In the Beginning…
I have always been fascinated by leadership, as a researcher, but also simply as a person wondering how different people from different cultures and backgrounds can work together in a way that brings out the best in each person. The leadership theories I have related to most easily are those in which leaders empower their followers (for example transformational, servant or respectful leadership, which are extensively covered in popular/science management books). Mostly, I have considered myself a researcher, or maybe mentor, leaving leadership theories to apply to the managers in my studies. Little did I expect that joining GGI would eventually teach me things about leadership!
I joined GGI in 2011 in Hamburg. Moving there was a dream come true, I loved the city, knew some people already, and was strongly convinced life would be easy… at first. Building up a social life between a job in which I worked too many hours, a not too functional long-distance relationship, and gloomy autumn weather that got my friends into couch-mood was much harder than I thought. I had always been actively helping my friends to connect to each other, expanding their social circles. But here I was on my own, and despite all my friends far away being lovely on Skype, I needed some new girlfriends for real life. I felt very awkward (and lonely, and a bit like a loser) on the friday night where I typed ‘friends in Hamburg’ into my Facebook search field. How delighted was I to find GGI, which only existed in Hamburg at that point!
Being a lurking GGI
And then… I lurked. Where some GGI’s write about finding the friends of their life right away, I did almost nothing. I watched the Facebook page almost every single day, and loved the content. But rather than joining the many events available, I was mostly a passive member and only joined a few events throughout the year. More often I did not feel ready for meeting new people and making new introductions (too cold, too rainy, too tired, fighting with my boyfriend, bad hair day…). The events I went to were lovely though, and made me feel a lot more normal about my life choices – shoutout to the GGI Hamburg dinner group especially. Thinking about that time, GGI definitely made me feel less lonely and more connected even as a lurker, because it gave me options. Rather than sitting at home with nowhere to go, I had opportunities to turn down for a night on the couch. Funny enough, being a connected lurker helped me to keep a positive view of myself as a connected social person.
Being a longing GGI
Moving to Maastricht NL, I missed the GGI community a lot. I stayed a (lurking) member in Hamburg (and Global, and Berlin,… don’t judge 🙂 ), which helped to feel connected with women who moved around by themselves – something that was rather rare among my new friends. A typical case of moving ‘back’ to my home country, but to a city where I knew nobody, I felt like I fell in between the local Dutch community and the expat community. Although I met lots of lovely people, those most similar to me moved out of the city. I talked to my friends about starting a GGI community a lot – and they all agreed that they could use something like that. However, I never went beyond the initial idea, because I thought I would not be up for doing it alone, and I felt I could be moving soon. I am so glad to see the success of GGI Maastricht at this moment, starting on the weekend I flew out for my first Oslo job interview!
Becoming a leading GGI
Moving to Oslo with my lurking and longing experiences fresh in my mind, I thought I would take action right from the start. My plans came at the right time, because GGI Oslo was just set up by co-CM Kata and had little over 20 members. I met our third co-CM Valerie after she was the first one to respond to my call for coffee. Putting our energy together, we have watched GGI Oslo grow into an active 800 member community in the past two years. I believe that we manage to make the most of our different backgrounds and that our collaboration helps to make the community a home for different groups of women in the city. Especially in the beginning, we have put a lot of time and effort into getting the community going. Being such an active part of the community has allowed me to take my daily life worries and stress and turn it into positive energy by organizing events and empowering others to make the best out of situations. Whenever we post things on Facebook, I wonder what my lurking and longing self would do with it – that gives a lot of space during events when the turnout is lower or posts that are less popular than we hoped, and makes me remember to ensure local members that they have a place in the community too.
Being a growing GGI
My ‘growing as a GGI’ story is closely linked to the questions I try to answer in my research (in the rest of my life when I am not a CM). I am always fascinated by interpersonal interaction, and was very excited about a project by my colleagues that showed that while being a passive member of an online community can make you feel more lonely and less well, active participation may have a positive effect on your wellbeing. Lurking past me agrees! My own questions are about respectful and ethical communication between people with different perspectives or beliefs – how leaders can bring out the best in their followers, or at least prevent negative behavior. Spending time with GGI’s with so many different backgrounds and equally interesting stories has made me aware of more facets of diversity than ever before. It is a good lesson to remember that you can have an interesting connection that brings new insights during an event even if you may never meet the person again, and that being a GGI helps you relate, even if you are very different.
Next to writing down my gratitude for all connections and insights I have gained through GGI, I want to end this little story with a shoutout to all of the lurkers in our communities (as that was me for 7 years) – you might be happy just watching, but it is never too late to start to participate and have so much more fun!
By Suzanne van Gils
Suzanne is a Dutch (?) third culture kid, who joined GGI Hamburg in 2012, and in 2019 moved on to be a co-CM in Oslo. Outside GGI, Suzanne works as a researcher and teacher in leadership communication and ethics.