Do you feel like you’re the only person in your team who cares passionately about something you want to develop? Maybe you are working in a setting where you are the only person from your profession. Perhaps you want to branch out and do something different but the people around you don’t quite get it. All of these situations can leave us feeling pretty isolated. So, how do we go about building a community of support? What do we need to let go of to do it?

I was reading recently a resource written by Hannah from Becoming Who You Are. In it she referred to a book by Barbara Stanley, Overcoming Under-earning. More specifically to an approach outlined in the book to cultivating a community of supporters. This resonated with me and is something that I want to share because I think it’s an issue that crops up for quite a few of us. Who might it be helpful to include in a community of support?

The Naysayers

First of all let’s deal with the people who, Barbara Stanley advises, we definitely DO NOT want in our support community. I’m guessing most of us have come across naysayers? The people who don’t support us in what we are striving to achieve because it doesn’t fit with their world view, or their values or priorities. Or maybe they just have a different agenda. Common phrases emitting from the mouths of naysayers include:

  • What on earth do you want to do that for?
  • We don’t do things that way.
  • It’s a waste of time/energy/money.
  • We’re not paid to do that?
  • Haven’t you got more important things to do with your time?

I’m sure you get the picture. Sadly, if we spend a lot of time with naysayers we use valuable energy trying to change their minds. We are passionate about our goal and we want others to be too. The problem is we can get dragged down by them and they certainly don’t help us move forward.

An example I see on a regular basis is that of health professionals working in clinical settings who are passionate about research. They love it, they want to do it and they want everyone else in their team to feel the same. They go on a mission to change the hearts and minds of the naysayers. The outcome? No hearts or minds are changed, the person ends up demoralised and has wasted time when they could have been connecting with and building their external community. The people who not only ‘get it’ but encourage them, energise them and cheer them on their way.

A distinction to note

One thing to flag up, before moving on, is the difference between someone who disagrees with us and naysayers. We all need constructive external feedback and someone can be fully supportive of our goal whist, at the same time questioning an aspect of our approach. This is not the same as a naysayer who just wants to keep us where we are.

There’s more than one community.

Many of us work across multiple teams and communities. We may belong to a specific department, and also work in a different clinical or project team.  We may be part of one or several professional communities.  So, think of your external support community as another community. However, there is a fundamental difference with your community of supporters. Many of the communities we belong to we are part of by default, we have no choice. Our personal support community is something we build for ourselves. We set out with the intention of developing this community focused around supporting us to achieve our goal.

If we find ourselves surrounded by naysayers it takes courage to say, ‘it doesn’t have to be this way’ and take control of building our own support system. This may take us out of our comfort zone. It will probably involve us in adopting a more strategic approach to developing our network, (something I’ve written about before). Widening our lens and setting out with clear intent.

Meet the Team

So who do we look for? This is where Barbara Stanley’s approach comes in. She suggests there are four kinds of supporters that we want to cultivate.

True believers People who recognise our potential and cheer us on. They encourage us, support us and believe in us. They are the people who say things like, ‘yes of course you can do it’, ‘what a great idea’, ‘go for it’.
Confidantes People who we can open up to. We respect their opinion and know that we can tell them the good, the bad and the ugly.
Way showers These are the role models. The people who have done what we want to do. They don’t put themselves on a pedestal to be admired, they walk with you saying let me show you how.
Messengers Share their information and networks. The connect you with the people you need to be connected with.

How does it feel to imagine a community of supporters made up of these people? Pretty good I think.

When I took the decision to train as a personal coach and as I’ve transitioned into this new career I have connected with all of the above. Sometimes one person has fulfilled a number of the functions (they don’t all have to be different people) and sometimes people fulfil a single function. Wonderful friends who said, ‘go for it’, when others were questioning why I was leaving a secure job with a regular income. Role models in the worlds of coaching and women’s personal development who show what can be achieved and what is possible. Generous people who have shared their knowledge and expertise. People I feel I can turn to when things feel a bit tough or I need some sound advice. But none of this happened by chance.

What do  we need to let go of?

The feeling that we are constrained in the number of teams we are part. We have the ability to look beyond our immediate teams, to seek out actively our true believers, confidantes, way showers and messengers. So if you are feeling isolated and surrounded by naysayers take the plunge and invest time in starting to build your own community of supporters. You won’t regret it.