At the core of all communities is a universal power dynamic. When people come together to form a community by virtue of a shared purpose, the whole entity becomes more powerful as the sum of its parts. Communities play a key role in shaping culture, industry, politics and society at large. For communities in the 21st century, the power dynamics are shifting more towards influential communities and what Seth Godin describes as tribes – with internet and media-driven participation, identification and dissemination by the wider population.
At the core of these new groupings, and new iterations of existing groupings, is what Simon Sinek calls circles of mutual trust. The establishment of trust in a group creates a powerful, vital, democratic force for change, internally and in impact on the world. These emerging power hubs challenge the old guard which traditionally consisted of groups of the networked political, royal and financial elite. They held all the cards and acted as gatekeepers for all aspects of society. Now the times they are a-changin’, although many of the old guard have proven adept at adopting new methods and new media. Let’s look at some of the new species and hybrids of community groups emerging in this digital multiversity.
Tribes are groups of people who self-organize around a cause, an influential figure, a lifestyle, a form of entertainment, and even a product or service. There is usually a shared identity that is formed which includes a set of cultural norms such as values, perspectives, heroes, and even a shared sense of humour.
The best known example of tribes forming around a product is Apple. Through the company’s epic counter-culture branding and the personal influence of co-founder Steve Jobs, the company enthralled millions and created a community of dedicated enthusiasts around their products. Now one of the most powerful companies in the world is wielding its brand and following to enter streaming content and other directions far from its original identity as a computer and device manufacturer. Alphabet, Amazon and other A-list companies are following similar strategies to expand their reach and influence in the multiverse.
Influential communities attract a new generation of leaders. Some “influencers” are self-made entrepreneurs, leveraging skills, celebrity, powers of persuasion, and the megaphone of social media to grow audiences, sometimes into the tens of millions. Others began with capital or connections and leveraged new tools and technologies to make their fortunes and build their massive fan bases and followers. Many have become tribal leaders. Many focus on publishing, making videos, courses, or other digital products. Others focus on marketing.
These individuals and change makers build their own power networks and people who share their values organize with them, around them, or like them. This could be for profitable purposes or as a not-for-profit working for social change. What defines these communities is that the individuals who lead them are influential in their own right – often they’re C-level executives of large companies, entrepreneurs, scholars, consultants, creatives and policymakers. They are natural born leaders.
These “new influencers” do not necessarily fit into the old categories of wealth and power. Once prosperity was defined only by linear measurements of income and assets. No longer. Now we measure influence and impact by the number of subscribers to a YouTube channel, the number of likes on one’s facebook page, or the quantity of followers of a Twitter account.
But there is something else, something more intangible, when it comes to evaluating which ideas, products, causes, and people are going to “go viral” or develop the much-craved network effect. That intangible is the magical effect that media-magnified charisma can have on the masses, to make someone or something an overnight sensation or a sustainable social phenomenon.
What this means for leaders – whether born to money, bursting with talent, working the system, innovating to make things betters – is that traditional structures of leadership organizations may no longer prove optimal for accommodating the fast-moving changes of the digital age.
Throughout history, those with skills organized together in communal organisation for mutual benefit. Whether as guilds or trade associations, chambers of commerce or civic service clubs, elites and professional gathered together. Sometimes country clubs and exclusive resorts provided the framework for meetings of elites. Some “fraternal” orders (let’s face it, these were boys’ clubs) like the Freemasons, the Friars, the Rotary, the Elks, all modeled themselves as tribal societies, with their subtle hierarchies, peculiar rites and secret ceremonies. They contributed to the community and they benefitted themselves. These leadership communities too have been challenged by the disintermediating impact of the internet and new media.
Over the past decades, new kinds of leadership organisations formed with the purpose of supplying what the old structures no longer can. Judging by their success in perennially attracting and retaining powerful, influential business leaders, they must be doing something right.We’re referring here to organizations like:
YPO, the Young Presidents Organization, is a global network of chief executives with over 24,000 members in 130 countries. The YPO brings together the world’s most impactful business leaders to facilitate growth, learning and community impact.
IVY describes itself as a social university with tens of thousands of members,leveraging events such as talks, exhibitions and performances to provide members with new learning opportunities, ideas and lifelong friends. The organization goes beyond business and merges together different fields such as the arts, humanities, sciences and culture to provide a complete lifestyle experience and focuses on making social impact.
EO, The Entrepreneurs’ Organization, brings together over 13,000 innovators with a focus on business growth, personal development and community engagement. Like the YPO and Ivy, the organisation hosts local chapter events, global events and facilitates face-to-face forums among members, allowing them to network and learn from each other.
