Leading a Community

(photo credits below)

Leading a community is a bit of a misnomer, if you do it right. The people gathered before you aren’t an orchestra and you are not a conductor. At best, you are a “jam manager.” You are the person helping bring about the experience, but with your hands as far off the overall end results as possible.

Trust Above All Else

Want to screw up a community? Betray their trust. Do something against them. Do something that serves YOU and not the community. That’ll earn you some nifty nicknames, at the very least.

Trust is the first important law of community. It’s not the only requirement, if you think about it, because at its heart, a community has to have something to DO, but trust becomes the hinge upon which all other things must rely.

There is no “I” in Community..oh wait, there IS!

If you’re the leader of a community, the answers have to feature the people more than you. Decisions can’t be made in how they best serve you. They must be made about the group as a whole. And at the same time, you have to be ready to make bad decisions, think serious thoughts, and maybe even make some hard choices. That’s the sucky paradox: you have to own the crap and open-source the good stuff.

Not Just the Cool Kids

One of the MOST important tenets about PodCamp that Chrisopher S. Penn and Bryan Person and I stress all the time is that EVERYONE is a rockstar, not just the rockstars. You might be the most popular videoblogger or podcaster or whatever out there, but at PodCamp, you’re the community, not the elevated. That went SO well at PodCamp Boston. We had Rocketboom (1 and 2) in the audience, Galacticast, and several other “big names” in what we do. And you know what? They were people. Like Steve Garfield told me when I sat on the set of the “Carol & Steve Show,” people are people.

In all communities, there will be “losers” and the lowly (or so they will think of themselves- even YOU might think that about them), but they are all part of it. Don’t be catty. Don’t be exclusionary. Don’t you DARE spend time with just the pre-existing rockstars.

Use the Brilliance of Your Community

Communities are smarter than you. They just basically have to be. And they know more people than you. It’s not that you have to let them make all the decisions, but when you encourage more participation, particularly around tricky situations, your community will come to the rescue and help in ways you never imagined.

I promise you this: communities are far more generous and giving and caring and believing when they are permitted to participate in as much of the work as is reasonable.

Yes, You Still Have to Lead

It’s not that you just throw everything to the community. You’re the leader. Your role is to bring this whole game towards a great experience. If you’re running a conference, or just keeping the flow of a group of like-minded people going, community leaders have a role in making sure everything fits nicely into place. Facilitate. Make the tough decisions. Bring more light into the place so that people see what’s going on. But keep your motivations straight.

I’m Not The Expert

You might disagree with me. That’s great! You see things differently. That means we’ll learn from your ideas on top of mine, and then we’ll find an even better definition of community leadership. That’s part of it, too.

Be strong. Be humble. Be in love with your community. That’s the best advice I can give you.

(photo credit Whitney Hoffman)

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  • http://mincedmedia.blogspot.com Kim M. Bayne

    Great observations! Great timing, too. Yesterday, I was pondering my new project and what to call my position, which involved building a thriving health care community. Community Strategist? Nah. Sounds like I just sit on the toilet and think all day. Community Guru? Who am I kidding? There is always something new to be learned. Community Evangelist? Sounds like a religious discussion. Bottom Line: when you lead a community, your role is to lend a hand, so everyone else can work, play, build and share.

  • http://mincedmedia.blogspot.com Kim M. Bayne

    Great observations! Great timing, too. Yesterday, I was pondering my new project and what to call my position, which involved building a thriving health care community. Community Strategist? Nah. Sounds like I just sit on the toilet and think all day. Community Guru? Who am I kidding? There is always something new to be learned. Community Evangelist? Sounds like a religious discussion. Bottom Line: when you lead a community, your role is to lend a hand, so everyone else can work, play, build and share.

  • Sue Murphy

    Communities only work when everyone contributes. It’s like being in a band, or a choir. If one person doesn’t practice enough, or focus enough, the whole group suffers. A community is not just its leaders, it is the sum of all its parts, good, bad and ugly. That’s what keeps it interesting. Like anything that takes effort, there will be challenges, and celebrations. In the end everyone will grow, and will have been part of something that is important to them.

  • Sue Murphy

    Communities only work when everyone contributes. It’s like being in a band, or a choir. If one person doesn’t practice enough, or focus enough, the whole group suffers. A community is not just its leaders, it is the sum of all its parts, good, bad and ugly. That’s what keeps it interesting. Like anything that takes effort, there will be challenges, and celebrations. In the end everyone will grow, and will have been part of something that is important to them.

  • http://greengathering.blogspot.com/ Ian Green

    Great post. We’ve actually created a business out of a community at Ladybank Company of Distillers – see http://www.whisky.co.uk.
    Here’s how it worked. A guy called James Thomson launches a website(s) devoted to excellent Scottish Single Malt Whiskies – lots of enthusiasts come to it and start talking abou the whiskies they love. Someone suggests they build their own distillery.
    Someone else comes up with idea of of membership community – where all the members put some cash into the project.
    And that’s what they did. This co-creation company has renovated some farm buildings in Fife, Scotland and should start making whisky early next year.
    The foundations are the people we have and how they are behind the project and interacting with it.
    Seen you on Twitter by the way.

