Combating the Loneliness Epidemic by Growing a Supportive Community

In this post from author Lisa Pachence, you will have the opportunity to consider ways to grow a supportive community that allows you to feel less alone.

“I built this coaching community for two purposes: First, coaches are severely under-supported in creating sustainable business success. In fact, 82% of trained coaches (those who take a rigorous, credentialed training program supported by the international coach federation) close their business permanently after 2 years. Second, the number 1 reason for entrepreneurial burnout is… LONELINESS.”

This is the introduction I begin with when facilitating events for my coaching community, Coaches Creating CommUNITY. Personally, it’s vital that I lead with my mission as a way to reaffirm what I stand for – to solve an epidemic of loneliness that’s rampant in our broader culture, and is incredibly striking in the field of entrepreneurship, especially for women who are notoriously under-supported and under-resourced across the board.

More importantly, starting with a clear mission is crucial in any community conversation because cultural unity and engagement can only flourish when there’s a common commitment that connects individuals to each other, and to a bigger purpose.

One of the reasons I became fascinated with the concept of building a supportive community is that I became a business owner and quickly discovered that a sustainable, referral based business requires a lush and generous network.

More transparently, I’ve personally been victim to paralyzing professional burnout, impacting my growth and happiness. Over the years, I’ve found that all evidence points to unity, connection, and support as the antidotes to record high global loneliness, depression, and disconnect.

When we don’t connect with others in meaningful ways, we feel alone in our struggles. Loneliness leads to overwhelm, and persistent overwhelm leads to burnout, putting a full stop to productivity and progress, let alone our mental well-being. And if you’re a leader, you are three times more likely to experience burnout.

Supportive community is the answer to our epidemic of loneliness.

What is a “Supportive Community?”

Harvard conducted an epic 80-year study to discover what creates a happy, well-lived life. Contrary to what we might think, the #1 key to happiness wasn’t career achievement, wealth, or even well-being. It was relationships – positive relationships, to be exact.

The study concluded that positive, close relationships are a buffer against life’s stresses, protect our overall health, increase mental well-being, and support our resilience. As a business owner or leader, your well-being and resilience are crucial to the life of your company, making relationships the foundation upon which your success rests.

Positive relationships – seeking them out, nurturing those that are, pruning those that aren’t – are the sparks that build community.

The first step of change or growth is self-awareness. Awareness sparks responsibility and responsibility sparks choice and change. Therefore, identifying what a supportive community looks like to each individual is required in the journey.

Brene Brown, renowned researcher and author, defines a supportive community as a space where individuals feel safe to be vulnerable, trust one another, authentically connect, practice empathy and compassion, respect boundaries, and embrace inclusivity. In my own words, community is a group of people who will consistently and persistently celebrate you at your best, support you at your worst, and champion your greatest dreams.

Regardless, it’s vital that each of us define what a supportive community is in order to build it. Some questions to help illuminate this definition:

What kind of support is most helpful to me?

What communities am I drawn to?

What types of people energize me?

What types of people drain me?

Who are the people that champion and challenge me?

Who are the people that celebrate me?

Principles of Building a Supportive Community

“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time around” – Jim Rohn

If you surround yourself with those who are aligned to who you want to be and the successes you want to obtain, you are much more likely to become that person.

Whether you’re growing a community as part of your business, desire a supportive group to help you through your life’s journey, or want to create cultural change, there are certain principles required to design and nurture a supportive community.

A Clear Mission

First, have a mission or commitment that you are whole-heartedly enrolled in and can invite others to engage with. If you are leading a community, that means you need to be clear and empowered in the mission, which will naturally attract others to support it as well. We are only as enrolling as we are enrolled in our own commitment. Whether the mission is friendship, motherhood, business support, or lifting up other coaches, the clarity of purpose is the foundation on which community occurs. Just like Simon Sinek’s epic book title outlines, “Start with Why.”

Boundaries, Expectations, and Agreements

Second, create clear boundaries, expectations and agreements. This is called “creating the container” in a coaching conversation. Meaning, what is the community for and what is it not for? What are the guidelines? What works and doesn’t work? Brene Brown calls this “psychological safety”, which allows for maximum vulnerability, creativity, and authenticity. Setting strong agreements is where trust is secured – trust that you can show up as yourself, imperfect, and you’ll be accepted.

Nurture Individual Relationships

Third, nurture individual relationships. In the coaching groups I’ve run, this looks like pairing people up as buddies to take on homework, or asking one person to support the other. I often will ask who has a request for support (we ALL have places in life we need help, action, movement, progress!), and then will introduce that person with another who can help them with that item. In the book club I run, I make it a mission to get to know everyone on an intimate level. Ultimately, we all want to be seen and valued, so if we’re not engaging each individual on an intimate level, then they will most likely move on.

Engaging Multiple Senses

Fourth, we are sensory human beings and we need to engage multiple senses to have a full experience. This looks like a variety of experiences – Zoom calls, text chains, sending pictures, in person get togethers, outings, meditations, dance parties, meals. Most vital is creating an in-person experience, because communication and connection is 7% of the words you say, 55% body language, and 38% energy (Dr. Albert Mehrabian).

