Want to Create a Culture of Community? Take a Page from the State Fair


Your organization is made up of human beings. That’s not a radical thought, but sometimes we forget it, even though this basic truth gives us clear signals about how to strengthen our corporate cultures.

People need to feel connected to each other and to a broader whole, particularly with so much uncertainty in the world. Good leaders know that creating a supportive environment—a culture of “community”—is the way to thrive in challenging times.

State Fair 2

This past weekend, I discovered that the Minnesota State Fair, aka “the great Minnesota get-together,” is a good place to learn about creating a supportive environment. Three lessons from this year’s fair that show how everyone has a role in building community:

1. Find something positive in everyone and say it. Somewhere in the arena of the 4-H Horse Show, an older man was announcing the competitors. But he did more than that—he made a sincere, encouraging comment about every rider:

“Susie may have knocked down a barrel but she is one of the most significant contributors to the rider’s association. Thank you, Susie, for all you do!”

“Mary moves into fourth. Watch out—Mary is one of the most determined young women I know!”

He had everyone smiling, happy to be in the Coliseum that day.

2. Make people feel motivated and encouraged. I was initially disappointed as we entered the Midway to find none of the games of skill seemed to have callers, just blaring music…until I heard him.

He was perched on a stool, telling jokes, celebrating wins and pumping up people’s confidence. “We have a winner! Anyone can do it!” He was a magnet.

3. Be generous, even when you don’t have to. After ten minutes of waiting in line for Pronto Pups (think corn dog with more batter), all ten kids were happily munching away, until one of the kids dropped his Pup after just a few bites.

I tentatively approached the front of the now even-longer line to look for sympathy from the vendor. Nothing. As I turned away, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

“I saw it happen and we’ve been there,” she said. “My husband is buying you a new one.”

The man handed me the new Pup, refusing my urges to offer him money. It will take a long time for me to forget this couple’s spontaneous generosity.

These three examples are small but significant in how they build a supportive culture. They require us to be intentional in the way we communicate and relate with others. According to the How Leaders Grow Today study our firm supported this year, culture is one of four critical factors to help leaders develop and thrive amidst an increasingly unpredictable world.

Who has shown you simple ways to build a supportive culture recently?

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