The Mission of Grow Home

By Josh Rowland

Is the pioneer spirit alive and well in America’s heartland? If you have to ask, you’d better check out “Grow Home.” This multi-pronged initiative is the brainchild of Kansas City’s Lead Bank. Combining community outreach, web content, storytelling, and interactive metrics, Grow Home offers a front row seat to the inspiring efforts—and substantial impact—of Kansas City’s local entrepreneurs.

We see some important lessons here for every community bank. And Lead Bank CEO Josh Rowland was kind enough to share his perspectives in his own words. Here’s what he had to say.

Members of our staff are currently engaged in our regular, periodic look at our mission statement.

First question: do we know what our mission statement says? If we do, that’s good (and surprising.) I’ve come to recognize that most of our staff doesn’t know what our stated mission is, notwithstanding a lot of effort to communicate what we’re all about.

The truth is, though, when we look around at how our colleagues behave, how they do their jobs and serve their clients, we can still be pretty encouraged. The culture of our particular business, a family-owned community bank, seems to reflect some common ideals: hard-work, mutual respect, generosity of spirit, teamwork, and professionalism for our clients leavened with a dash of good humor. We apparently don’t need a “mission” to tell us how to do that, let alone a so-called “values statement.”

But this description of how we go about our jobs doesn’t really function as a de facto capital-M mission. This is because a community bank is a mission-driven business to an almost absurd degree. Small banks like ours have charters, whether from the state or the federal government, to serve the needs and dreams of the neighborhoods where our staff and families live.

We are custodians of life savings, with all of the responsibility inherent in that role, but we are equally and simultaneously responsible for re-investing those savings in worthwhile projects that will help people live their lives more fully, creating wealth in their businesses and for their families.

This responsibility to look forward and backward at the same time for the benefit of our stakeholders, to balance competing drives of conservatism and progressivism, is why the bank charter entails so profound a public duty. This is a critical element of any banking “Mission.” The challenge of achieving this balance consistently and well for the benefit of shareholders and to the satisfaction of the wide range of bank stakeholders is hard work.

One benefit of this dual responsibility is that a bank exists “above the fray.”

Because we have to make risk-management decisions that ensure that the bank is present for the community tomorrow, and the day after that, we can foster and advocate the growth of the community as a whole, even when our particular business gains nothing directly for ourselves from the deal. Indeed, that’s precisely what we should do.

Our Grow Home vision, an ongoing celebration and recognition of businesses and organizations across Kansas City, is based on this premise. Through Grow Home, we take time to identify amazing businesses and business people and learn their stories. The stories we look for are ones that speak to the aspirations of our neighborhoods and knit together individual effort and the community in which that effort finds support. We are indifferent to whether the stories we tell are about clients or not—because everyone in the communities we serve has the right to expect that Lead Bank be dedicated to the success of the larger whole. (Why else would the FDIC insure the deposits of banks?)

We could see any one of these Grow Home entrepreneurs as a heroic individual but, with our unique vantage point as bankers, we choose also to situate them in the largest possible framework, to illustrate the close connection of the individual and the collective.

In order to dramatize this point, we created a one-of-a-kind Impact Calculator.  With a few inputs (number of employees, type of business, and city), the Impact Calculator generates a range of data points that illustrate the connection between the community and its businesses: for example, the number of paramedics, or miles of roadway, or movie tickets, or pet adoptions funded by the economic activity of the business and its staff.  We see how inextricably bound the fate of a particular enterprise is to the health of the community as a whole. The seed of a business is only as viable as the ground onto which it is sown. The picture of our city that emerges is one of mutual connection that calls for engagement and inclusion well beyond the limits of the bank’s daily tasks.

If the core of a community bank’s mission is serving its entire community for the greatest good for the most expansive future—in other words to grow our shared home—we have chosen to express that through storytelling and painting pictures.

We tell the stories of individual people who show us who we are, and then reveal the broad canvas in which those people thrive within—and because of—the larger whole.

Josh Rowland is CEO of Lead Bank in Kansas City, Missouri. Email: [email protected]. Twitter.