1. Lessons In Leadership

Empowering Community

How we rebuild from here.

In sports and military campaigns, it’s said that the best defense is a good offense. I propose shifting this adage for business and other human endeavors. The best defense is good resilience. We must have the fortitude to advance our cause in the face of unrelenting change.

I’ve written elsewhere about rebuilding resilience by working with others toward a shared purpose. Forming communities around a common cause is key to fostering connections and collaboration in the workplace and, on a higher plane, to driving the progress we want to see in the world. This is what we make possible in the events industry. In an era that seems bent on exploiting our differences and amplifying divisive issues, events bring people together in in a way that channels their collective energy toward a positive goal. Even if that positive goal is rooting for the home team or singing along with 20,000 other fans at a concert, it activates a revitalizing sense of community.

Consider the immediate and long-term benefits of sharing a meaningful experience with a group of like-minded individuals  — especially those gathering at a conference, trade show, or exhibition. In this sense, we have an opportunity to act as community organizers, bringing added value by creating events that serve as incubators for:

Affirmation – Being with people who share our enthusiasm, interests, and affinities builds our self-esteem. It mitigates anxiety and helps recharge our resilience.

Trust – A community creates a safe space in which to develop ideas, find and provide mentorship, collaborate, and take risks.

Knowledge – Events, especially those with a professional focus, serve the individual and the larger community by enriching their knowledge, skill set, and motivation.

Innovation – When new ideas are shared with the event community, they inspire iterative thinking and new ideas in turn. Events lend agency to new concepts.

Connection – When members of a community add to the collective wealth of insights and carry those ideas to other groups, it empowers gestalt moments in which people connect the dots in new ways and see new solutions. 

My enthusiasm for the positive power of community dates back years ago when I worked in the new world of tech events. That’s where I met Sherry Huss, who went on to become a co-creator of Maker Faire and champion of the Maker Movement that thrives today. Sherry tells amazing stories about how people from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and demographics bonded over the joy of making everything from delicate lace collars to giant robots. During the pandemic, Sherry co-founded Decameron Row, an “experiment in community” created during the early part of the Pandemic to raise awareness and increase support against loneliness and isolation caused by quarantines.

She understands the power of community and, when she joined Freeman as Innovator-in-Residence, built an online networking resource for business-event professionals — “Live Team.” Now, with the return to live events rushing forward and our collective resilience waning, we’ve called on Sherry to assume the first-ever role at Freeman as Head of Community. I mention this for two reasons: 1) so all Sherry’s friends in the industry (they are legion) can wish her well and 2) to demonstrate how seriously we take the obligation and opportunity of creating a sense of community for our stakeholders, both within Freeman and throughout the events industry.  

I am an optimist, but I am also a realist. As a business leader, I believe the biggest challenge ahead will be nurturing resilience, building trust, and leveraging a sense of community. It’s how we push back against the forces that threaten to divide us. I believe that every organization could benefit from having someone who owns “community” — whose single-minded priority is to support all of the business areas that contribute to it, including People & Culture, Social Impact, and Sustainability.

There will always be those who seek to rally a crowd by demonizing a mythical “them.” That’s not community, that’s a mob. Our best defense is to foster nurturing communities that contribute, each in their own way, to the greater good. They value collective effort. They respect individualism. They nurture resilience. They celebrate the power of “we.”

When we get it right, everybody is stronger.

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