Leaders Need To Build Community: Part 1

Jann Freed Leading Leave a Comment

As I said in an earlier post, one of my current research areas is the topic of community.  So I am going to write a series of posts on various aspects of this topic.  Based on his most recent book, Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations, Thomas Friedman of the New York Times believes “the most prevalent disease in the country is social isolation. And yet we are more ‘connected’ than ever.”

We live in an individualistic society.  We put privacy fences up to keep our neighbors out.  We think a good neighbor is someone who does not bother us.  Yet, many of us don’t know our neighbors well enough to borrow a cup of sugar!

So if this is the case, what do many people need and want from leaders in the workplace?  While technology can disguise loneliness by keeping us busy on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, these “friends,” “connections,” and “followers” do not substitute for a sense of belonging.

In fact, the lack of employee engagement is a serious workplace issue.  According to Gallup, only 32% of U.S. workers are engaged in their jobs.  The majority (50.8%) are not engaged and 17.2% are “actively disengaged.”  Gallup has been collecting data for decades with millions of employees and categorizes workers as “engaged” based on their ratings of key workplace elements — such as having an opportunity to do what they do best each day, having someone at work who encourages their development and believing their opinions count at work — that predict important organizational performance outcomes.  Gallup has a set of 12 questions they refer to as Q12.  Interestingly, several of the questions relate to a sense of belonging and community.

In his book, Friedman talks about how technology is going to impact the future of jobs.  But I like these comments:

“If you don’t marry these technological advances with all the things you can’t download — good values, good teaching, good educating, things that take time and are slow — if you don’t put the two together, you’re going to have a problem.  There are a lot of human-to-human skills that are now going to be needed more than ever. And there’s going to be huge job opportunities in that.”

Research has well documented this social isolation.  In a face-to-face study of 1,467 adults that mirrors a study done about 25 years ago, 25% of al Americans report that they have nobody to talk to about “important matters.”  Another quarter reported they are just one person away from having nobody.  But the most startling finding was that in only two decades, from 1985-2004, the number of people who have no one to talk to has doubled and the number of confidants has gone down from three to two!

First, it is important to be aware of this “disease” of wide-spread social isolation.  Then recognize the opportunities that exist in building a sense of community.  And if what Friedman predicts is true, human-to human skills will be desperately needed and having relationships where people know one another will facilitate a sense of belonging.  Using Friedman’s metaphor, relationships and community can’t be downloaded!

In this series, I will share what leaders can do to address this “disease” that affects productivity, employee satisfaction, and development and growth.

How engaged are your employees? 

How do you know?

How often do you take time to just listen to others without giving advice, making a decision, or taking action?