How to Be a Better Leader By Building a Better Tribe
Fostering a sense of belonging within every team member we employ helps us as much as it does them.
My first recollection of the noun, "tribe" was approximately 8 years of age.
My grandfather pastored a church nestled in our vibrant community of Jamaica, Queens. One winter morning, my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. High, crafted a thematic lesson utilizing the old African adage, "It takes a village to raise a child". I found this concept fascinating.
We discussed tribal composition, from newborn rituals and elders to historians and healers. Not only did Mrs. High's lesson demonstrate the collective power of community, efficacy and belonging, but it also touched upon how tribes can operate as thriving Communities of Practice (CoP), learning collectively and mitigating challenges when they arise. While this example serves as an early, edifying memory of my appreciative African heritage, there is also a distinct correlation to entrepreneurship.
As leaders of scaling organizations, we are responsible for fostering a sense of community and belonging to every team member we employ. An essential concept often omitted in this discussion is the earnest responsibility that we should hold for ourselves—building our support system as leaders.
- Who do you call when you need advice on making difficult staffing decisions?
- With whom do you make Happy Hour plans to disconnect and revel in the week's highs and lows or to discuss strategies for overcoming Imposter Syndrome?
- To whom are you extending your hand to mentor and "lift while you climb?"
The answer to these questions is your "tribe".
There are many racial and ethnic groups around the world with their own constructs of tribe that are different from what Mrs. High first described and vastly different from one another. But what always remained at the forefront of my memory is how coming together as a people, with different roles and experiences, we become stronger, together.
Assess your current relationship network
Who was the last person you called outside your organization for advice?
Often, we have folks in our networks who have demonstrated that they are sincere champions for our success, but we haven't acknowledged them as such. Perhaps you can coordinate a monthly "herbal verbal tea" over Zoom, or create a Slack channel where you can share fruitful ideas with one another and seek bi-directional feedback.
Make the time
If you were to delineate a map visually depicting your network, I'm sure there are one to three supporters who would be in close proximity to you. This is someone with whom you have endured professional and life experiences and should remain actively engaged as supporters of one another's leadership journeys.
Identify a leader who has more experience
If we are to identify someone who runs a larger operation, there is a high potential that this person has less available time than you.
You want to ensure that you are reaching out to them with intentionality. Their time is valuable and you should have clear queries when communicating with them.
Perhaps you need advice on how they launched their business in a new geographic market, or you want to inquire about key learnings they obtained when scaling their operating budget from $2 million to $200 million—whatever the case, they are your tribal elders and their wisdom is golden. Seek it.
Ensure that you have a healer
All of our journeys are exquisitely different, yet come with a unique set of challenges that can blur our leadership lens if not properly focused. This can become a snowball of personal detriment. Therefore, your mental, physical, and emotional health is just as important (if not more) than your professional and economic health—they are interrelated.
Identify a therapist, wellness clinician, spiritual leader, life coach, physical trainer and/or anyone who can support your becoming an even greater version of yourself. Let's call this person the "healer".
Make time for physical activity, healthy food choices and spending time with loved ones. Ensure the same investment you make in your team members, you also make in yourself. It is up to you to create your rituals for personal success. What will they entail?
Learn with members of your collective
Botha et al (2008) states that empowerment is key to growth: The best learning environments are created when there are real consequences to the individual and his/her/their community of practice. Well, our failure as leaders to achieve our business' key performance indicators can have real professional consequences which most certainly can affect our personal well-being.
Tellingly a new survey of 2,000 Americans, conducted by Muse Health Hand Sanitizer, found that 65% of those polled claimed that the COVID-19 crisis provided a "wake-up call" to reach out to their communities with 52% volunteering in their communities, for the first time, as a result of the pandemic.
What activities do you have scheduled where you are meeting as a collective with your tribe to discuss a common issue and/or opportunity for learning?
Perhaps the community is discussing strategies for preparing an upcoming financial audit, or discussing new state regulations which determine whether your contractors should actually be part time employees.
The salient idea is that you are discussing these themes as a community of leaders—members of your tribe, who are all centered around intentional learning, sharing and developing best practices, and supporting one another's individual and collective success in the process. This turning to your tribe also helps to build resiliency.
How are you helping others in your tribe?
Similarly to curating a list of your tribal elders, remember that you are also an elder to a younger leader in your collective.
We all were afforded a different set of societal privileges based on constructs of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, cognitive and physical abilities, etc. I think it's important to utilize some of these privileges to be an ally/co-conspirator to someone who may not have the same position in society.
You have the unique opportunity to develop a diverse tribe that can grant access to opportunity and the ability for all to lead a choice-filled life. There is something reciprocal about giving back to others as a tribal core value.
While these five components are not exhaustive steps for developing your entrepreneurial tribe, they provide fundamental building blocks for delineating your comprehensive support network: What currently exists? What are the opportunities? What personal needs do you have as a leader that you feel are not being met?
You are the only person with the answers to those questions and your tribe can be at your disposal to support your reaching the answers. The bottom line is: It takes a village to raise a leader.
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