6 ways to lead like a community manager

6 ways to lead like a community manager

We know good leadership is human-centric and empathic. We understand that the best leaders and managers empower us, mobilise us and build a culture of inclusivity where we feel our work matters. But putting these insights into practise remains a challenge as leaders’ struggle with older ways of working, and huge pressures for results and reflexivity.

The pressures are rising as companies have begun transitioning from hierarchical to networked and collaborative: becoming communities that serve other communities.

Understanding how community works and how to manifest the results it produces has never been more important.

The word ‘community’ has baggage for some, conjuring visions of warm and fluffy group hugs, and a fundamental incompatibility with business. They fear design by committee and a lack of commercial focus.

Yet communities are full of messy contradictions, unexpected power, and when established and nurtured well, deliver lasting outcomes at scale. Community management drives their success.

Here are six techniques community managers use that any leader can draw on:

1. Make the mission matter

Everyone’s talking about the value of purpose in business. But agreeing on a mission only scratches the surface.

In online communities, community managers take the lead early to codify purpose and identify how each member plays a direct role in that purpose. They go beyond motherhood statements to tease out a specific ‘what’s in it for me’ for each community member’s personal values – allowing motivation to shift from extrinsic to intrinsic.

How can what’s driving your company align, explicitly, with internal drivers for individuals in your group, team or organisation. Linear and disconnected KPIs won’t get you there. Consider inherent and deeply personal drivers like improving skills, sharing what you know, or knowing you made a real difference. Give purpose individual context.

2. Create conditions for vulnerability

Self-disclosure builds trust, deepens empathy and creates shared emotional investment. It moves us toward intrinsic motivation. Accept and encourage vulnerability proactively, in yourself and your people.

The best way to achieve this is to model behaviour. Be vulnerable yourself. Admit you don’t know. Ask for help. Share aspects of your life that might be difficult or challenging. Find opportunities for your people to share failures as well as victories. Show that those who need can speak up – and be connected with those who can help. Make sure your governance supports this culture, permitting self-disclosure that can deepen social ties.

3. Develop rituals

Rituals create self-sustaining community and a strong sense of belonging. The ubiquitous office birthday cake? That’s a ritual. But they can go much further and be connected to the core of your organisation’s purpose and brand.

As a leader, invite and spark rituals that your community can take ownership of, repeat and embed at scale. What rituals can mark the passage of community milestones? Key moments in the life of a group or project? Reduce isolation, bind members together and express what they stand for?

4. Empower influence (not empty feedback)

Traditional trust is collapsing worldwide. We’ve been around the block too many times, we know those in power are only out for themselves, we’ve seen it all before… And we’re right. But communities have proven resilient to this corrosion because their members trust that they have a seat at the table.

Influence is predicated on trust – the community manger’s currency.

People must trust what to expect and trust each other by seeing community norms and values play out. They trust they can make things happen. Trust breeds more trust, which in turn creates shared wealth.

If a person knows their actions are ultimately meaningless, at best, they’ll retreat into automatic pilot. At worst, they’ll head for the door. A disconnect between promise and reality is one of the main reasons business culture projects – and communities fail. Create meaningful agency with individuals, the group as a whole and the results are transformative.

5. Welcome emotional connection

Your people need to feel free to express themselves fully and forge relationships with peers. Set clear expectations and frameworks, then actively encourage this expression.

This is not to suggest unprofessionalism or inappropriateness, but rather, creating opportunities for people to forge bonds and comraderies based on shared personal experiences that transcend work. It also means making time and place for the human side of your endeavour. Leave the robotic to the machines, and have your people share what makes them unique, as people.

6. Establish sense of place

Work isn’t a physical place, it’s a state of mind and a set of cultures that straddle channels, spaces and moments. It’s shared materiality.

Community managers create this shared sense of place across desks, cities and time zones, not unlike any remote or distributed team in business.

Encourage patterns of belonging and value exchange transcend a single destination. Aggregate shared knowledge and history in a way that’s accessible to your people anywhere, anytime. Create asynchronous communication channels beyond email, like chat rooms, message apps or forums. Manage them like any other community; tend them to build the habit of engaging and checking in.

Time for a new way

The world needs a new model for leadership and management. There’s abundant evidence that the old ways aren’t working and perpetual ambiguity is our new norm. Online community managers can help managers and leaders reconstitute their organisations as communities in a productive way, boosting morale, engagement, resiliency and profits.


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