The Surprising Power of Community with Nikki Lewallen

How Relationship Building is the Core of Any Businesses Long-Term Success

A survey done by Cigna in 2019 reported that 61% of Americans felt lonely. We can only start to grasp how the pandemic escalated these feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially within the workplace. 

Look no further than updates about The Great Resignation that flash on our screens over and over. Among the top reasons employees stay: recognition and a strong relationship with their manager.

So how does this transfer over to the workplace? How can leaders build relationships that will ultimately lead to retention and happier employees?

In This Episode

Reflecting on these last two years, we’ve learned how important social interaction is for human beings. Even having a lot of friends can still leave a person lonely – which is why community and a sense of belonging are crucial for anyone. 

Looking to see how you can further your workplace community? You’re in luck. 

You’ll hear insights from partnership and relationship growth expert Nikki Lewllen. This episode dives deep into how relationship building is at the core of every successful team, and how leadership can make it a priority throughout their organizations, and make improvements on these skills themselves.

Integrating Sales and Mental Health

Nikki talked about how her training is rooted in relating to people. You have to build a relationship before you can figure out how to solve anyone’s problems. Sales is the same thing if you really think about it. 

Nikki feels that oftentimes, sales seems to neglect the relationship building aspect. “I think people have challenges with sales because they miss the relationship aspect and they’re like, I’m Sandler trained, I know the seven steps.” But it’s so much more than that. 

The key to any successful salesperson is their ability to build a community through relationships, not just follow steps. Many people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. They talk about how important this is but don’t prioritize it in their own careers when it’s the one thing that trumps everything else.

Who is Nikki Lewallen?

Nikki Lewallen is the Chief Meaningful Work Officer at PeopleForward Network with a passion for relationship building. She has an extensive resume of working in purpose-driven workplaces. She’s also a philanthropist, and holds various leadership roles at nonprofit organizations for causes she’s passionate about.

Diving into her story she shared how she was never really excited about a career or college growing up. Nikki watched how her family lived for the weekend and vacation only, and knew she didn’t want that for herself. The rest of the time they lived to work. Through her own experience with a career coach, she identified gifts within herself that led her to mental health and helping people. During her graduate degree process, she gained experience with an employee assistance program, which opened her eyes to how there are people out there dedicating work to helping others be their whole selves within their workplaces. This ultimately set her up to be where she is today.

How Leaders Can Improve Their Connections

One place leaders can start to build community is hiring people who are GREAT at building relationships. Hands down, hiring right – employees who want to belong and managers who can nurture relationship. If you hire people who want and excel at relationship building, not only are they going to move the needle for your business. And don’t overlook the fact that they’ll also bring their network of established relationships, who could be of value to you down the road. 

“There are companies out there that will get 100% of their new recruits from their current people, their employees,” Nikki revealed.

Nikki believes the secret sauce is about being selfless and using your talents to be beneficial to others. This starts with connecting with like-minded people who have the same goals, while still being strategic. Being authentic is critical – pouring yourself into others first and putting in deposits before you ever ask for anything. She shares tangible examples of how this has worked in her life, and how she encourages others to do the same. 

Want to learn how you can connect with like-minded people to better your business?

How Does One Find Meaningful Work?

Everyone wants to do meaningful work. We’ve seen through the great resignation how people are leaving jobs in large numbers and still not finding their sense of purpose. Nikki shares how she found value in the Iaigai, a Japanese tool that helps you understand your sense of purpose and what meaningful work looks like and means for an individual. 

She reflected on how her first boss helped her see that she was on a path that wasn’t going to bring out the best in her. This was her transformational moment, and it led her to where she is today. 

To listen to the full episode:

Community is Built In A Sense of Belonging

Being a member of a community eliminates loneliness and has a built-in accountability factor. It is where the true power in the community lies: accountability. Nikki points out how accountability is extremely underrated because there is a component of expectation and people checking in on you. 

With more and more remote work a fixture of the modern workplace, employers and employees alike struggle growing this sense of belonging. Nikki shares ideas and tools that can help organizations make their people feel part of their community. She talks through the advantages of:


Tools like Slack as a business tool – breaks down a huge corporation into small channels and facilitates conversation.


Break-out groups in video conferencing like Zoom. This strategy is very inclusive and encourages everyone to use their voice. Instead of popping on, listening to the meeting and popping off.


Sharing your camera. It changes the communication dynamic entirely.

Ready to enhance your workplace?

Culture Fit vs Community

Culture fit and community should not be used interchangeably, but they also cannot exist without each other. Nikki reveals that she believes culture fit means that the core values of a company need to align with you as an individual.  But that doesn’t meet you feel the emotion of belonging. 

Culture is the way an individual and company works. But if you aren’t fully behind the purpose,  mission and values of a company, it’s going to be difficult for it to feel like a community. Culture fit is the building blocks, but the community is alive. Organizations have to keep that in mind – build community, not culture.

What People First Leadership Looks Like

We’ve learned that many who feel lonely don’t take the steps to involve themselves in the community. That’s why it’s essential to have leaders who value community and have tools to empower their workforce into a sense of belonging. Nikki gives valuable tips on different ways leaders within organizations can build community. 

She discusses how as leaders we need to focus more on the person that we are working with and less on the worker within their 1-1 meetings. Invest time into learning about what makes them feel most alive and how to integrate those passions into the work they are doing. Those are the strategies that will ultimately drive retention and create happier employees. 

Want to learn how you can bring the best out of your people?

Highlights Worth Noting

[8:00] “I think people have challenges with sales is they miss the relationship aspect …”

[8:37] “Relationship building trumps everything else.”

[8:50] “There are companies out there that will get 100% of their new recruits from their current people, their employees.”

[10:46] “I’ve always looked at it from a what are my goals right now? And who are other people who share my goals?”

[18:30] “Community is built in an accountability system.”

[23:17] “Am I helping people who are joining to be participants and not just bystanders?”