One of the lessons that I learned while writing “Leading With Wisdom: Sage Advice from 100 Experts” is that leaders embrace relationship building. This might be one of the most important tasks for leaders, as our society is losing its sense of community. People have fewer people whom they trust. We don’t have front porches where the neighbors come and hang out so we get to know each other. In fact, we put up privacy fences to keep the neighbors out!

I was reminded of how lonely we are as a society when Twitter Inc. went public recently. Twitter was created because the founders— Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass - were lonely. It is an interesting story that is now being told in the book “Hatching Twitter” by Nick Bilton. Here is part of the story Bilton told Ira Flatow of National Public Radio about how the company got its start:

“They were talking about all these different ideas that kind of led to Twitter, but there was one seminal moment and it was one night. It was in a car. It was rainy. Jack Dorsey and Noah Glass were on Valencia Street in San Francisco. Noah was going through a very difficult time and a divorce.

‘His company, Odeo, was failing, and all of his friendships were kind of tearing apart. And he felt incredibly alone, and he kept telling everyone how lonely he felt. And Jack had brought up this idea again, this idea to update your status online. And there were a number of other services out there that did that. 

“There was Dodgeball. Facebook was just coming about. There was a thing called Text Mob. So no one really kind of glommed onto it. But what Noah thought was, hey, wait a second. As he sat in this car and the rain’s coming down and his lonely feelings, he thinks, well, if this thing existed, I could actually connect with my friends and feel less alone.”

If people are this lonely, then what can leaders do to create a sense of community? 

It starts with making the time and being intentional about getting to know one another and facilitating interactions. Leaders are architects, both in building relationships and in creating the physical space where people spend most of their waking hours. Leaders should pay attention to the community and culture they are creating.

Sometimes, it feels that Generation X and the millennials have seen the Mike Judge movie “Office Space” way too many times. They don’t want to be stuck in a cubicle. They want spaces that facilitate the building of relationships and connecting. Fast Company had an article about how Square, a mobile payments company in San Francisco, just built its new office space modeled after a city. The company calls the main hall an avenue, and there is a coffeehouse in the center that functions as a “city square.” In addition to its in-house café and barista, Square has been experimenting with pop-up stores and artisan retailers popping up within Square’s own offices.

This is how Chris Gorman, head of Square’s “office experience,” describes their new design:

“The design of the office motivates people to move around the office and interact in casual, unscheduled ways, just like the well-planned public spaces of a great city. Early concepts for the office were motivated by old 18th-century maps of cities. When I think about a city, I shop, I go get coffee, I go to the park, I go for walks. We wanted to create that same variety in the office.” 

It is easy for leaders to forget the power of culture, relationships and community. Leaders need to create spaces where people want to work. As architects, leaders need to focus on facilitating the process of people getting to know one another, because it is hard to trust someone you don’t know. And we know the value of trust. Maybe this is the main job of leaders. As Stephen Covey liked to say:

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”