Brian volunteers to organise our running group. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday he arrives on time to brief the group at 6:30am and run with us. He sends out a weekly email with news, long run briefings, race reports, and even a bad joke or two. If he is out of town, he always arranges a substitute. He’s been doing this for years.

Brian is not the fastest runner, and he doesn’t do any of the longer races. He wins no medals, he gets no glory. So why does he bother?

Seth Godin in his book, Tribes – We need you to lead us explains that tribes need three things: a purpose, a way to communicate, and a leader to connect us. Tribes, or communities, unite around what we have in common: a location like a neighbourhood, or building, a purpose like growing a business, or an interest like sharing vegan recipes.

In these gatherings, there are three levels of engagement:

  • Joiners
  • Participants
  • Leaders

Joiners are those who like the idea of belonging and have enough of an interest to sign up. We associate with the values and identity of the group. Rarely do we actually show up to gatherings. Think of the memberships you hold but don’t take advantage of, online groups you joined but don’t really follow. Still, we pay our membership. We get value out of association with the group identity.

Participants are those who actually show up to events. Our goal is to connect, to meet others, and savour the sense of belonging that comes from shared experience. It’s fun and easy. In our running group, that’s me! I make it when my travel schedule allows. Within the category of participants there are also the die-hards. Those who never miss a race or a run. They are dedicated participants. The currency that is of value here is belonging.

Leaders are the rare bird. These are those who step up and create community. Who recognise a purpose, an intention, and an experience that they enjoy and feel would add value to others. The currency for leaders is contribution.

But is leadership really that altruistic and selfless?

Yes and no. Joiners and participants are focused on themselves, what can they get from the experience. Leaders are focused on others, and what value they can offer others. Satisfaction for leaders is both selfless and self-full: creating something of value for others is fulfilling. As we give to others, there is a deeper gain for us. This fulfillment has a resonance with gratitude. As we give, our heart grows.

Cesar Chavez, an American Mexican activist said it beautifully:

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”

We need joiners and participants to create fun and belonging. We also need more leaders: to hold the space, to nudge us to action, to offer love and light. Will you be one of them?