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Why building community is key to good business

A small shopping centre close to my home with a grocery, dry cleaners, shawarma restaurant and stationers recently shut down. The businesses have been forced to re-locate to the building will soon be demolished. I don’t know the reasons but have experienced the impact – disappointment and sadness amongst area residents that a valued community hub has disappeared. Al Badia Golf Club is closing with 420 members shown the door, and more poignantly, 180 staff are now seeking employment. These are familiar scenarios in this city of the new and shiny and speak to an important output of mature leadership; Community.

Community is present when there is something larger than yourself to which you feel a sense of belonging, be it a company, neighbourhood, a club or simply a group of people with common interests. The urge to be part of a community is a deep-seated human need linked to ensuring our survival as interdependent beings. Its opposite is to feel isolated, an outsider and with the mostly ex-patriate nature of the Gulf population means that the majority of the population is not ‘at home’. With little or no social welfare structure, organisations have an important role to play in creating communities which nurture a sense of well-being in people’s lives.

The vitality and connectedness of the community depends largely on how it is lead. Ownership is a vital component of community-building as individual responsibility and action is required to produce and sustain it – “I belong to a community, and it belongs to me”. For a company or community to be organised, successful and satisfied leaders need to be able to balance their self-interest with the needs and desires of the wider community. While accepting the presence of competing commitments, they actively create structures that form communities of purpose, direction and continuity.

Mature, servant leaders see themselves at the centre of their organisation – looking outwards, not at the top looking down. Think of the communities you move and influence in as ‘concentric rings’ around yourself. Closest to you is self (you are a community of different selves, roles and identities), moving outward the next circle is family and close friends, work, local neighbourhood, city, country and the world. Leaders should strive to feel a part of all those communities and take ownership for our part in each promoting health in that system.  The difficulty is that the rings can seem less real and more abstract as you get further away from the self / centre leading to passivity or apathy. “Which circles am I serving right now/with this decision?” is a powerful question for leaders to identify at which level they are working.

Leaders need to be bold on questions as “What structures am I creating to promote community and ownership in my circles?” and “In which circles am I being passive?” Where communities struggle to flourish, leaders use influence for promoting self-interest and consolidation of personal or clan power at the expense of the wider community.

Highly effective leaders are integrated – they can accept and reconcile the various demands in their circles and make wise courageous decisions. Both Gandhi and Nelson Mandela literally radiated from a deep personal purpose and service that enabled them to start from the outermost ring first and work way back towards the centre. ‘Communityship’ was in their bones.

These exceptional men taught us that community-building is a primary responsibility for leaders. Spending time considering our personal community circles and then actively creating and maintaining “structures of belonging” in our own systems would be a worthwhile place to start.

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