Leadership is hard.
This is a good thing. If it were easy, then everyone would do it.
And if everyone were willing and able to do it, then you and I wouldn’t have the opportunity we do to perform the hard but rewarding work of leading communities.
One of the most difficult elements of leading a community is to remember that your role is to lead the community, not be its dictator.
The biggest difference between community leaders and community dictators
There are many differences between leaders and dictators. In this post, I want to zero in on the biggest difference: How do you approach major community changes?
Dictators will believe that they know best, deliberate and decide in private, and are more likely weigh short-term personal concerns more heavily than what is in the best interest of the biggest number of members.
Leaders, on the other hand, will recognize the limitations of their own assumptions and seek out feedback and wisdom from community members. Leaders are also more likely to understand that the long-term health of the community may require decisions that are not in their personal best interest in the short term.
I’ve been thinking about this distinction a lot recently as I prepare to make a major change in one of the communities I lead.
We are switching platforms, so it is going to cause a lot of upheaval for everyone in the community. It will also create a ton of extra work for me personally during a time when I am already stretched thin both personally and professionally.
But I’m also confident that it’s the right long-term decision for the community — both because of the research I’ve done on my own, and because of the “Virtual Town Hall” I hosted last week.
The value of a “virtual town hall”
I’m so glad we hosted this event, which was essentially an open Zoom meeting for all community members who wanted to attend. It was helpful on a number of levels.
The live event, as well as several private conversations thereafter, gave our members an opportunity to provide their feedback and insight to me directly. Everyone so far has been on board with the move, and I was also able to add several intriguing ideas to my community spreadsheet.
But most importantly, taking the time to host this event and really listen to member feedback gives a clear signal to the community that I view my role as leader, not dictator.
Yes, it’s my role to chart the strategic course for the community, implement new ideas, and make the big final decisions that will affect everyone … but by sharing and conversing along the way, members understand I’m willing to listen and value their input.
Plus, my decisions become better because the people who will be directly affected by those decisions, and who pay to keep the community alive in the first place, are able to provide feedback and bring up points I might have overlooked.
This last point is important, and it highlights another difference between leaders and dictators.
Even a dictator might go through the motions of having open discussions and seeking feedback around major decisions because it looks good. But are they actually listening? Do they really value the feedback of members?
For community leaders, it’s not about going through the motions; it’s about taking an important opportunity to learn more about the people you serve so you can serve them better.
Be a leader, not a dictator.
Being a leader requires a certain of pride in your ability to host important conversations and make important decisions for the people you lead. But dictators are leaders whose pride goes unchecked.
The only way for those conversations to matter, and for your decisions to have a positive impact on the people you lead, is to have enough humility to care about and really listen to your members.
Now here are some additional links on this topic …
Follow best practices
Pay attention to the list of Dos and Don’ts in this post. I’ll highlight keeping it simple and not asking for feedback you don’t intent to use.
How to Collect Member Feedback the Right Way | Wild Apricot
Always be collecting feedback
Doing a survey of members once or twice a year is a good rule of thumb to formalize your process for getting member feedback.
Constant Feedback | FeverBee
Identify potential superusers and advocates
Opening up forums for feedback — whether public or private — helps you to identify who your most engaged, thoughtful, and passionate members are. These might be able who are interested in taking on a more senior role in the community.
Thank you for reading this issue of Primility.
Please consider forwarding it to a friend who wants to be a better servant leader and build a strong online community.
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash