Leadership Spokane is committed to the truism that leaders always learn. This past week, our adult leaders focused on Human Needs Day, where we increased our empathy for the undeserved through a poverty simulation and discussed the safety and homeless challenges in our community. It was a powerful day of learning but the one lesson that resonated with me was the importance of leaders helping others feel belonging. The challenge of the simulation is so many stresses overwhelm the family units, like evictions, crime and other pitfalls, that the participants are fragmented. Specifically, a scenario time crunch hurts their ability to get help from social service agencies, the stress of making ends meet makes it where participants only fight for themselves and elements of crime add to separation and distrust. A leader’s ability to help their followers feel a sense of community is core to help all rise.
As a species, we are social. The Greek philosopher Aristotle said as much long ago: “Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual.” The challenge for any leader is to make their followers truly feel they belong, not just fit in. Writer Randy Conley in a July 2013 article "Five Ways Leaders Help Others Belong, Not Just Fit In" argues: “Creating a sense of belonging for people requires that leaders be engaged.” Conley follows with a tried-and-true servant leadership principle that leaders need to give up some power to the followers so they feel they have a part of the organization. Conley also makes the critical point that leaders who celebrate the diversity of their team allow all to feel accepted, thus allowing everyone’s strengths to be leveraged.
Researcher and author Brené Brown reminds us: “Belonging is about freedom – freedom from having to change in order to be accepted and being valued and respected for being who you are.” When put this way, belonging is a high bar indeed. We may feel part of a group but the ability to speak freely is harder to obtain. In Leadership Spokane, we endeavor to make each class jell by having the class members get to know each other by their first names only. Leaving duty titles behind is the best way for all to feel as equals. Earning respect, though, is a longer road to travel on. Our hope is by mixing and matching our adults into a variety of class teams, they get to know each other…knowing your teammates is the single best way to learn their accomplishments and perspectives and thus earn that well deserved respect.
Leaders lead teams and they lead communities. Both teams and communities are composed of diverse individuals and helping that diversity find a sense of belonging immeasurably strengthens the confidence and achievement of followers. In our Human Needs poverty simulation, the family units that were the most stressed were the ones that could not feel part of the community because making ends meet was a daily struggle. It was a lesson not lost on me. One actor, a senior citizen named “Warren” was able to overcome adversity and actually be kind to others, a rare trait that day. He did so because he had a spouse who showed him support daily. He felt part of the community. Showing a sense of belonging is a high bar for leaders to aim for, but the power of acceptance is worth pursuing. Listening, giving up power, celebrating diversity and being engaged are good first steps for leaders to add value to their communities. Leaders should help others belong.
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa