The term “community” is usually associated with sociological disciplines, but it has a relevance to workplaces and the role of leaders.
One of my favorite sociological definitions is offered by Ferdinand Tonnies and Charles Loomis in their book “Community and Society.” They define community as “an organic natural kind of social group whose members are bound together by the sense of belonging, created out of everyday contacts covering the whole range of human activities.”
Effective leaders create opportunities for human interaction that engender the sense of belonging, particularly to a greater cause.
Take Baltimore, for example, as a representation of these types of communities. The 2010 Baltimore Census Map shows more than 275 neighborhoods that put the charm in “Charm City.” Each community is distinct in character and even culture in many cases. Yet these communities are still able to come together in shared struggles and aspirations to give life to the moniker that denotes “charm.”
The need for workplace community is not a new concept. In an article titled “Rebuilding Companies as Communities” in the July-August 2009 issue of Harvard Business Review, renowned management theorist Henry Mintzberg asserted that the economic crisis the country was recovering from at that time was “covering a crisis of far greater proportions: the depreciation in companies of community — people’s sense of belonging to and caring for something larger than themselves.”
He further stated that “a robust community requires a form of leadership quite different from the models that drive transformation from the top. Community leaders facilitate change, recognizing that much of it must be driven by others.”
In other words, effective leadership that builds a sense of internal community helps others grasp a cause greater than themselves.
One of the best examples of a great business leader who builds workplace community is Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. He realized that community is as simple as a good cup of coffee and an ambiance conducive to gathering. He realized that creating this sense of community for clientele, as well as employees, could transform an industry.
The idea is as explicit in the Starbucks mission statement, “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time,” as it is in their values statement, “Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.”
Another example of community-oriented leadership is the No. 2 company on the 2018 Fortune list of “100 Best Companies to Work For,” Wegmans Food Markets. In addition to the design of their stores, Fortune reported, “Wegmans spent $50 million on employee development last year (plus $5 million in scholarships) and filled half of its open positions internally.”
Employees say “fulfilling” work gives them a “sense of purpose,” thanks to Wegmans’ mission of “helping people live healthier, better lives through food.” The mission once again points to a greater cause.
At the end of the day, Top Workplaces truly are just like nurturing communities. We all feel better because we are there.
Ronald C. Williams, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of management at Coppin State University’s Department of Marketing and Management.