How Leaders Build Community

Posted by on Apr 2, 2013 in ComLead, Organizational Leadership

How Leaders Build Community

It’s the feeling we all had on September 12, 2001. For a few days or weeks, when we looked at one another, we saw more than just another face. We knew what those in our community were thinking, knew how they were hurting, knew that we could make their day better by lending a hand or an ear.

We were all vulnerable together, hoping and working for the same things – peace of mind, security, understanding.

That’s a sense of community – and it’s magic.

In her lecture at Canisius last month, executive consultant and author Eve Berry shared a career’s worth of insight explaining just what  “community” really is and how we can build it. Community can develop in teams, families, workplaces and neighborhoods, where we feel connected to and invested in each other.

A sense of community isn’t always the result of a trauma, but Eve shared that chaos and confusion are a necessary step in building authentic community.

No matter the organizations – a team, a family, a neighborhood – community is built in 4 stages.


The Rocky Road to Community


Eve described how most organizations are stuck in one of the first two stages. In pseudo-community, we chat, we brainstorm and we leave. Pseudo-community is a superficial version of community, marked by small talk, where a lack of connection and trust leads to a fear of conflict.

In this comfortable but tenuous phase, change and confusion often inevitably cause conflict. Pseudo-community quickly slips into chaos, the second stage, where the need for power and control wins out over pseudo-relationships. In this stage, cliques form and leadership is resisted as people try to organize themselves out of chaos. An organization in chaos is easily recognized: meetings that feel pointless, secret networks where decisions are made, exclusive conversations, and a lack of trust and open communication are the hallmarks.

As a leader, our critical role is to lead our team through chaos to emptiness and to community. This doesn’t mean managing our way out – it means fully embracing the frustration, fear and lack of trust. In order to grow, organizations in chaos need to surrender. In this stage, Eve explains, members admit “I just can’t do this anymore; I can only change myself.”

Building Up from the Bottom


Leading members to a place where they relinquish control and admit their personal responsibility is the catalyst for building true community. To build community, shift their focus from their own agendas to a greater goal.

The emptying process involves getting people together and forging honest and uncomfortable dialogue. Emptying takes “clearing the air” to a whole new level –  allowing people to speak openly and deeply in a truly judgment-free zone. From the emptying process, a group develops a shared vision or goal. Effective community builders lead members into this new mindset, where members are authentic, take risks and support one another.

On a team or in the workplace, a sense of community is that magical feeling that you can trust one another. Though the process may be painful, true community is a powerful thing.

Have you ever been part of a true community? Share your story in our comments section below!

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