We Long To Belong


I love to watch those news stories where a military mom or dad returns home, surprising their child in a school cafeteria or at a sports game. I just saw another one of these on YouTube. Take a look; it is a heart-warming 5 minutes. It brings tears to my eyes to see this young man reunited with his mom, so clearly overwhelmed to be in her presence again.

I think one of the reasons we all enjoy these stories is that we each identify with the loved one being surprised. We can sense the relational gap between the loved ones that, right before our eyes, is being filled in. We see separation and aching being put back together and soothed. We see worry and concern being replaced with assurance and comfort.

There’s another reason we enjoy to watch these stories. It’s because we all long to belong. In the video I linked above, a 13-year old boy is reunited with his mom. Every boy, every girl, longs to belong to his or her parents. We all long to belong to someone special and when we’re separated from that special person, we ache with the desire to reunite.

Inside, we all feel this need to be connected because God pre-wired our brains with this need. He designed us as social creatures, first, because he created us for the purpose of fellowship with him. Second, he created us with the need to belong and connect so that we would form family and community bonds that reflect his love for us and provide a venue for us to love one another.

Can we fulfill the longing to belong at work? Yes, I believe we can, but not completely. The workplace isn’t capable of totally fulfilling this need, but it is an important vehicle for this. We do form social bonds at work and we develop a sense of belonging in those contexts.

We also long to belong to a cause we believe in. It isn’t always possible, but it is preferable and healthy to work for an organization whose mission you believe in. The longing to belong can be nicely fulfilled in such a setting.

Leaders, what can you do to help your followers feel they belong? Here are a few ideas:

  • Value your followers as individuals with great personal worth. Do not treat them as resources to be utilized to enhance organizational performance.
  • Encourage them to know, grow, and use their God-given talents. Yes, the company goals are important, but help your followers to pursue their personal goals, too.
  • Personally invest in your followers through your own coaching, guidance, and resources. Seek out ways to add value to that person’s life.

Do these things and your followers’ longing to belong will be significantly met under your leadership.

Think back to the last time you terribly missed a person. Your heart ached to be connected and united with that person. Think back to the last time you didn’t feel connected, or “at home,” at work. Your motivation was low and your performance was, too.

The issue is that you didn’t belong. We all long to belong. As a leader, you need to lead yourself to a place of belonging. You also need to create a place of belonging for your followers.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo by Anthony Swon. Available at Flickr.com.

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