Kim Long as the Executive Director for Polk Vision, leads a county-wide collective impact organization dedicated to aligning resources across Polk County. Prior to her current position, Kim’s varied career spans the corporate, non-profit, and private sectors and she has built expertise through strategic planning, mission advancement, cross-sector partnerships, resource development, and program implementation. Kim currently serves on the Board of Directors for Central Florida Health Care; United Way of Central Florida; the Executive Committee of the Advisory Board for Polk County Schools Career Academies; the Cabinet for Crystal Lake Community Partnership School; and the Executive Committee of the Public Education Partnership of Winter Haven. She is a graduate of Leadership Polk Class I and co-founded the Leadership Polk Alumni Association.
Her role with Polk Vision, calls upon the expertise of key stakeholders from across Polk County including business leaders, health care professionals, college and school district personnel and members of county and city government in the development of powerful, innovative strategies pointed towards increasing high school graduation rates, college and career readiness, and a healthier and safer community, with the overarching goal of improving community prosperity.
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kim and was inspired by her commitment to seeking to understand the needs of our community through deep listening and her ability to engage key stakeholders in creating transformative change.
Describe your leadership style and share how your mentors have influenced that style.
Transformative leadership inspires employees and community stakeholders to strive beyond required expectations to work toward a shared goal. This leadership style serves me well at Polk Vision, where the mission is to collaborate to implement Polk County’s community vision. In every aspect of my role, from conducting meetings to building consensus with work groups, to leading our office team, I encourage a great deal of participation and put a lot of effort into ensuring that we work towards a common mission. The work we do at Polk Vision is, by its very nature, transformative, and my leadership style supports the organization and enhances our ability to be successful.
Many thoughtful, inspiring leaders have influenced me over the years. A few instances of negative leadership or lack of leadership have also shaped me. Remembering how it felt to labor under a leader who lacked a clear vision and acted inconsistently has helped me become a more empathic leader. Many years ago, I read Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, and his philosophy continues to be a source of leadership inspiration. Mr. Covey’s fifth habit – Seek first to understand, then to be understood – is a mantra I lead with every day. My role requires interacting with people from all walks of life, and my success depends on my ability to identify and connect with their concerns.
What is the most insightful leadership feedback you’ve received as you’ve advanced in your career? And how has that feedback served you?
The most insightful leadership feedback I have received is the lasting impact our actions and interactions can leave on the people we encounter. William Boyd wrote, “The last thing we learn about ourselves is our effect on others.” My takeaway from this quote is that not being mindful of how you send and receive information can unintentionally do harm and unravel any good intentions. This is why I constantly return to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” If I truly listen to what others need and are motivated by, I can be the change agent required by my role. Polk Vision must occasionally provide information that may make the community uncomfortable. How these messages are presented can either alienate a particular group or can encourage participation that drives solutions. I expend a great deal of energy making sure that these conversations are presented with total transparency and accuracy while being delivered with a great deal of sensitivity. When I can meet people where they are, I have a better chance of bringing them along with me on a shared journey.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learned about managing and leading others that has served you well?
Learning to listen actively is a skill that has served me well in managing and leading others. Active listening is more than just hearing what the other person is saying, it is about delving deeper and gaining a mutual understanding of what the other person is trying to communicate. When combined with an astute eye for body language, active listening helps me to get a sense of the whole person and their experience. By tuning in to cues and “seeking to understand,” I can sense when someone is pulling away or creating obstacles and find ways to draw them back into the conversation. A huge part of my role is meeting with people and listening to their concerns. Making the most of each interaction is crucial to creating innovative solutions for our community’s evolving needs.
What are some of the ways you hope that Polk Vision will continue to make a difference in our community?
Polk Vision’s original visioning document was created in 2004, and we are rapidly approaching its 20th anniversary. The core pillars of the document continue to be relevant and serve as the basis of the Polk Vision mission. However, new social determinants of a community’s vibrancy – broadband, behavioral health services, climate change, etc. -were not part of the original version and are now critical to the vitality of the visioning document. 2023 is the perfect time for Polk Vision to embark upon a county-wide listening campaign, to provide information to the community, update the data, and listen intentionally to what our constituents feel are priorities for them in achieving community prosperity and improved quality of life. Polk Vision’s role is to stay attuned to the needs and priorities of our community by being visible and deeply listening to and engaging with all walks of life. Then we must disseminate that information in a way that compels organizations within our community to create transformational change.
What sense of purpose guides you in your work and life?
Work is all about vision. It is why I get up every morning and embrace the day. It is with respect for all the individuals who have contributed their time, thoughts, and resources to work toward improving our community. Polk Vision, the organization, works to ensure our various volunteer team members understand the strategies behind our activities while clearly establishing goals and key measures to guide their progress. Since my husband and I make our home here, my guiding star has been the feeling that my work contributes to the overall quality of life in my community – for my family and all the families in Polk County.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Rogers, Founder & CEO of Emily Rogers Consulting + Coaching, is an executive coach, team coach, and leadership development facilitator. She strategically advises and supports organizations and individuals in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at https://emilyrogers.com