I was in a training with a group of nonprofit leaders yesterday, and while I would like to think the content was relevant and helpful, equally important was how the time together fostered a sense of community among a group individuals facing many of the same challenges and opportunities. Leadership can be a lonely thing . . . perhaps now more than ever with our increasingly digital/zoom/remote workplaces, and often only a handful of people who understand first-hand the unique pressures of your role. How does a leader sustain his or her passion, commitment and can-do spirit? By actively cultivating communities of support. Yes, communities — plural — because a leader needs different kinds of support at different times. What should those communities look like? They can be as individual as the leader, but here are some good suggestions to consider:
A professional community.
Especially if you don’t have someone in a peer role in your organization, it is important to find people in similar roles that you can bounce ideas off of, ask for honest feedback, and occasionally commiserate with a bit. I have found professional industry associations are a great way to connect with such people. Peer leaders in a similar industry can offer you a relevant perspective without you having to explain the backstory or variables. Chances are they have been there and done that, and there is great comfort in knowing that others are experiencing similar challenges and opportunities.
People who have known you a long time.
Lifelong friends can keep you grounded like no one else. They aren’t impressed with your title or professional accomplishments – they know far too many embarrassing stories and aren’t afraid to remind you about them. No matter how you advance in your career, long-time friends are a great way to make sure you don’t lose sight of your core values and what is important in life (and, contrary to what you might hear at work, it probably isn’t you.) These can be family members, high-school friends, people you grew up going to church with . . . people who knew you before you were someone people wanted to know.
Friends who make you laugh.
The vast majority of people just don’t laugh enough. Laughter puts even the biggest challenges in perspective and yet, when we are stressed out it tends to be one of the last things we think about doing. So pre-emptively schedule regular time with a group of friends who make you laugh. Even once every few months can have a huge positive impact on your outlook. When you need it the most, scheduling time with this important group probably won’t occur to you. Plan ahead so the stress can leak out amid the laughter.
What other communities of people help you through the challenges of leadership? The role can at times feel lonely, but you don’t have to. It’s just a matter of finding your communities.