Why building a community is the best career move you can make
A business doesn’t determine its brand – its customers do. Just as you don’t control your personal brand – your tribe does. Remember, it’s what they say about you when you’re not in the room that matters most.
We’re forged and defined through our connections. If our qualities and contributions are not reflected in others, their value can be challenged, undone, or rendered invisible.
Building a community around your personal brand is a powerful way to compound your value, develop career resilience and create opportunities for you and your network.
First, let’s quickly talk community. I’m talking about a group of people that you build relationships with, who follow your work and your passions. Those relationships will be a combination of strong and weak ties, but they will be mutual, and many-to-many; that is, those people will also engage with each other as they engage with you and what you do, due to commonality of interest or purpose.
Communities, versus networks and followings, are characterised by a strong sense of belonging and a sense of influence.
You and your community influence each other and have influence together. You’re satisfied and rewarded by exchanging ideas and participating together. This is different from building an audience, which can offer significant amplification and reach, but rarely offers give-and-take betterment.
So why build community and not just a following around your personal brand? And how does it help your career over the long term?
It helps you simplify
Communities come together around shared purpose or intent. For that to work, purpose needs to be defined and expressed.
To support a community with your personal brand, you need to have a clear understanding of what that brand is. This means you need to distill what you stand for and how you make the world better. This is a hugely useful exercise that you can leverage throughout a career (and repeat it again and again as you grow and change).
Simplifying your personal narrative and your value proposition creates a disciplined focus around what you are working to communicate and achieve in any one moment. The skill you cultivate to attract and deepen your community is transferable to almost everything – giving presentations, interviewing for opportunities, leading projects or leading companies.
It helps you consistently learn
Always-on learning is the most important survival skill of the 21st century. The era of set and forget schooling is behind us, and each of us need to hone our capability for continuous education. While some of those lessons will come from the great array of democratised educational content on the web, much of it comes from those we surround ourselves with.
Your community will extend and challenge you, sharing knowledge and insights from their own disciplines and experiences. This is a fantastic way to keep learning and return the favour (communities are powered by reciprocity). We now have micro – even nano – degrees to support emergent needs. Your community is a learning mesh that can facilitate this micro-learning through an engaging human face, forging resiliency for you and the group as a whole.
It helps you refine skills that drive success
Along with learning, there are certain skills that are critical to success in the new world of work.
Communication and collaboration have always mattered, but as businesses themselves transform into communities, being able to communicate with diverse groups of people and collaborate around shared purpose is essential. You also need to be comfortable with ambiguity, see-through formal social structures to map wisdom and influence, and to top it all off, lead with empathy.
Nurturing and participating in a community demands that you ripen these skills. You need to curate meaning and value in a way that’s naturally evolving, so you must be in persistent dialogue with your people. You need to express your vision to anyone, and identify those interactions that pull you (and everyone else) forward – this means you need to become good at recognising patterns, empowering self-disclosure and sparking connection on a human level.
It helps kill silos
There’s a crisis of tribalisation in the world right now. Technology has helped us find kindred spirits everywhere while making it dangerously easy to avoid different ideas or discussions that challenge and extend us.
A robust community doesn’t shirk conflict, it’s spurred along by it. Model by example that you encourage debates and diverse perspectives and you dodge silos while helping your community members avoid them too. Meanwhile, the resiliency that forms from experiencing shared success buffers you when to step outside your comfort zone and confront opposing forces.
The many-to-many conversations of a community help stave off mono-cultures, whereas a following on its own risks devolving into sycophancy.
It helps build toward legacy
Most of us like the idea of leaving a positive legacy. It may not be planet-wide (we can’t all be Elon Musk), but a lasting imprint on a small group of people can still change the world by degrees. The impact you have on the people in your community creates ripples of influence and outcome that become your legacy over time.
Your community will move with you as you grow over the years, and they’ll evolve too. They’ll cultivate communities of their own to intersect with yours.
If you’ve generously contributed and empowered others, your ideas, your research, your epiphanies, the things you’ve built and the lessons you’ve learned carry on beyond you for the next generation to build upon.
Communities take time and effort to build. It’s easier to build reach. Both have utility. But the rewards of community tend to be more lasting, and more personally enriching. Scale the best of you.
Reflect and develop the rest of you.Back