  • http://greengathering.blogspot.com/ Ian Green

    Great post. We’ve actually created a business out of a community at Ladybank Company of Distillers – see http://www.whisky.co.uk.
    Here’s how it worked. A guy called James Thomson launches a website(s) devoted to excellent Scottish Single Malt Whiskies – lots of enthusiasts come to it and start talking abou the whiskies they love. Someone suggests they build their own distillery.
    Someone else comes up with idea of of membership community – where all the members put some cash into the project.
    And that’s what they did. This co-creation company has renovated some farm buildings in Fife, Scotland and should start making whisky early next year.
    The foundations are the people we have and how they are behind the project and interacting with it.
    Seen you on Twitter by the way.

  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis D. McDonald

    Chris: I’m forwarding this to a client whose role is changing. Thanks. – Dennis

  • http://www.ddmcd.com Dennis D. McDonald

    Chris: I’m forwarding this to a client whose role is changing. Thanks. – Dennis

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Wow.. a community distillery. I’m in! : )

    Glad this resonated with such great people as you guys. Thanks very much for the ideas.

  • http://www.chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Wow.. a community distillery. I’m in! : )

    Glad this resonated with such great people as you guys. Thanks very much for the ideas.

  • http://www.ldpodcast.com Whitney

    This post comes on the heels of a conversation I had this AM with a Podcasting rock star. And what was interesting, is she feels alientated from the community because people are now “afraid” to talk to her the same way they would before. I told her I would “link her up” via twitter and other sources- because this is the fun part of new media- the friends, the conversation, and being able to ask for help or suggestions no matter where you perceive yourself on the podcasting food chain.

  • http://www.ldpodcast.com Whitney

    This post comes on the heels of a conversation I had this AM with a Podcasting rock star. And what was interesting, is she feels alientated from the community because people are now “afraid” to talk to her the same way they would before. I told her I would “link her up” via twitter and other sources- because this is the fun part of new media- the friends, the conversation, and being able to ask for help or suggestions no matter where you perceive yourself on the podcasting food chain.

  • http://inkndoodles.com Rob Suarez

    Maybe it’s just me but… leading a community is hard! Over at http://www.inkdoodles.com, we had a lot of participation last year… then it all sort of fizzled… and I can’t figure it out. Why did they leave? Did they really leave or are they just not posting? Just to confuse issues more, while the websire community participation has come to a grinding halt… the podcast listenership has started to take off… what does that mean? Am I trying to create a community of participators when people don’t want to participate?

    Anyway… sorry to vent… but sometimes it is hard to be a community leader… or builder… when the community is virtual. Don’t you think?

  • http://inkndoodles.com Rob Suarez

    Maybe it’s just me but… leading a community is hard! Over at http://www.inkdoodles.com, we had a lot of participation last year… then it all sort of fizzled… and I can’t figure it out. Why did they leave? Did they really leave or are they just not posting? Just to confuse issues more, while the websire community participation has come to a grinding halt… the podcast listenership has started to take off… what does that mean? Am I trying to create a community of participators when people don’t want to participate?

    Anyway… sorry to vent… but sometimes it is hard to be a community leader… or builder… when the community is virtual. Don’t you think?

  • http://brokenengine.blogspot.com brokenengine

    RE: Betraying a community’s trust: For an example, please settle in with a beverage and read this: http://brokenengine.blogspot.com/2006/10/paragon-this-will-be-long.html

    Yep, with the new-media so prevalent and easy to use, when you screw someone over now, word of mouth is much further reaching, much more convenient, and viral. People WILL take the time to bust you on your BS. I know I took a more than healthy pleasure in pulling the rug out from under the above articles villain.

  • http://brokenengine.blogspot.com brokenengine

    RE: Betraying a community’s trust: For an example, please settle in with a beverage and read this: http://brokenengine.blogspot.com/2006/10/paragon-this-will-be-long.html

    Yep, with the new-media so prevalent and easy to use, when you screw someone over now, word of mouth is much further reaching, much more convenient, and viral. People WILL take the time to bust you on your BS. I know I took a more than healthy pleasure in pulling the rug out from under the above articles villain.

  • http://www.wesak.blogspot.com Vajra

    Chris, When you are ready, the teacher will appear. It appears that I was ready to learn from you. Amazing post to read and absorb. Thank you.

  • http://www.wesak.blogspot.com Vajra

    Chris, When you are ready, the teacher will appear. It appears that I was ready to learn from you. Amazing post to read and absorb. Thank you.

  • http://crowdabout.us Carter Harkins

    It’s like basking in the warm, friendly sunshine, really. Reading this had all the effects of a hammock, a fruity cocktail, a gentle breeze, a secluded beach… and another fruity cocktail. Not to say it isn’t challenging to build community, but to hear someone get it so right, well, it does my heart good. Thanks, man. I probably won’t get any closer than this to a vacation this year…

  • http://crowdabout.us Carter Harkins

    It’s like basking in the warm, friendly sunshine, really. Reading this had all the effects of a hammock, a fruity cocktail, a gentle breeze, a secluded beach… and another fruity cocktail. Not to say it isn’t challenging to build community, but to hear someone get it so right, well, it does my heart good. Thanks, man. I probably won’t get any closer than this to a vacation this year…

  • http://spiritsentient.com JasonFonceca

    Absolutely beautiful Chris. Brilliantly outlined, and these ideas benefit many!

    I’d like to extend even further, by suggesting that all human beings can select one of many perspectives and that being the case, the ultimate faciltator of the type of community-leadership you propose, is adopting a perspective in which the choices you make support both you personally, and the community as a group… simultaneously.

    Win-Win-Win perspectives…

    Win :D