How To Make Your Organization Feel Like A Family

In my previous life, before I embarked upon a speaking and coaching career, I was an FBI Special Agent, and I was assigned to the San Francisco Field Office. I investigated terrorism matters of the international variety (think: Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas). Heavy stuff, I know.

While I was there, I learned a great deal about people and how to bring out the best in them. I learned how good teams become great. I learned a lot about leadership.

But well before that, back when I was in my early twenties, whenever the subject of leadership would come up, I would often mentally check out. It wasn’t because I didn’t think leadership was important or anything like that, it’s just that leadership wasn’t something that was on my radar at the time. It was nebulous, distant, esoteric. It was something I’d worry about in, say, 5 or 10 years. “I’ve got more important things to worry about right now,” I thought.


Fast forward about 5 years.

Before I joined the FBI, I served as an officer in the U.S. Navy, and I was ultimately put in charge of an 11-person aircrew on a 4-engine combat airplane. My title was “Mission Commander,” and I was in charge of all aspects of the tactical portion of every flight I flew. See, what did I tell you? Now I can worry about leadership. I’m in charge of people now!


I erroneously thought that just because I was in charge of people, it automatically made me a leader. I had people under me, they did what I told them to do – I must be a leader, right? Well, sort of.

See, after the Navy, when I became an FBI Special Agent and I had a few years under my belt, something dawned on me: While leadership is often associated with being in a position of management or authority, the two are by no means exclusive with one another.

It took me being in charge of nobody, other than managing myself, as an FBI Special Agent, to learn that you absolutely do not have to be in a management or authority position to be a leader.

What does this mean for your chapter or organization: empowerment. Allow me to explain…..


When I was a brand-spanking-new Special Agent in San Francisco, one of the first things my boss told me to do was go out and find ‘confidential sources’ to tip us off on anything that smelled like terrorism. You probably know them as informants if you’ve ever watched a cop show, so I’ll spare you the confusion and refer to them as such.

I thought to myself, “You want me to go out and get some informants? No problem. I’ve got a new Joseph A. Bank suit – 3 of them actually – I also have a gun and a badge and some slick looking credentials. This will be easy.”

Only it wasn’t. It was quite difficult. And that is an understatement.

I got a lot of “no’s” at the beginning.  And the informants I did manage to get “on the books,” the information they gave me – it wasn’t all that great. That combined with their luke-warm commitment left me feeling like I wasn’t being the Special Agent I knew I could be.

It was disheartening. “What was I doing wrong?”, I’d often ask myself.

As time went by, I slowly learned from some seasoned and accomplished Special Agents that first and foremost, I had to establish a substantial amount of trust with these people if I was ever going to get them to give me the kind of information that could potentially put them in danger. I had missed the memo on that one. Somehow that failed to make the curriculum at the FBI Academy in Quantico. Either that or I must’ve somehow snoozed through that lesson.

What these senior FBI Agents taught me is that trust, and trust alone, is the cornerstone of leadership.

So how do we earn trust?

By getting people to let down their guard and let us behind their “vulnerability curtain” as I’ve come to describe it. It’s similar to a familiar quote once uttered by Theodore Roosevelt: “Nobody cares how much you know until you let him or her know how much you care about them.”

So I began to ask my potential informants about their families. Not just the superficial questions but the ones that go deeper than those we’ve grown accustomed to asking. I found out about their childhoods. I asked them what got them out of bed in the morning. I asked them about their dreams for the future. I learned about their struggles and what brings them joy.

Think about it, who are the people you trust the most in life? It’s the people who know you, the people who really know you. And I would venture to say that you know them just as well. You know what makes them tick. You know what fills their bucket. You know their hopes, dreams, fears, the things they’re proud of, the things they aren’t proud of. This is what I call going beyond peoples “what,” and tapping into their “who.”

