Leadership inside Community

Naomi Hattaway
Jul 22, 2018 · 8 min read

How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before beginning to improve the world. Anne Frank

Image Credit: Ethan Weil

A s Emmy and I have continued down the path of investigating, researching and learning more about communities (the definition of them, and the importance of them), we’ve started to come up against some questions around leadership. We’re going to bring you this next piece in the #RedefiningCommunities series in a Q & A style, since we definitely do not have all of the answers.

We will be sharing our thoughts and findings, but we welcome you to comment throughout the piece and let us know what you think — so that we can open up the dialogue on this topic.

What defines a leader?

In many visible examples of leadership, I tend to look at those individuals as having an immense amount of power. I have also felt — in the past — that those in leadership positions have been given that power. However, the more I educate myself about a new version of leadership that I see eking out around the world, the more I know that’s not necessarily the reality.

Leadership is power with people. Not power over people. — Mark Sanborn

For leaders in the space of local communities, online spaces with a beautifully collected set of members or in the context of activism (no matter how loud or how quiet), it’s become apparent that leadership means giving one’s self the permission to pursue an original idea, even when there is seemingly no one approving of your efforts, advocating with you or offering support along the way.

Who decides that someone is a leader?

Leadership isn’t a mysterious art practiced by only a select few. It is the daily response of every human who wishes to make a positive difference in the world and make it a little bit better place because of their efforts. The marks we leave in life — our legacies — are most often not left in stone and steel, in history and politics or poetry and literature — but in the lives of other people. Mark Sanborn

The protagonist does not wait for permission to lead, innovate or strategize, but does what is needed and right for the group as a whole, without regard to his / her own status. — Nilofer Merchant (Are you a rebel or a leader?)

The Indo-European root of “to lead,” leith, literally means to step across a threshold — and to let go of whatever might limit stepping forward. Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

You don’t need a title to be a leader. When you do your job — any job — with initiative and determination to make a positive difference, you become a leader. — Mark Sanborn

Do leaders of online communities carry a different responsibility when all members can engage with each other (i.e. Facebook Group or Mighty Network), as opposed to someone who is a speaker (one way engagement) or a blogger (often one way engagement)?

Because you have the cultural norms and related systems in place to let people help one another, you can allow others to take on more — to commission them. When someone’s capacity is wisely aligned with what they are commissioned to do, there’s a good chance you can trust them to take responsibility. The responsibilities of a system leader require working with other leaders, building one’s toolkit, letting go, engaging people beyond boundaries, balancing advocacy and inquiry, and learning on the job. Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

Whose place is it to judge what a leader does, how a leader leads, whether they are quiet or loud, woke or silent, etc?

There is no such thing as mastering leadership. We are all WIPs (works in progress). We need nothing more than a burning desire to make a positive difference and an awareness of the opportunities to lead that present themselves each day — at work, at home, with our friends and relatives, within our communities. -Sanborn

We have too many high sounding words and too few actions that correspond with them. -Abigail Adams

In some instances, we see communities implode as they grow and scale, and in some instances, it’s a result of the leader building an empire versus a true community. We discussed the two in our article, Are You Building An Empire and took a hard look at the differences between empires and communities.

What is the archetype of a leader? What characteristics does a leader possess? Is it different when that leader is ONLINE in their presence?

Listening is one of the key best practices amongst leaders. Robert Kramer

Though they differ widely in personality and style, genuine system leaders have a remarkably similar impact . Over time, their profound commitment to the health of the whole radiates to nurture similar commitment in others. Their ability to see reality through the eyes of people very different from themselves encourages others to be more open as well. They build relationships based on deep listening, and networks of trust and collaboration start to flourish. They are so convinced that something can be done that they do not wait for a fully developed plan, thereby freeing others to step ahead and learn by doing. Indeed, one of their greatest contributions can come from the strength of their ignorance, which gives them permission to ask obvious questions and to embody an openness and commitment to their own ongoing learning and growth that eventually infuse larger change efforts. Peter Senge, Hal Hamilton, & John Kania

In their book Leading from the Emerging Future, Otto Scharmer and Katrin Kaufer describe three “openings” needed to transform systems: opening the mind (to challenge our assumptions), opening the heart (to be vulnerable and to truly hear one another), and opening the will (to let go of pre-set goals and agendas and see what is really needed and possible).

