The Power of Belonging

A reminder that this e-column is about “everyday leaders,” therefore you don’t need to be authorized to lead, or to heed.  Today’s message:  Leaders always see, and tend to the importance of culture.  Culture is what unleashes or traps energy, creates meaning or meanness, offers focus or fuzz.  Here’s a way to think of unleashing purposeful energy in your culture (at work, or at home).

Check out an energized culture:  107,000-plus screaming fans at the Big House in Ann Arbor.  A scene repeated across the country: white-outs, tomahawks, painted chests, Lions, Tigers, Canes, Horns, and of course Trojans and Spartans.  The Wave, cartwheels and handstands, screams of passion, jubilation (or desperation) – all from belonging.  Similarly, in these first weeks of elementary, middle and high school-life across the country, kids are seeking to establish identity and belonging.  No leader should lose sight of that craving, aching human need!   Belonging creates a powerful sense of personal identity, and unleashes strong feelings of purpose and power.  

 I re-learned this lesson last week when I spoke on successive days at Facebook and then the California Workforce Association.  I saw at Facebook as I had at Google, that their employees feel mighty special.  Part has to do with making their way through close to double-digit interviews; they’ve run the gauntlet and feel they belong: they’re proud, deserving and happily expect that much will be expected of them.  Of course, they also feel like they belong – on top – because of the special place their companies hold in the world.  But, how about the California Workforce Association?  Not exactly the sexiest title for a group.  Not even clear that somebody would know what they do.  Well, in a nutshell: they are job trainers, community college folks, placement officers, and they are hugely busy these days helping people – including the hard-to-employ – to find work.  God bless them for that! 

Their Executive Director Virginia Hamilton told me that she’s proud of the conference she holds for her members, because they can easily think of themselves as “just people” helping others find work, but the conference helps them to see that they are more:  they are part of a profession, with best practices, ongoing learning, and career development.  They share common struggles, triumphs, and benefit from their diverse insights.  They also have important learning to deliver to the world of legislatures and policy makers.  Belonging to their Association, helps them see they have more to learn yet much to say.  Virginia’s words reminded me of how valuable it was for me to belong to the National Society of Fund-Raising Executives, or to the National Governors Associations First Spouses group.  Both took me out of my vocational isolation and offered me a world of allies and fellow-learners.  Virginia’s words also reminded me of how much confidence I had felt emanating from a group I addressed called the Professional Assistants to Chief Executives.  Together they expressed enormous confidence and passion to improve.  I was struck with the contrast:  how in their isolated offices they were often hidden behind a desk with a dirty little secret: If it weren’t for them their exalted bosses would be seen as confused, disorganized, and detached.  

This belonging I’m talking about has tremendous rewards. Belonging to a profession, a team, or an organization that values its members, and teaches, celebrates, and challenges them to grow, doesn’t just reward those members, but it rewards everyone in the culture with whom they work.

Do the people at your place have a sense of belonging – in your place but also to something linking them with colleagues outside?  Would your folks paint their chests or do cartwheels in pride at belonging?  That’s an energy worth striving to create, as you

Lead with your best self!