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Why is it Important to Belong?

As my husband and I sat through the movie Rocketman this weekend (awesome job, Egerton), thoughts about what it means to belong kept running through my mind.

Thoughts like, how does our sense of belonging impact our ability to lead? To be successful? Or to manage our success when it does come?

Elton John obviously had all the necessary skills and talent to live the best life. Still, like many high-level leaders who sabotage their success, he stumbled. In his case, almost to the point of death.

Spoiler alert.

According to the movie, the renowned prodigy didn’t exactly have the greatest parents. It’s a controversial topic. Either way, the story-line caused me to wonder: can a person ever truly feel they belong when they’ve never had a sense of belonging within their own family system?

(I’m one of those geeky people who has these kind of thoughts even as I’m fully emerged in the movie and the music.)

This isn’t a new thought for me. It’s a thought that’s been haunting me as I dive deeper and deeper into systemic work on behalf of myself and others. Yes, our sense of belonging also dramatically impacts how we lead—the people we trust, the choices and decisions we make—all are rooted in our sense of belonging.

And, when our family system is broken, for whatever reason, our sense of belonging is often fractured as well.

Belonging 101:

In our early years, as we develop and grow, our identity is formulated by our parents. We come to know ourselves through their eyes, through their daily responses. In a loving and nurturing environment, a child has a better chance of developing high self-esteem and a greater sense of agency. A parent’s response—good, bad, or indifferent—tells the child something about their place in the world. Whether or not they are safe and loved.

Safe eyes, safe responses, tell the child, you belong to me. You are my child. I am your parent, your protector. The opposite is also true. Absence of safe and loving responses tells the child, you don’t belong. There is something wrong with you. You are undeserving of my love and protection.

So, it is in the world for many. We see the results of not belonging every night on the evening news, in our courtrooms, our juvenile detention centers, in our prisons. When people don’t belong, they go about the business of self-destruction.

Back to Elton . . . Somewhere inside that genius mind was a lost little boy still striving to belong.

It’s a scenario I see far too often in business—brilliant leaders striving to belong. Some are “still standing” while others crash and burn. The difference lies in consciousness and how we interpret our sense of belonging in the world.

Why Does Belonging Matter?

My work is about helping leaders restore their sense of belonging. Yes, there is a level of brokenness that shows up in even the most successful people. Thank you, Elton John, for offering such a heartfelt, transparent example of what this looks like.

When we discover when and how our sense of belonging was either fortified or disrupted, we have the power to transform how we do business and life.

Our sense of belonging matters because it impacts how we see ourselves in connection to others whether it be at work, home, or the community. Connection dictates how we interact and contribute in the world.

Think about the last time you walked into a meeting and felt like everyone else was more prepared and equipped to be there than yourself? Did you contribute much as a leader? Or, were you paralyzed by your own insignificance?

Throughout all the many moments called life, we are calibrating whether or not we belong and we react and respond accordingly.

This week’s challenge:

Pay attention to the spaces where you don’t feel you belong? What is required of you to step into a place of belonging such that you are better equipped to contribute in a bigger way?

Even better, where are their opportunities for you to help someone else in your sphere of influence experience a sense of belonging? What is required of you as a leader to make this happen on their behalf?

Try it out. Test your sense of belonging and let me know what shows up for you.

Really. I’m interested.

Published by Sharon Spano, Ph.D. June 6, 2019