The biggest mistake I see leaders make is assuming that community engagement stops at work. You must ask yourself: what community am I trying to engage? Then you need to ask yourself if you truly think that community only exists in your workplace.
Of course, it doesn’t!
If you actually care about engaging communities, then you have to reach out to and learn about those communities outside of work. This process can occur fairly naturally.
I am a disabled woman, and I am a public health professional who works with disabled people.
Recently I spoke to the director of the therapy practice my non-disabled daughter goes to for counseling services. This therapist is not her therapist. In an attempt to connect with me she told me a story about a teacher suggesting that her own son was autistic. She came across as rather ableist and also seemed to suggest that autism is tied to intelligence when autism isn’t linked to IQ. I waited a day and reached back out to schedule another time to speak with her about this event.
I engaged with her as part of the wider community and educated her about disability and autism. We had a great interaction, and she is now part of my professional network.
In another instance, I spoke to some ladies at the nail salon. I opened up a conversation about what their medical needs were and explained my own needs as well.
I talked to them about how they could get those needs met, and how I could help them as a patient advocate. I also talked to them about different community events they can attend to meet more people with similar needs, and I gave them my card.
When I go to school events with my children, I often have my cane. There are a number of disabled students there who also use mobility aids. I make a point to speak to them. Children are part of the community. I talk to them about what they are learning, how they are enjoying the event, what we can do to make the event even better for them.
I go to community events. I sign on to virtual events. I communicate and ask questions. I actively listen.
I take all the knowledge I garner from people in my greater community, and I apply it to my workspace. I change my behaviors to better serve the disabled and better communicate public health issues to those around me. That’s my job and I do it better through community engagement.
I can make people’s lives better just by listening and engaging my community. I can lead better by educating the greater community on the needs of the disabled, and by listening to what that community also has to say in turn.
Every day is an opportunity to say hello to someone new. Every day is an opportunity to lead by example. All you must do is show up as your authentic self and start a conversation. Go say hi to a stranger and see where it takes you.