This is an excerpt of Jim Matheson’s keynote address to cooperative members during NRECA’s 2023 PowerXchange annual meeting on March 6 in Nashville.

Electric co-ops have the knowledge and tools to do more for our members than at any point in time since we turned the lights on. We have the trust of our members and the support to make crucial investments in our communities. It’s a big job — a job for leaders. Who better to take on that responsibility than us?

I know it’s complicated. Across America’s electric cooperatives, everyone is different, but we’re all working on infrastructure, technology, resilience, reliability, renewables, cybersecurity and safety.

Even if the focus for leaders is different at every co-op, the tests are the same. Who has the resources? The credibility? The courage to speak up? The reputation? The talent? Who does what they say? We do.

Leadership is important in any organization, but the co-op model produces a special kind of leadership. The way we lead is different than for-profit companies. We take the long view. We want our accomplishments to outlive us, and we deeply care about our communities. We do the right thing even when no one is looking.

Boards focus on preparing new directors for the responsibilities of governance; managers close gaps by developing new skills in their workforce; co-ops start new partnerships to benefit the community and improve our quality of life.

Why do we invest so much across this cooperative network in preparing for the future? Because long after we’re gone, we know our cooperatives will continue to be vital to the communities we serve.

The durability of our co-ops depends on the long-term view we take as leaders. This approach to leadership is written into the cooperative business model.

When a co-op makes any decision — to build grid resilience, to venture into broadband, to award scholarships — the management and board of the electric co-op evaluate the return on that investment in a different way than an investor-owned utility. The investment they see isn’t in a company, it’s in a community. The return isn’t in the corporate statement of profit and loss, it shows up in quality of life.

We don’t serve stockholders; we serve stakeholders. We serve communities. We serve people.

Every member receives the same level of courtesy, professionalism, quality work and respect. We uphold our commitment to provide safe, reliable and affordable electricity. We keep our promise to the entire community, whether they know who we are or what we do.

In the energy industry, cooperative leadership makes us uniquely flexible, uniquely responsive and uniquely reliable. You can count on us to make decisions in the best interest of our members.

In our communities, that makes us leaders with responsibilities. We must be guided by a selfless interest in making progress, creating economic opportunities for others, and making sure no one in our cooperative is left behind.

Today, we’re called to do more for our members than ever before. More is expected of us — with the same standard we’ve always met — to serve the entire community with quality and consistency. It’s time to lead.