Creating community together: An invitation to leadership

Published on Charity Village
Date: 27th May 2022

This article is an excerpt from Conscious Service: Ten Ways to Reclaim your Calling, Move beyond Burnout, and Make a Difference without Sacrificing Yourself (Hazelden Publishing, Publication Date: April 2022) and is reprinted with permission.

To create community together, there must be a together. For most of us, together means that we’re in proximity to others as well as being closely associated with others. Our work as service providers requires us to be with people, for people, and about people. Our closeness and connection in these relationships is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. We’ve explored the intimacy and complexity of these connections and our responsibility for them in previous chapters. 

It’s worth noting that we are also closely associated with one another in our professional communities. Many of us serve alongside other people who share the same calling. This happens within our organizations and professional work structures as well as in the guilds, affiliations, and other formal or informal organizing structures that unite and support our vocations of service. To be able to make what we do together possible and productive, we must be organized and collected. Our communities—their systems, cultures, values, and people—must work. 

In the last chapter, we explored relationships as places of power—places where the possibility for transformation begins. Our focus was on individual relationships, including the ways our personal relationships of trust and respect and honour can become containers for hope and growth. This includes family and friendship connections with the people closest to us, as well as the relationships of service into which we are invited as professionals and practitioners. In this chapter, we’ll reimagine the broader organizational relationships of community and organizational life with similar ends in mind. 

So often, we as service providers experience our greatest stress in the context of community life. When we strive to meet deadlines, budgets, mandates, and missions that are seemingly imposed from beyond and directed by needs we can’t understand, we can come away with a sense of powerlessness. We feel unable to effect change or experience growth. We feel isolated. We feel like whatever power or agency we possess is unwelcome or suspect. And as we immerse ourselves in the unrelenting demands of helping others, too many of us feel as though we’ve abandoned ourselves to a job that doesn’t value us as people and a culture that doesn’t practice what it preaches. 

And we feel helpless to change any of it. 

Health-care and human services organizations are often the least healthy places of employment. There is a paradoxical disconnect between what we know to be beneficial within helping relationships and what we ignore or overlook in our work environments. Stressful conditions between colleagues, misunderstandings with managers, and opaque or impersonal directives – too often make these cultures and communities draining instead of energizing, even if the stated mission is about wellness or health. 

Within these organizations, at all levels of responsibility and role, we are at risk of disillusionment, disengagement, and burnout. Our organizations and communities have become fragmented, and they will eventually break down. We already see this in too many ways, including employee sickness, high turnover, and reduced quality of service. Our community dis-ease costs money and endangers people. 

We know that this is the crux of many of our problems as we serve others. We need to rethink our systems, cultures, values, and structures. We need to heal our communities so that they can be a source of healing for the people we are driven to serve. To do that, we have to first see where we need to reconstruct our approach to working with each other—then we have to know how to change the ways we do our work. Only then can we come together and become the community we wish to be. 

This requires leadership. 

It is time for the innate strengths and natural talents of the individuals who make up the system to be freed to lead it. We need to use each person’s deep capacity for engaged and creative leadership to help our organizations and communities become healthier and function better. When the structures that guide and support our work genuinely invite input and value personal expression, they can become communities of unbridled creativity, passion, and shared energy. 

As we develop our shared workplaces along these lines, we will create opportunities for transformation in our multimember relationships as well as our one-on-one interactions. We will begin to function less as a collection of individuals grinding away at unending tasks within inhuman organizations and more as a gathered group of leaders whose strength and focus combine to make our shared communities of care greater than the sum of their parts. 

The system does not exist without the people. We are joined in creative communion, always. 

Elizabeth Bishop is the author of Conscious Service: Ten Ways to Reclaim your Calling, Move beyond Burnout, and Make a Difference without Sacrificing Yourself (Hazelden Publishing, Publication Date: April 2022). Elizabeth is also a Professor at Confederation College.

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