Great leaders do not stand alone.
The media often portrays leaders as exceptional individuals, and American culture values the ideology of people “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” to attain success. What many of us have come to realize, however, is the value of community in the study and practice of great leadership.
Community service is vital to the NSLS mission, but being part of - and being supported by - a community is so much more than a string of acts of service. Part of our mission here is “We achieve more together than we do alone,” after all, so let’s talk about why great leaders need community.
How Leaders Are Made
We’ll start at the beginning: Great leaders don’t pop into existence as fully-developed CEOs, presidents, or grassroots organizers.
Instead, leaders are made. Through a process of self-driven work, education (whether formal or informal), and mentorship, leaders gain the skills and support they need to run effective teams. This is why the NSLS provides mentorship through professional success coaches. Sure, it’s possible to reinvent the wheel, along with some great new tools, but truly great leaders begin from a position of learning.
Mentors provide the springboard for future innovation. If you know what’s been tried in the past, you can keep what’s effective and create new strategies to address inefficiencies. And at the NSLS, we see regular evidence of leaders paying this forward by becoming mentors in their own rights.
But what about after the traditional “mentorship” phase? Why is community so important throughout the career and lifetime of a leader?
For one thing, learning never ends. How often have you heard someone say, “Well, I learned something new today”? Even if it’s unintentional, humans continue to learn throughout their lives.
At the NSLS, we value learning as a lifelong journey. To help members continue to grow personally and professionally, we encourage skill development. Skill acquisition aside, leaders have to learn from their mistakes, as well. Risk-taking is essential for true success, but risk brings the possibility (and likelihood!) of failure.
What all great leaders know, though, is that failure is necessary. Failure hurts, but if you value lifelong learning and a growth mindset, you can reap the benefits of learning from mistakes. Just like leaders learn from the mistakes of past leaders, they also learn from their own slips and falls.
RELATED: FAILURE IS THE BEST PREPARATION FOR SUCCESS
Teamwork Makes the Dream Work
Many leaders attempt to take on as many responsibilities as they can, running themselves ragged to be the best at everything. It’s a natural tendency for many of us.
The best leaders, though, know that creativity, innovation, and efficiency flourish in organizations where leaders build connections with their team and learn each person’s strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, leaders can place the right person in each role and, most importantly, learn from them. Being surrounded by smart people is an asset for leaders everywhere. Smart people provide a variety of ideas and feedback for one another, which will drive success and help everyone on the team - including team leaders - deepen their skills and grow as people and professionals.
Authenticity and Belonging Breed Healthy Organizations
Authenticity and belonging are common themes lately, whether in boardrooms, universities, or social media. One thing that has become clear in the workplace is that belonging is a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to employee engagement. It makes sense. After all, if we feel as if we belong, interpersonal stressors will take up less mental space.
But how do we create a sense of belonging in the workplace?
It all comes down to authenticity. Belonging exists when communities come together and accept one another for who they are. This can only happen if community members are allowed and even encouraged to show up as their authentic selves. This kind of encouragement needs to come from the top down. If leaders show up as themselves and allow themselves to be an authentic and engaged member of the community, then employees can feel safer in doing the same. And did you know that friendliness outweighs competence in teamwork? Being yourself is more important as a team member than being an authoritative leader.
Good leaders engage with their communities authentically.
Healthy Leaders Need Healthy Support
Finally, great leaders need community because having a healthy support network helps bolster mental health, a key factor in success at every level. Although burnout is not classified as a medical condition, it has become a concerning enough phenomenon to have its own Mayo Clinic page and to be addressed as a “a factor influencing health status” by the World Health Organization.
Even outside of occupational burnout, mental health is a major concern today, and it has become clear that mental health struggles affect quality of life and quality of work. Leaders aren’t exempt.
There are many strategies for taking care of your mental health, including mindfulness, exercise, counseling, getting fresh air, and community. The American Psychological Association’s survey of recent studies illustrates that although loneliness is associated with a variety of health problems, including mental decline, “social support bolsters resilience in stressful situations.”
Hear that, leaders? You need your community, just as we need you. Membership in the NSLS provides resources for education and community. You can catch a glimpse of just some of what we do by checking out our blog, where we feature amazing leaders, NSLS members, and so much more.
If you’d like to learn more about community and its importance in leadership, check out our July newsletter!