And for everything they gave me, I gave it right back to them. In the FBI, we called it “give to get.” You see, getting someone to go deep with you doesn’t come without a price – and the price is, you must give up some of yourself to the other person.

Most of us already know this, yet so few of us actually do it.  One of my favorite speakers and authors, Dale Carnegie, once said: “I deal with the obvious. I present, reiterate, and glorify the obvious…..because the obvious is what people need to be told.”

I used to be one of these people. Deep down, I think I knew that this was the stuff that leads to solid relationships and producing amazing results. But I thought I would come off as weak if I didn’t maintain a tough exterior, careful not to let people in on my flaws, weaknesses, and insecurities – whatever you want to call them. I also thought it would come off as being too intrusive if I asked all of these deep and personal questions. Lastly, I was caught up in my own stuff. I was so focused on turning these people into informants and getting valuable information from them, I failed to take the time to give them the space and comfort to go there with me.

Dare to go deep with people, go deep yourself, and you’ll be amazed how the world will open up to you.


Many organizations casually throw out the word “family,” thinking that if they use the word, they will somehow, magically, become one: Everyone will be transparent with each other, there will be synergy, symbiosis, everyone will sing Kumbaya, etc.– and they’ll be a family because they put it in the header of an email. Sometimes people swap “family” for “team.” We’ve all been a part of one of these groups at one time or another, right?

Usually, though, these groups are anything but a family or a team. They don’t realize that families are families because they know and trust each other, and they’ve taken the type to cultivate those feelings. Not because someone has bestowed the title upon them.

Real families know and understand this stuff takes time and commitment. It takes effort and follow-up.  A great analogy would be to think of it like a slow cooked meal in a crock-pot, as opposed to a microwaveable TV dinner. Which one sounds more appetizing to you?


So getting back to my story, after a few years went by, I started to get better at recruiting informants. I also got better at motivating and leading my peers.  That’s right, I said it: peer leadership. That hackneyed two-word phrase that makes most of us cringe. Peer leadership is the most difficult of all of the classical forms of leadership because it forces us to get to the heart of what leadership is really about. If you can lead your peers, you can lead anybody.

So while I didn’t have any subordinates as a street Agent (though I had a ton of responsibility), I realized that leadership wasn’t really about being in charge of anyone– leadership is simply motivating and inspiring others to greatness. Whether it was a confidential informant or a fellow Special Agent, my job was to earn their trust, and once I did that, I could help them get more out of their work and their lives.

My leadership formula is simple: Get outside of yourself, make an investment in someone else, and help him or her get more out of life.  What would this mean for your chapter or organization if everyone started doing this? Or even 10%? Rising tides lift all boats.


Now here’s the fun part – everyone has the ability to be a leader. Not 5 years from now, not when they are Chapter President or some other title. Right now.

This can scare a lot of people. Because while my leadership definition is empowering, it’s also quite immediate. It means that we have a choice to step up, right now, and forge deeper connections with our brothers and sisters. It means we have to stop worrying so much about number one, and start looking out for others. It means we must get to know people much more deeply than we think we already do. It means we have to give up a little of our “who,” and stop getting by with telling people our “what.” It means we have to take off our masks and give ourselves the gift of a vulnerability hangover. It means we have to put our own stuff aside and make a sacrifice to simply just be there for others.

To listen to them. To serve them.

If you have the courage to do this, a remarkable thing is likely to happen: Trust will manifest itself throughout your organization. People will look out for one another. They will learn each other’s hopes, dreams, and fears. Solidarity will begin to take shape. They’ll start giving more back to the community, grades will improve, incidents will plummet, iron clad bonds will form. They’ll start to feel like a family.

Instead of hoping it will somehow, magically, one day…… just happen.


Credit // Author: Jon Tasch

Jon Tasch’s unique experience as a Naval Officer and FBI Special Agent, gives future leaders a different perspective on the importance of building relationships and taking action. Learn more about his keynotes at campuspeak.com/tasch.