A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining 83 people from the Springfield area to attend a Community Leadership Visit in Lexington, KY. This group of leaders included civic leaders, social sector leaders, and business leaders from multiple segments including healthcare, education, architecture, and many others. We spent two days touring the community and learning from Lexington leaders about the challenges and opportunities Lexington has had over the years. The goal is to gather best practices and lessons learned that can be taken back to Springfield and applied to make our own community better. I represented Leadership Springfield as our board president.
It’s a busy time of year at People Centric, so taking off two full days to go on this trip was challenging, but I let myself be consumed by the experience and really unplugged. The experience of doing this trip and serving on boards and being active in the community has been extremely rewarding for me, but it is a good idea for business leaders to get plugged in and spend valuable time? Is this time really good for the business itself or is it just good for the individual?
I would argue that community engagement is a worthwhile activity for all business and organizational leaders. Here are my arguments.
- Engagement in the Community helps create Engagement at Work - Studies show that when people are engaged in their community, they also become more engaged at work. Human beings are designed to work better when we have some purpose and context. Understanding how the community works and your role in the community helps to create a clearer picture of things which tends to translate into a job. In fact, some studies show that community engagement is one of the best ways to improve employee engagement.
- Community Engagement creates access to Resources - Communities are really large social networks full of relationships. When these networks are strong, resources flow easily through the network. When these relationships are weak, resources don’t get where they need to go. I have experienced this hundreds of times where I met someone in the community that I didn’t know who introduced me to a resource that I either didn’t know about or didn’t have access to. Our company has held retreats in various community rooms, utilized software tools used by other companies, and even found talent for our team by leveraging our own social network.
- Yes, it is Good for Business - Many communities leaders don’t like to talk about this too loudly, but the right thing to do for the community is also the right thing to do for your business. People tend to want to do business with people they know and the more people that know you, the more who will come to you because they know and trust you. I have earned many clients from people I’ve worked side by side with on various community causes. This is never the primary reason for doing good things in a community, but it is a significant benefit that always more than compensates my time investment.
- Community Leadership can really Refuel the Tank - We all need to recharge our batteries. Work can be very rewarding, but it takes a lot of our energy. Finding something in the community that you are passionate about can help you to exercise your talents and skills in a different and rewarding way. I personally tend to be a change agent and enjoy working with nonprofits that are trying to do something better. However, I also enjoy the occasional opportunity to paint a wall or fill a soup bowl just to help somebody out. The work is often hard, but when I return to work, I usually feel more energized.
- You are They - Have you ever seen something in your community that frustrated you and asked the question “I wonder what they are going to do about that?”. When you get more engaged in the community, you start to realize that “they” is really you. Communities are only as strong as the people within the community and how much talent within the community is unleashed to make the community better. Getting involved really does make a difference and a better community is truly better for business.
I know that your time is valuable and that your people’s time is also valuable. Investing some of that time into making a better community will lead to lots of both personal and business benefits.