some members of the medical community were apathetic, those that cared prevailed in a stunning victory.

But just having a hospital is not enough.  You must have a good hospital with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and a supporting cast of nurses, technicians, and other professionals, including physicians, who care about their community and who are wiling to take the lead to ensure that the welfare of their fellow citizens comes first.

When you build that kind of culture, your community can thrive, but it takes a passionate CEO and a committed Board.

Servant leadership is one of the most overused terms in executive interviews because while many use it, few are willing to acknowledge that this commitment means putting the needs of others ahead of your own agenda or your own ego.