How to Create a Powerful Group That Crushes Barriers, Transforms Individuals, and Changes Your World
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. “— Margaret Mead
Have you ever been a part of a terrible group?
You don’t get along with the other members, gossip runs rampant, people don’t trust each other, and working together is a miserable process.
Have you ever been a part of a great group?
You are happy to get together with your group every day and work on your great project. You inspire each other to be better than your best self. You make a significant, positive impact in your field, through your combined efforts.
As human beings, we often have to work in groups. And usually, we don’t get to choose the groups — they choose us. They form on their own — at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, churches, and community centers.
But what distinguishes a bad group from a good one? And more importantly, how can you create, lead, or become part of the kind of inspiring, synergistic group that changes people’s lives?
Powerful Groups Know Why They Exist
In their book, Tribal Leadership*, authors Logan, King, and Fischer-Wright interviewed employees at Amgen, a giant biotech company, and asked who their biggest competitors were.
The authors expected the employees to name Genentech or Pfizer, two other massive biotech companies, or perhaps not know the answer at all.
But instead, employee after employee said their competitor was “cancer,” “arthritis,” “obesity,” and finally, “disease and untimely death.”
The point is, Amgen as a group understood its purpose for existence: to battle human suffering and extend quality life.
And it wasn’t just the CEO of the company that understood the crux of the matter. Even “lowly” employees knew that the point of Amgen was not to make products or make money but make people’s lives better.
That’s because one of the characteristics of powerful groups is the ability to work toward a common goal in harmony. And a group can only do that when each of its members knows what the goal is.
Not making money.
Not gaining prestige.
But helping people in some specific way.
According to Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why*:
People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.
And here’s the thing: Even non-business groups are selling something for people to buy — if it’s not a physical product or a service, it’s an idea. And ideas are the most important things people buy and sell in the world.
So if you want to lead a powerful group, you must ask yourself (plural — every member of the group must be on board, not just you): How does your group help make people’s lives better?
And if your organization does not really help make people’s lives better, dissolve it and form a new one that does.
Powerful Groups Balance the Needs of Individual Members With the Needs of the Group Itself
When people discuss Western versus Eastern worldviews, a common topic that often pops up is the concept of the individual versus the community.
In Western culture, individualism tend to be emphasized:
- From childhood, you are encouraged to hone unique talents and have individual dreams
- When you grow up, you’re told to follow your heart, especially when it comes to romance and marriage
- As an adult, you are not responsible for your parents, nor are they responsible for you. You are separate units, living separate lives.
- You represent only yourself in the world: You are rewarded or punished based on your own actions, not your family’s.
- Rebels, entrepreneurs, and people who “break the mold” are celebrated and appreciated. Qualities like “creativity,” “daring,” and even a dash of “mischievousness/rebelliousness” are admired.
In Eastern culture, however, the community tends to be emphasized:
- You are supposed to be totally obedient in class and follow teachers and parents unquestioningly
- Your marriage will be influenced or even arranged by older adults, not just for your personal happiness but for the well-being of your family — extended relatives and future children
- You are expected to personally care for your parents in their old age and not leave them in a nursing home, and whatever you do reflects either shame or honor on them, and on your extended relatives.
- You do not just represent yourself in the world — you represent your whole family, at all times.
- Filial piety, community spirit, self-sacrifice — especially for the good of the community — are valued and desired.
Of course, this is not absolute. People in both cultures have a mix of any and all of the above qualities and values. Because BOTH individuals AND groups are needed for the world to run well.
When it comes to powerful groups, though, having the right mix of both is important. Too much individualism, and the group will dissolve and cease to exist. Too much communism, and tyranny will crush the life out of the group.
In many ways, groups are more than the individuals that compose them, just like a human being is more than a sack of bones with a mind.
All cohesive groups become, in a sense, a whole different organism, one that functions, in many ways, just like a human body.
And just like a human decides when to listen to or ignore different messages from different parts of his/her body, so too do leaders of groups have to decide how to balance the needs of individual members with the Body as a whole.
If you broke your leg, for instance, you would probably take care of it by limping along on your other leg until the injured leg recovers.
But in an extreme situation, such as a race, you have the ability to override the screams of pain from your injured leg and haul yourself across the finish line.
Which is what marathon runner Krista DuChene did when she fractured her femur in the middle of the race but kept running until she finished.
Of course, ignoring the needs of individual parts of the body like this will eventually lead to the breakdown of the body, which is why every Body needs a wise Head to decide when to push and when to relax, when to focus on the group, and when to focus on the parts.
Leaders of the most powerful groups care about the overall functioning of the group, but also give people freedom to act independently with individual creativity, and care about their individual needs and problems.
They use rules and policies to keep the Body functioning, but will bend them when necessary for the good of the group AND the individuals that make up the group.
Powerful Groups Keep Love at the Center of All They Do
This is the last, and most important tip.
In 18th century Germany, a count named Zinzendorf agreed to take in a bunch of Moravian Protestants who were being persecuted for their beliefs. At first, the different refugees fought each other constantly due to their denominational differences.
But Zinzendorf encouraged them to focus on what they had in common — their core beliefs, their love for God — and the group dramatically transformed from a fractious, squabbling bunch of people to a harmonious, prayerful group that not only came to love each other, but also:
- Sent hundreds of missionaries around the world — some of these missionaries even willingly sold themselves as slaves in order to get to the places where people were suffering the most
- And started a 24-hour prayer revival that lasted 100 years
The Moravian Church still exists today, with many branches around the world following the original model more or less closely.
But the point is that this group was able to survive for centuries because of its focus on love — within and without the group itself.
How to Lead a Powerful Group
People need to belong. That’s why families, churches, hobby groups, and communities of all kinds exist. And when you belong to a powerful, positive group, it’s one of the most beautiful, indescribable experiences possible.
But how do you form or lead a truly powerful group?
- Be a loving leader: Be humble, by thinking of others more than yourself
- Help keep people’s eye on the real prize: Don’t get distracted by making money, figure out why your organization REALLY exists.
- Value individuals: Get to know the members of the group, show genuine interest in their lives. Little gestures count — asking about their sick relatives, remembering their birthdays, leaving them good luck notes before a stressful event, etc.
- Offer rewards for productivity and other ideal behavior: But don’t use money or material goods. Use your presence, affirmation
- Promote love among members: empower them to take care of each other. Remind them what they have in common rather than what they differ on.
And if you are not the official leader of the group, you can still do these things as a member of whatever group you are in. The most effective leadership isn’t always from the front and center.
In fact, just like boy scout leaders often put themselves at the back of the pack to make sure the group stays together while hiking, sometimes the most effective leaders are those who lead quietly from where they are, through example rather than words.
You have the power to help shape the people around you, for good or ill. You have the power to create or uplift any group you are in.
Make it a powerful one.
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