Remember when I wrote “You can’t “create your world” but you can do better“? I’ve been meaning to expand on this aspect of leading your community.
The more you learn to lead, the more you can make your community how you want it. The more you do so, the more your behavior, thoughts, and beliefs take on two properties. You behave, think, and believe more freely and more by your values.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to live more freely and by their values? Funny that more people don’t do it, often scared to start the process.
Since we’re such social creatures and our communities feel like our social worlds, when we create our social worlds the way we want, it’s easy to feel like we’re creating our world the way we want. I never liked when new-agey people said things like you can create your own reality. I don’t get why they use the term reality. I think for drama. Creating community feels like enough to me.
How leadership creates community
At the most basic level, leading effectively leads to people following you. Enough people following you becomes community. Even if they don’t interact much with each other, they all interact with you, which makes them a community, not just a group of people.
You’ve seen great managers at work that people want to work with. You’ve seen great professors that students and other professors want to work with. They form community around them, following their leads, acting according to the norms they create.
You can do that too.
How you feel like you’re creating your world
Your behavior attracts people who like how you behave and repels people who don’t like how you behave. If you change your behavior some people close to you won’t like the changes and will spend less time with you. At the same time, some people distant from you will like what they see and will spend more time with you, maybe using the time freed up by the once-close people drifting away.
In other words, the distribution of people around you changes according to your behavior. You polarize your community — attracting some and repelling others. Many people don’t like the idea of being repellent, but your life improves when you repel people you don’t want in it. You only have so much time and other resources, so repelling people you don’t like gives you time for people you do like.
I made this diagram to illustrate the effect. The arrows indicate people’s attraction to and repulsion from you based on your behavior. It shows how you populate your social world through your behavior.
You feel like your inner circle is your world and your behavior affects who is in it. The better you get at it, the more you choose your behavior intentionally. Instead of feeling like the people in your world just happen to be there, you choose who is there or not.
How to create a community you want
I hope this is obvious, but since people spend more or less time with you based on your behavior, it makes sense to behave in ways that attract people you like and repels people you don’t.
Here’s how I do it.
Say I want to start a company. I think about entrepreneurship. I talk about my company. I ask friends about funding sources. I read about start-ups and don’t read about corporate things. I get coffee with people looking to invest in start-ups. And so on. I attract people who like entrepreneurship, who spend more time with me. People who don’t will find my interests boring or scary or whatever and spend less time with me.
In time I will have an entrepreneurial social world. I will feel like I created an entrepreneurial world. After all, everyone around me is entrepreneurial and my behavior made it that way.
Say I then decide I want to teach a course at a university. I’ll start talking about academia and doing academic things.
Next thing I know, I will feel like I created an academic world.
Say I then decide I want to run a marathon. I’ll behave consistently and soon feel like I created an athletic world.
Get the idea?
By contrast, say I don’t know what I want to do. I want to teach a little, maybe start a company, and cook more but not really get into it. If I’m lucky, I’ll surround myself with a diverse group of varied tastes and interests. More likely, I’ll create a social circle without much unifying it, where people around me don’t get that much value from meeting each other. If you like diversity, you may prefer this outcome. It’s up to you. Personally I like a stronger sense of community that supports my greatest interests. As I’ve written many times, you have to say no to a lot of good things to have a great life.
This effect leads to how creating community leads you to behave, think, and believe more freely and more by your values.
How creating community leads you to behave, think, and believe more freely and more by your values
When I wrote that it makes sense to behave in ways that attract people you like and repels people you don’t, I left out an important piece — how much you enjoy your behavior. Behaving inconsistently with your beliefs makes emotional reward impossible, even if it leads to surrounding yourself with people you like. You’ll feel fake, at least until you change your behavior or beliefs.
Changing your behavior and thereby your community enough leads you to find combinations that make you feel better or worse and like your community more or less. Eventually you learn that the more you behave consistently with your beliefs the more natural you feel and the more the people in your life like you for you, your beliefs, your behavior, and your values. And the more you’ll tend to find people in your world who also learned to behave more consistently with their beliefs and values. Even if your beliefs and values differ or even conflict, you’ll still tend to appreciate and respect each other.
In other words, your relationships become richer, more complex, more meaningful, and deeper — friends, family, romances, colleagues, neighbors, etc.
You learn that you can improve your world the more you align your behavior with your beliefs, leading you to make yourself aware of your beliefs, motivations, emotions, and so on so you can share them with the world through your behavior. You feel more comfortable exposing your vulnerabilities — in fact, you learn to want to share them because it helps you understand yourself.
Where once you changed your behavior to be more entrepreneurial or athletic, now you find yourself changing your behavior based on deeper meaning — to be more compassionate, more passionate, more loving, more calm, more understanding, more honest, and so on. Because these things are deeper, they are harder to reach, but they are also universal, so you can connect with anyone. Your passion for your new venture allows you to connect with someone else’s passion for running for public office, despite the different fields. You won’t connect with people who talk about compassion, passion, love, calmness, understanding, honesty, and so on without having transitioned through the challenge of putting themselves out there, which is most people.
You eventually look back at the person you once were, protected behind the shells you put around yourself, realize how artificial you felt behaving according to other people’s rules. Some may have been consistent with your beliefs, but in general not. You realize how many people still live that way. You have compassion for them, but not much time for them because you spend time with people who figured out how to live freely and according to their beliefs.
Think of any great leader in history. Did that person seem to follow other people’s rules? Did they feel like they tried to figure out how to behave? More likely they seemed always to do what they felt like. They learned, probably through painful experience, how to behave consistently with their beliefs and to trust that their beliefs are consistent with others’. We’re all human, after all, and we have the same emotions. We don’t only have greed, fear, lust, and anger. We all have compassion, love, reciprocity, calm, and so on. What looked to others like them making their own rules was them living by their values, which we as individuals share even if our cultural institutions don’t, which is why they inspire admiration among those who toe the line.
The transition to openness and living by your values will for most be painful, which is probably why most people keep their shells and fill their worlds with relationships based on talking about weather, sports, current events, complaints, and you know the routine. But it leads to living naturally, feeling emotional reward, and leading others to the same place.
Tomorrow: The awesome problems this effect creates and how you want to have them.
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