Build community by asking yourself who needs you right now.
In the leadership arena, the dominant model is still surprisingly focused on individual achievement. Yet, the things that really matter in an organization happen when leaders come together in community, and in doing so, are able to accomplish something they could never have achieved on their own.
Gina Bianchini knows that it can feel intimidating to take that first step to build community. You may think, “I’m putting myself out there, and I’m going to be judged,” she acknowledged on our Lead the Future podcast. But as the CEO and founder of Mighty, a company that helps creators, entrepreneurs, and brands build community, and the author of the book Purpose: Design a Community and Change Your Life, Bianchini also knows that the secret to building community successfully is to simply flip the script.
Rather than focusing on yourself and what you have to offer, Bianchini says you should turn your focus to others. “There’s a set of people who need your community the most right now,” she says. “And they are waiting for you to build it not because of you, not because of your personal brand, not because of what you would represent to them, but rather, because they are hungry for connection.”
WHY IT MATTERS:
We are built for community.
If you’re a leader at any level, the simple truth is that your team wants to feel connected—because they’re human, and humans crave connection. “We are built for community,” Bianchini says. The enforced isolation of the pandemic has only intensified that need. “We might be a little rusty, but that’s easily fixable,” she says.
The key is to remember that “it’s not about you, it is about the people that you are bringing together and the role that you can play in their lives,” Bianchini says. Your goal is “to make the connections that bring them a sense of freedom and belonging and connection and energy,” she says.
Being clear about your purpose helps you understand how you want to show up for others.
Ultimately, Bianchini says, community is the single best place to master something interesting or important because it lets everyone belong to something bigger than ourselves. “Whether you look at it from the lens of religion, or from sociology, or anthropology, or neurobiology or academic research, it’s pretty clear, we are not going to achieve results and transformation in our lives on our own as individuals,” she says.
That’s why, she says, getting clear on your purpose and what you want to achieve will quickly shift your focus to questions like, “‘How do I show up for others? What is my legacy? What is the impact I want to have on the world?’”
A key part of making the transition to leadership by community is understanding that your impact is now determined by what you can motivate, inspire, or guide others to accomplish. You are no longer judged by your individual contributions alone. If you’re struggling with this mindset shift, Bianchini suggests taking time to think about your “future story” and what you want to have accomplished five or ten years from now, to help you shift your focus to the impact you will need to have on others.
WHAT TO PAY ATTENTION TO:
Make community expectations explicit—and positive.
When inviting people to make deeper connections, Bianchini says, you should be clear about how you expect them to behave. That’s especially important today, in the aftermath of the pandemic. “We have lost a set of shared social norms,” she says. “The most important thing in this moment is to be explicit with what is the culture you’re building.”
Bianchini notes that it’s become conventional to set out a list of ‘don’ts’ when inviting people into community—don’t use hate speech, don’t be abusive, and so on. She suggests shifting the focus to ‘dos.’ “Let’s actually spend 99% of the time not on all the things you shouldn’t do, but all the things that we do here,” she says.
As a leader, that means setting clear expectations for your team—and making them positive. You can develop these norms with your team or start a list on your own and ask for feedback, but keep the focus on what you do want team members to do. Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Instead of “Don’t gossip,” try: “On this team, we share our concerns directly.”
- Instead of “Don’t undermine other teams,” try: “We view other teams and departments as colleagues and work hard to support them.”
- Instead of “Don’t complain,” try: “On this team, we strive to be solution-oriented and future-focused.”
When you have a vibrant community, there is a real sense of having each other’s backs, which allows everyone to relax and focus on trying to accomplish transformational things that you can’t do by yourself. And that is the promise of a community of leaders.
- Watch to listen to episode 18 of Lead the Future with Dr. Vince Molinaro and Gina Bianchini
- Take our Leadership Culture Survey to assess the health of your team or organization. Have you been clear about your expectations for your community?
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