The Argonauts are a relatively new leadership organization, barely 5 years old, which brings leaders together around shared interests, both personal and professional. Based on the Hellenic myth of a band of heroes, this diverse young community comprises entrepreneurs and business people as well as artists, scholars, and social activists. The group cultivates close relations with the other leadership organisations and serves as a clearinghouse of curated “best and brightest” practices and thought-pieces on leadership. The group also is pioneering the use of videoconferencing and virtual meeting platforms to implement circles of trust, candid discussion forums for peer-to-peer experience sharing and learning exchanges for the purposes of enhancing prosperity, not only material success but personal fulfillment, professional and social engagement, feelings of aliveness, meaning, and contribution to society.
What are the attractions of these leader-only organizations? It’s human nature to want to associate with people who share something in common with you, especially when that something is as universally attractive as success and money. Business leaders can justify their time and money commitments to these organizations solely for their transactional value, resulting from connections they make. But leaders are no longer measured only by money and deal-flow. The values of these leadership organizations go far beyond that and no longer serve only those who have achieved success on the bottom line. Let’s consider some of these other benefits.
Thought leaders provide value in a domain by injecting new ideas from reputable sources. Leadership organizations typically attract a variety of thought leaders across a spectrum of industries and academia. At events such as TED talks or the YPO Edge, members of the organization can hear from leading minds about topics ranging from the future of money to reinventing education. Attending these conferences allows leaders to gain valuable insights from listening to talks, but also opportunities for personal access to the people creating the intellectual foundations of tomorrow.
Leadership organizations also help business leaders benefit from the expertise of others. Traditionally, leaders rely on expensive consultants to advise them how to improve their businesses. That’s beginning to change now with the introduction of digital-first forums and boards. Leaders can consult directly with peers who have been in similar situations. Often the combined experience and collaboration of multiple senior executives in one place can accelerate problem-solving and exceeds what a consultancy firm can offer. As there are no conflicts of interests between peers, everyone can speak their mind and offer advice objectively.
Business-focused communities can provide you with numerous opportunities for lifelong learning. Executives need to know the most information, but have the least time. They need to access the right information in the most concise way. The approach of IVY and others to providing a social university creates an educational engine with vast potential for growing knowledge and making human connections via shared knowledge and its acquisition.
The combination of insights, consultancy and lifelong learning contribute to accelerating entrepreneurial growth, fostering innovation and facilitating execution. As the quality of your entrepreneurial and leadership skills sets the tone for the rest of your organization, being active in business communities can empower organizational success.
Most influential communities hold personal growth to be a key priority. The expression of this commitment can take many forms, depending on which group you are part of, but you can expect growth in areas such as character, perspective and personality. On the one hand, peer consultancy from business groups can help shape your thinking, leading to better overall decision=making. On the other hand, communities such as IVY and Mindvalley curate resources and experiences that can expand your horizons, exposing you to activities and ideas across the spectrum of human knowledge. Retreats in exotic locations and unconventional experiences also help to uncover new aspects of your life and thought.
There is also an important emphasis placed on family within influential communities. Some organizations organize retreats where members can bring their whole families along to strengthen their relationships through new experiences. As the stress and time commitment of leading international companies can take a toll on family life, there is also support and counseling available from members also trying to manage the work-life balance. As a whole, the improved outcomes and stress reduction from being part of these communities can indirectly improve family life as you cope better with work challenges.
From the most pragmatic perspective, impactful communities provide great business opportunities. Whether it’s networking into an important customer account, cementing a partnership or finding the right person to bring on board, influential communities can help. But what these organizations do is go beyond mere networking. Instead, they use clever algorithms and inside knowledge to facilitate relationships that actually last and lead to outcomes. Having someone who knows exactly who you will benefit from meeting – personally or financially – provides tremendous value in terms of tangible gain and time-saving.
Although many are attracted to join business communities to improve business outcomes, the mutual trust developed in these circles leads to friendships that can last a lifetime.
The forum and board formats also provide an outlet for leaders to connect directly with their peers and discuss leadership challenges. C-level executives often find it lonely at the top. You are expected to maintain composure and never show weakness in the face of constant challenges and dramatic change, all to instill trust into your people. This makes it hard to be vulnerable, which can lead to stress and burnout if there is no emotional outlet such as influential organizations provide.
Although there are many benefits to be gained from participating in leadership communities, there are some challenges, particularly when it comes to building your own. In the next section, we will take a look at what it takes to build your own community, where are the pitfalls, and how to avoid them.
Sascha Grumbach is an entrepreneur with comprehensive practical experience as a business consultant and project manager in innovation- and disruption projects.