Leading in Community

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Community happens when people serve and care for one another in the pursuit of a common purpose.

Genuine means to be free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy; sincere: a genuine person.

Communites are built on genuine connections.

Genuine connections are real.

They are honest.

They embrace.

They are hard.

They hurt.

They fear.

They love.

They fight.

They laugh.

They inspire.

They move us.

And they are rare.

Working in a spirit of community doesn’t mean being in agreement with or even “liking” one another. It does require that we approach one other with a commitment to being genuine and with a mutual belief that the bigger mission is more important than our personal agendas. As a leader you are either modeling these behaviors or encouraging competition and self-preservation; there is no middle ground.

Can’t change the whole company? Build genuine relationships where you are. Make work a place where people feel connected and supported and not just another unit of productivity. Want engagement? Cultivate love and service at all levels. Want passion? Fight together for a greater purpose. Want loyalty? Create a place where people know that they are cared for beyond the work they do every day.

As I shared in my last post, A few years ago had the joy of working with a group of leaders who conspired to radically change the culture of our organization. To be honest we didn’t really know how to pull it off and we stumbled in some of our efforts. We asked ourselves the question, “if we could create an organization we would all love working for what would it look like?”. We wrote that down. Then we did all the things we thought we were supposed to do like creating a new vision statement and developing core values for the organization.

The process was difficult and stressful and sometimes we forgot what it was we were really trying to accomplish as our personal agendas came to the surface. We asked our employees to help us write the story which added another layer of complexity and uncertainty. Finally, we produced a clear description of who wanted to be for each other and for our customers.

As the change progressed the transformation was amazing. Slowly but surely we began to see a shift in behaviors and in the energy that flowed through the organization. It wasn’t the new vision or values that made the difference. Sure it was important that we declared our intention and followed through with accountability, reward systems, etc., yet, it became clear that it was the transformation in the leadership team that had the most profound impact on the organization.

During the months of working through the difficult change process, we built strong bonds and a shared excitement for the possibility of what could be. The positive energy, deep respect, vulnerability and mutual commitment that emanated from our team expanded outward and inspired people at all levels to help create our story.

It was truly an amazing experience, and the results exceeded our expectations. Sometimes we would look at each other with a smile and say, “it’s really happening can you believe it? We were naive enough to believe it could be done, but we always harbored our doubts that we could actually pull it off. And yet it was clear; we were becoming a community and not just a bunch of people working in the same building. By the way, within a short time our customers noticed as well and they told us about it, “whatever it is you are doing keep on doing it!”.

Why should a third of our lives be spent hiding our true selves and keeping others at a distance? One of the deepest joys in life comes from expressing our best selves, through meaningful work, with people who love us and value our uniqueness.

Here are a ten points to consider if you are a leader who wants to encourage genuine connections:

  • Ask for help – stop pretending you can carry the load alone
  • Laugh easily – don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Admit you’re scared – and then push through anyway to encourage others
  • Express love – let people know you are for them and care about them as human beings
  • Get mad – don’t pretend you aren’t upset, but don’t stay there
  • Don’t hide – behind emails and edicts, be there, in person
  • Know people – share life not just work, tell your story, hear theirs
  • Be Challenging – call on others to bring their best to the cause
  • Show Courtesy – treat all people with the same respect and courtesy
  • Go first – take the first step to heal a damaged relationship

The most important gift you can give as a leader is the belief that people matter, that they have something to offer the world and that you are interested in them as a person. To care enough to want know them and to let them know you.

Living this way as a leader creates tension. We are compelled by various workplace norms and perceptions about human nature to maintain a “professional distance”. On top of that, the world seems to reward individual achievers, not relationship builders.  It takes courage to pursue the kind of connectedness that makes our organizations places of hope, healing, growth and love in addition to sources of profit and productivity. These are not mutually exclusive goals. But it does take a unique blend of curiosity, patience and some serious faith in the human spirit to live in the best of both worlds…to follow “the road less taken”.

Leading in community is transformational. It moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. The paradigm of work and the organization changes. We become for each other, not just the firm or even the mission. There are many layers of complexity in human behavior, but I believe there are some common threads that bring us together and call out the best in us. I hope there is a message here that will find people who have a similar passion; to create amazing communities that also do amazing work. Please share your thoughts.

7 comments

  1. Community is so very important. When I have genuinely felt this at work, I was my most productive. Thank you

    Reply

    1. Me too. I can really feel the difference when it is there…and when it is missing. Thank you for your comment. 🙂

      Reply

  2. Thoughtful post, thank you. I’m very “community sensitive” and will often observe to my wife after some group event “..did you see that? They are becoming community!”
    The building process can be trying, but the long lasting results are worth the efforts. “

    Reply

    1. Excellent story Ken, thanks for sharing. I agree, well worth the effort.

      Reply

  3. I’m glad you’re a part of my social community, Scott. A few years ago, you were of the first people who asked me to guest blog and it actually really meant a lot to me. You’re inclusive and generous with your leadership. Grateful.

    Reply

    1. Thank you, Alli. You have always been helpful and supportive and I really appreciate your writing and teaching. You are in inspiration.

      Reply

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