Be Discerning

Lastly, be discerning. Not everyone is at a place where they can nurture the culture of the group. And it’s important that they do for the health of the group – that each individual naturally aligns with or works towards giving, serving, adding to, and engaging with the whole. If not, natural attrition may occur, or you may need to prune individuals from the community, and notice if your “welcome process” needs more discretion.

The 5 C’s of Community

For those building out a network of supporters, but not necessarily curating and leading a community yourself, there’s an exercise I offer that helps to jumpstart your community called “5 C’s of Community”. (Inspired by Barbara Stanny’s exercise in “Overcoming Underearning”.)

There are 5 types of supporters in your life:

CHEERLEADERS. Parade Planner! Your fan club. Those who recognize your potential, offer encouragement, say “go for it”, and celebrate even tiny successes. This can be your closest friends and family.

CONFIDANTES. Champions. Your sounding board or your board of advisors. Talk to them intimately about your attitudes toward money, your big goals and aspirations, and your efforts to change. They may not be on the same path but they genuinely relate, empathize, and challenge you.

BIG CHEESES. The role models. Success leaves clues! They may be acquaintances, people you’ve read about. They say “You can do it too. Let me show you how.”

CONNECTORS. The “mayors.” They deliver you valuable information. They may have a referral, a job lead, an idea, or something that provides forward momentum. Mostly you’ll meet them through networking. They’re the ones that say “I can help.”

CULTIVATEES. Partners, assistants, teammates, employees. Those to cultivate as business partners, recruit to your team, delegate to, and nurture as LEADERS around you. Your support squad inside your business that you do business with.

Then, make a list of who the Curmudgeons are. As in, who are the drains, or those who project their fears or play small?

Making Your Community List

Make a list of the Cheerleaders, Confidantes, Big Cheeses, Connectors, Cultivatees, and the Curmudgeons in your life.

  • Which list is the longest? Which is the shortest?
  • How do the drains affect you? What will you do about them?
  • Where could you go to meet new people?

Keep this list handy, have frequent contact with the first 5 columns, and avoid the drains.

Set up a method of accountability, and schedule time for this – as in write it down or enter it into your calendar, for real!

The 5 C’s of Community is the foundation for your network, your personal community, your business lifeblood, or even the place to start when creating your own local group.

Collaborative Leadership: We vs Me

We live in a performative, capitalist society. This isn’t a bad thing, but we often overemphasize performance and winning to our detriment. This looks like measuring our worth on our productivity or titles or trophies, looking externally for validation, never feeling like we’re doing enough, always looking for more/better/faster outcomes, experiencing FOMO if we’re not doing everything, believing more is better, comparing ourselves and never living up to our own standards… Does any of this feel familiar?

This way of being has a cost, and often the consequence is that we’re burned out, lacking joy, and lonely. Especially as leaders. This is called being the “Only Lonely,” or playing separate and alone.

But if we believe there are enough seats at the table, that our jobs as leaders is to create more leaders (not followers), that care and empathy are magnetic, and that success is what we define it as, we start to care more about the WE and less about the ME.

In Conversational intelligence, this is called being “We-centric.”

For those in leadership, this look like:

  • Being clear, present, and empowering the common commitment
  • Setting clear agreements as a group
  • Supporting each individual to be leaders in their own jobs/lives
  • Championing, challenging, and cheering in equal doses
  • Asking others for help and answers (not being Chief Problem Solver)
  • Practicing unconditional positive regard (we’re all doing our best)
  • Allow curiosity to lead the way (ask questions, don’t assume answers)
  • Being transparent, vulnerable, and empowered in your own gaps and journey

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

Regardless of whether you’re leading a department, starting a business, launching a team, desiring more friendship, wanting more support, or facilitating a group, building positive and supportive communities is vital to our overall health, wealth, and well-being.

Personally, I believe that servant leaders – coaches, consultants, mental health practitioners, social workers, non-profit leaders – are the Forklifts of society. They lift everyone else up to the betterment of humankind. But forklifts need fuel, just like everyone else. And community is where you can find it.

Yours in service and community.

Lisa Pachence is a Master Certified Coach, Mentor Coach for Coaches, Owner of LP Coaching – an Executive Life Coaching company – and a passionate student of life. Lisa primarily works with underfulfilled overachievers – Big Hearted Entrepreneurs, Coaches and Executives who crave big lives without big burnout. She weaves deep insights, humor, practical tactics, and masterful partnership to enact transformative life and business changes.

For coaches and servant leaders seeking more community, please check out Lisa’s Facebook Group, Coaches Creating CommUNITY – a free, generous group of individuals with a heart of service. They give and receive referrals, host monthly events, have happy hours, initiate get togethers, and are an incredible resource in a field that can get quite lonely. Don’t go at it alone. We’re here.

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Hi, I’m Jessi

I created Habituelle Life and Leadership Coaching so that ambitious women can see that finding fulfillment in their personal and professional lives is possible. Redefining success in my own life has allowed me to help others do the same.

I’m here to support you in this journey of evolving identities, inner criticisms, and competing societal messages. We aren’t meant to do this life alone.