Being a Leader Means Inspiring Community

Randy Emelo
Written by
Randy Emelo

Leadership Training Tips

Have you heard of Airbnb? Bromium? Uber? If you haven’t yet, you can be sure that you will. These are just a few examples of companies that have seemingly sprung up overnight and are poised to totally disrupt the status-quo in their respective industries.
Being a Leader Means Inspiring CommunityI’m not telling you anything new when I say that this type of market reality is the new normal for organizations, and that as a result, companies in all industries need to become increasingly agile in order to be prepared to act quickly in response to market conditions. Through your leadership role, you also know that it is your job to prepare your organization, team, department or the like to be this type of disruptive force—or at the very least respond to disruptive forces in your industry. You can do this by helping to build collaborative community, where people are innately encouraged to share and learn from one another, and where they can effortlessly come together as a team in times of uncertainty to forge ahead.

Leaders who build community are able to inspire others to share, support, collaborate and communicate with one another in a voluntary fashion in order to achieve something more meaningful than they could have alone. As a leader, you can help make your organization more agile and inspire belonging and engagement by helping to construct productive community. Consider the following four-step process for improving your ability lead by building community.

Step 1: Define Shared Values

Mentoring groupMuch like when you think about trying to make a cultural change in an organization, the first step you must take in building community is to define what values the community should share. Simply put, the shared values are the reason the community exists. As such, I would recommend inviting people who will be the community members to participate in identifying communal values, like honest collaboration, inclusivity, teamwork and the like. The values of the community should inspire trust, be collaboratively oriented, and engender a core identity for the work of the community. These values become similar to the rallying cry of its members, so instilling shared values goes well beyond just creating a list and posting them to your intranet or taping them above your water cooler. As the leader, you already know the importance of adhering to the old idiom “walk the talk.” When building community, it is paramount that you embody the values of the community yourself. This means living them out every day and explaining how major decisions are being made in alignment with the values the community has created.

Step 2: Set Guiding Principles

Leadership mantraOnce you’ve established values, you can help people understand how to go about demonstrating them by setting guiding principles. These provide operational guidelines for how the work your community has formed around will be carried out and the interpersonal behavior you expect will be needed to strive towards community goals. In other words, these guidelines describe how we should treat each other as we go about our work. For example, a good guiding principle might be, “We will do our work with a willingness to candidly learn from, share ideas with, and leverage the talents of others to do [insert what your community mission is] as best as possible.” The better your guiding principles are, the more secure people will feel that their individual efforts are connected to and aligned with the overall community’s effort. These principles also serve as expected norms for personal behavior. They infuse a work environment with a measure of comfort and familiarity. Once guiding principles have been established, they must be adhered to; and when challenged, they must be defended.

Step 3: Establish Practices

Establishing communal practices is where the rubber meets the road in terms of accomplishing shared goals or achieving community purpose. Practices are habitual patterns of behavior that express the values of the community and become the time-honored customs of its members. These practices can range from the way new community members are indoctrinated to authorized protocols and methodologies. Established practices provide a toolkit of repeatable actions that will produce results that foster the development of the community. They also serve as a point of communal pride and tradition. Unlike the values and principles of the community, practices are open to change. Practices need to be refined and constantly iterated forward by all the members of the community.

Step 4: Foster Open Discourse

Learning CollaborationOpen discourse is essential to creating a productive community (and agile organization, in my opinion). The community must feel that it has a voice and that it can express its full range of thought and emotion. Most members of any community want to know that they matter and that they contribute to the betterment of the community. The leader must be secure enough to hear the criticisms and must value the input from all members of the community. That does not mean that leaders have to act on everything they hear, but they must acknowledge that they heard it. Leaders must also understand that this type of collaboration is where innovation and improvement will come from. The members of the community are usually more in touch with the emerging needs and threats than the leader is. In this way, great communal leadership has a lot to do with patient listening and filtering the profitable advice from the unprofitable.

This process can be used to forge community at any level of an organization, and I strongly urge you to share these steps with people as they engage in social learning communities.  A unifying purpose, an understanding of expectations, and a safe environment to share are all critical hallmarks of social learning.  At the end of the day, what we all want is to belong to a community that inspires, supports, and appreciates what we offer.

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