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Chapter 23: Technique 20: Creating Community

Most people live much of their productive lives in formal groups. Inner leaders need to know as much as they can about how to make successful work groups, for this is the place where they spend most of their productive time. The continuing task is to create a unified work group and then nurture its values and customs among all stakeholders. The objective is to make a unified community reflective of the leader’s goals and to relate followers to the community’s goals. In doing this, inner leaders build a unique work community culture, different in real ways from the overarching corporate culture, to help differentiate and set apart their core of coworkers from all other subgroups. Without this community-building, values-based relationships that recognize and honor the whole person of both leader and led do not happen.


The word, community comes from the Latin root meaning “with unity.” Work communities are a kind of social entity that operates out of shared values and beliefs, a common vision, and known patterns of behavior. The inner leader’s task is to build workplace community. No work community—no society—can function well unless most members behave most of the time because they voluntarily heed the moral commitments and social responsibilities (Etzioni, 1993) laid out by the communities in which they hold membership. If member actions are not consistent with these cultural constraints, the work community may run into trouble. Giving people power—empowering them— is a good idea, but the power to do something without a unifying focus leads to chaos. Inner leaders must couple empowering followers with community building to make progress toward their personal goals.

Many of the most important choices people make—choices that make life happy or sad—are not individual choices, but group ones. Most of the important, meaningful outcomes in life cannot be attained alone. People need other people to help them become their best selves. Leadership focused on the whole person of all stakeholders—their values, aspirations, goals, and customs—is not an option in today’s world (Pinchot and Pinchot, 1994), it is a requirement. Hence the need for community structures.

Most people relate more to their work or work-community relationships than they do to any other social grouping, with the possible exception of the family. They value their corporate citizenship sometimes more than they do their associations in any other community of interest. The work community influences how they act, what they value, how they measure themselves and their actions. It gives definition to their feelings about whom they care about and how they care about their coworkers, the level of personal growth they aspire to, their level of competency, and their happiness. Given the power of the work community, inner leaders shape, strengthen, and use the work-community culture; and they define new culturally appropriate ceremonies and rituals that bring people together to form unities around their vision. Controlling—leading— the corporate culture becomes the central inner leader’s task. This is, at heart, a value-displacement activity.

Creating a Compatible Culture

The work community’s culture is a powerful force guiding member behavior. It consists of the pattern of basic assumptions about which group members agree. It determines work practices and validates those practices. The community culture determines the basis for measuring individual member success. It includes both historical precedent and present experience and defines future behavioral expectations (Bjerke, 1999). Cultural features determine not only the ways workers solve problems, but also what is considered a problem in the first place. It defines the essential—spiritual—nature and character of the work community and, by extension, of its individual members. Absent broad agreement on legitimate behavior and the values used to measure interaction within the group, members are free to follow divergent paths. Taken to the extreme, the absence of a controlling culture spells chaos, and the community itself disappears.

Each work community has a culture of its own shaped by the inner leader or by chance. The values array inner leaders foster in the group is the single most critical factor in determining their success (Fiedler, 1974). Their set of values determines who leaders are, what they do, and how they do it. The inner leader’s values set also conditions work-community member actions, beliefs, and behavior and is the nucleus of any work culture developed (Schein, 1985). It constitutes the core values held by the group, that is, it defines the group’s and individual member’s work essence, their collective spirit. These leader-set cultures provide meaning, direction, and necessary social energy to move the work community to productive action (or destruction). So important are the leader’s values and the work culture that they delimit that unless the cultural context of the group is compatible (or is made compatible by the leader), inner leadership is impossible.

No coherent, cooperative action is possible where common agreement—at least implicitly—in a knowable culture is lacking. Creating and maintaining a culture conducive to attainment of the leader’s core goals for him or her self and the group is the hallmark of inner leadership. Seen in this light, inner leaders lead from their core spiritual nature. They develop group cultures that incorporate their personal values and practices (Peters and Waterman, 1982).

Creating Community

The task for inner leadership in the twenty-first century is transforming (McMillen, 1993) the workplace into a viable, attractive work community capable of attracting workers with needed skills and talents. Building inviting workplace communities is critical. As inner leaders create work communities they effectively counter current tendencies toward worker disaffection. A sense of community invigorates member’s lives with a sense of purpose (Carson, 2001) and a feeling of belonging to an integrated group doing something worthwhile.

Work communities operate out of a shared belief and values system that the inner leader creates. The present resurgence of interest in flexibility, cultural inclusiveness, and full acceptance of difference in individual group members is antithetical to community—and to leadership itself (Fairholm, 1994). While emotionally attractive, endorsement of all diverse values, customs, and behavior of followers is operationally toxic. Rather, successful inner leaders build group relationships, not just membership. They create corporate spirit, a force that honors high performance, compassion, empathy for others, and individual contributions while also building wholeness in both individuals and the community per se. Building community drives out factions and factionalism.

Community is a powerful force. It directs the life of members both as individuals and in their relationships with coworkers. The work community acts as an emotional filter that can block acceptance of alternative cultures—even the parent corporate culture. A work community’s values can isolate the individual members from other cultural associations. It is critical that these values can also unite individuals into strong coalitions of mutually interdependent teams. The key to attaining this latter result is the nature and the strength of the community the inner leader builds. Some of the main factors in community building are discussed in the following sections.

Creating the Work Team

Inner leaders create teams and committees within their work community to consider process-improvement changes or other enhancements to help the community be more productive and a more unified, cohesive group. Teams are subordinate work groups characterized by members who are interdependent, similarly motivated, and have an attitude fostering continuous improvement. Teams have initiative, accept feelings and attitudes as legitimate, are able to diagnose relationships, are willing to risk trying new ways to work together, and can see tangible results of their effort. A team is a group of people in which individual members share a common purpose and the work done by each interdependent person contributes something needed to the whole. A team is a unified, cohesive group.

Team members function together in a culture of understanding of self and others and high communication and performance. Team relationships are another value-orientation often associated with work community cultures within which inner leadership can flourish. Team building conforms fully to the values inherent in the inner-leader model. Historically, team building can trace its origins to the special techniques of Organizational Development (OD), a training regimen popular in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that uses concepts from sociology and psychology to sensitize people to the values and feelings dimensions of interpersonal relationships.

Creating a Sense of Ownership

Belonging to a work community brings a sense of belonging, and more. It connotes a sense of coownership. Inner leaders strive to make all work-community members feel that they share fully in the overall responsibility for the group— for its success, its purposes, its processes, its leadership. When followers feel ownership, they feel they are, in part at least, in control of their work situation. Ownership is another way to describe commitment, but it goes beyond commitment and adds a personal feeling of proprietorship. “Owners” typically perform at a higher level of quality than do workers, who see themselves as merely employees or, worse yet, subordinates.

Ownership implies involvement in the work community and its survival and growth. Owners make decisions that affect their lives and their work communities. Ownership implies autonomy. Owners become more than workers— they pledge themselves to the work community, its work, and its success. The effect of the inner leader’s work of inducing followers to feel ownership is that followers come to think they are working for themselves. They will do better work, more work, and higher quality work because they see the task in personal ownership terms. They have to deliver because they are free to do the work their own way.

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