I have stared at this post for almost a month now, with the confidence that I needed to write it, but lacking the clarity on what I was going to write. Then Sebastian Junger’s latest book, Tribe, dropped into my lap thanks to a summer reading list for my daughter’s AP Literature class. His exploration of the power of belonging was my weekend read (only 136 pages) and it helped crystallize what I needed to say on this topic.
I have always known the power of having friends, parents, and being part of a strong team. Here are some random – but powerful – statistics on the power of being in relationship with others and having a sense of belonging to something:
- If you are a smoker and a loner, and your goal is to live longer, statistically you should keep smoking but invest time in developing a group of friends. (Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam)
- Single men will die 8-17 years earlier than their married male friends. (NBCNews.com)
- One of the key 12 questions from Gallup to measure employee engagement – I have a best friend at work.
- During the bombing of London in World War II by the Germans, doctors in London saw a decrease in mental health issues such as depression and suicide.
The importance of being connected to others is well-documented as a benefit across all areas of our lives. Junger’s book even provides some startling statistics around societies where a strong sense of community and individuals being connected to that community impacts things like suicide rate, PTSD in soldiers, and mass/random shootings. I recommend giving it a read. (Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger)
So what does that mean for leaders?
- First of all, you will not be at your best if you have no safe place to go talk about things you are struggling with or if you lack friends/significant others in your life. A leader’s first job is not to drive profit, but to take care of themselves so that when hard decisions/times hit you have a web of community around you to keep you fresh and resilient.
- Secondly, when new people come onto your team, be intentional about getting them connected to others faster. Assign a mentor to them for 6 months and have them go around to each teammate or key contact from another department with the single item of getting to know them. (Best practice is to use a personality tool like DiSC or Birkman Method to talk about how they will work together along with a Team Member Fact Sheet to share personal information.)
- Thirdly, find activities every month to bring people together around a meal or an activity to maintain and build that sense of team and trust. It can be as simple as pizza or a potluck. It could also be a half day working on a Habitat for Humanity build or another community project.
- Finally, use planning to focus a team on a single problem to solve or a goal to reach. One of the reasons I became an EOS Implementer™ was the power in creating a simple plan that everyone could contribute to and understand. Coupled with weekly and quarterly rhythms around planning, the team becomes a community vs just a group of people working together.
There is more power in 2 than 1. The feeling of connectedness is a powerful thing, for our individual health and the ability to have a healthy and resilient city/state/country. The evidence is there, and as leaders this needs to be a basic truth you believe in and stay focused on – in both the habits you create for yourself and the ones you create for your team. Remember, teams will watch you how live as much as they listen to what you say. When they see you having friendships with peer executives, carving out family time for yourself, and being active in your own community, your words will become more powerful.
Listen . . Lead. Repeat often!
(Another great book about the power of a healthy community to impact performance and change lives is Season of Life: a football star, a boy, a journey to manhood by Jeffrey Marx. I am adding this and Tribe to my 2018 Summer Reading List for leaders)