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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