Why community matters now more than ever
Did I see the tsunami coming?
No, absolutely not.
In fact, it’s the first time I recall it happening in the nearly 12 years that I’ve been writing this missive.
It started in February with an innocent rant about a topic I knew had the potential to strike a nerve: the need to “explain it to me like I’m a 12-year-old.” But I had no idea. It led to a steady flow of replies (far more than normal) about how people really feel — how communication is lousy in the workplace these days, how we’re too complicated, too long-winded, too pompous, too jargony. One reply even said, “it’s way worse than you put it!” The point? People cared about this topic and spoke up about it.
Three weeks later, it happened again — this time with a more personal message about what I’d learned about myself during COVID. In this one, I invited people to chime in with their own reflections, hoping I’d get a few candid responses and learn how others were coping. I got that and more — by a magnitude of 100. (It took me a day to get through the replies.) Many of you wrote back thoughtfully and at great length. My favourite comment came from my friend Paul, the painting guru. What has COVID taught him? Mostly resilience and confidence. “Stuff happens now that I may not know what the hell I’m going to do about it… but I do know we’ll figure it out and get through it. Not just hope. I know.”
The reaction to both of these posts got me wondering — why the outpouring? And why now? Is this another sign of our times?
To me, it suggests a number of things about how we’re all feeling.
• We want to be part of a conversation. We’re craving connection even more at the moment.
• We want to share our views and be heard.
• We want to belong — that feeling of being united in something. (It’s why sports and the performing arts are so huge in our culture.)
That last one is often called “community.” It’s loosely defined as a group of people with common interests. The question then becomes: what are we doing to engage our own communities — especially now, when they seem to want it most?
I have a thought on this.
The best communities offer perspective.
While communities may be, at their roots, about commonality, I believe they work best when they foster multiple voices and perspectives on shared concerns and interests. That’s the real power of community.
And I think, looking back, that’s what happened with my recent tsunami. The topics I wrote about were of interest — they were the commonality. But what’s more important is that the members of the community (YOU) wanted to chime in. You wanted your perspectives heard. They were — and I’m much better off for it. And I thank you.
Isn’t this what true community is all about?
We all have our own “communities,” virtual or otherwise. For example, my coaching group is a community — it’s four friends each running their own businesses, meeting once a quarter for the better part of a day (now in our 13th year). These guys keep me honest on all the things going on in my life. They always offer good perspective. I’m stronger because of them.
I’ve got my walking and golf communities too. We all have our own communities.
And so it is in our businesses, schools, teams and non-profits as well.
Each of us — big, small or solo, and regardless of what business we’re in or what we’re up to — has an interest in building and nurturing a community to some degree. It could be customers, suppliers, employees, partners, influencers, investors, maybe all of these. Tapping into these communities is how we engage and learn and grow. The abundance of perspectives offered by our communities helps our thinking. It’s smart business too.
But building and attending to a community is long-haul stuff. It’s a long game, not a short one. So, it might help to think of three simple moves to stay focused in the near term as the long game plays out:
• Stay curious and ask good questions. (Four of the most impactful words in the English language: what do you think?)
• Truly listen to what your communities are saying.
• And then keep the conversations going — and look for the learnings that make you better.
There’s an opportunity out there for all of us right now. The tsunami I experienced these past couple of months has awoken me to it. People want a sense of community. They need it.
Maybe now, more than ever.
So ask yourself:
- Who’s in your own community?
- What’s on their minds? (Have you asked?)
- How are you helping their voices get heard?