If a leader is defined as being responsible for motivating followers, he or she will likely act toward followers as if they needed motivation. If we agree that a leader’s job is to transform followers, then it must be a follower’s job to provide the clay. If followers fail to need transformation, the leader looks ineffective. The way we define the roles clearly influences the outcome of the interaction. Instead of seeing the leadership role as superior to and more active than the role of the follower, we can think of them as equal but different activities. The operative definitions are roughly these: people who are effective in the leader role have the vision to set corporate goals and strategies, the interpersonal skills to achieve consensus, the verbal capacity to communicate enthusiasm to large and diverse groups of individuals, the organizational talent to coordinate disparate efforts, and, above all, the desire to lead. People who are effective in the follower role have the vision to see both the forest and the trees, the social capacity to work well with others, the strength of character to flourish without heroic status, the moral and psychological balance to pursue personal and corporate goals at no cost to either, and, above all, the desire to participate in a team effort for the accomplishment of some greater common purpose. Robert Kelly

The leadership crisis in ethics in many organizations partially stems from the crisis in character of our leaders. The character of the leader is grounded on such core values as integrity, trust, truth and human dignity, which influence the leader’s vision, ethics and behaviour. The moral literacy of the leader and the essentials of an ethical culture are connected to his/her character and not to his/her charismatic personality. The quest for leadership excellence is based more on character than charisma. The leader is also empowered through his/her character to serve as a mentor. Yassin Sankar

How can community leaders focus more on the collective instead of the few (or even the needs and desires of the admin?)

The “power of us” is not the sheer number of members in any group, but the bonds between them, such as curiosity, vulnerability, the ability to handle conflict.

It’s long overdue for academics and practitioners to adopt a more expansive view of leadership — one that sees leaders and followers as inseparable, indivisible, and impossible to conceive the one without the other. Barbara Kellerman

We believe that today’s leaders must begin serving their communities. To serve as a merchant of hope and a beacon of possibility. The first job of a leader is to create and foster bonds between individuals. The second job of a leader is to convince others of the significance of their actions, by modelling the behaviour and culture.

What does activism look like under the microscope of leadership responsibility?

To lead a group seeking to achieve a shared purpose is not to direct resources like a harbor master directs boats to port; instead it is to create and maintain the conditions for people to figure out what they need to know, so they feel that ownership and responsibility to do it themselves.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu describes the role of leadership and the impact of it to be this:

The wicked leader is he whom the people despise.

The good leader is he whom the people revere.

The great leader is he of whom the people say, “We did it ourselves.”

What should the modern version of leadership look like?

We believe that leadership means recognizing the absolute importance of collaboration with others, building strategic partnerships to further our efforts, and that shining a light on others doing the work means greater impact for everyone. By expanding our network, we also create opportunities to serve not only those around us, but others in leadership.

Leadership is not something that we either have or we do not have. We believe it is innately present in all of us, but many times must be elevated, supported and amplified.

Leaders listen first (not to be confused with the wonderful book by Simon Sinek, Leaders Eat Last). Those in today’s version of leadership pay attention to the needs of others and they notice what’s going on around them. Instead of pushing our own agenda, when we lead, we take stock in the issues brought to our attention and we initiate (and sometimes change) the conversation around topics that matter deeply.

If each of us stepped into our leadership, surrounded ourselves with support and resources, and then chose to lead at the right time in the right way, what would our communities, our world look like?

You have within you more resources of energy than have ever been tapped, more talent than has ever been exploited, more strength than has ever been tested and more to give than you have ever given. — John Gardner

Who are your models of leadership within communities? Tell us in the comments.


Meet Emmy and Naomi

Emmy McCarthy and Naomi Hattaway often like to joke that they are one brain split over two continents. After “meeting” on a podcast about community building they quickly realised that not enough people who actually steward thriving communities were talking about how they build and grow communities. They also realised how much they had to say about that.

Emmy and Naomi believe that every individual is capable of making an impact on society but they often lack the support and information on how to do so.

Through #RedefiningCommunities Emmy and Naomi hope to open up the conversation on the communities we are building, gather together the people creating impact through action and provide a space for learning and growing together.

Find out more about Emmy and Naomi.

Redefining Communities

Conversations about leadership and the evolution of…

Naomi Hattaway

Written by

Saying my piece at naomihattaway.com | Building a community at IAmATriangle.mn.co | Helping families “find home” at 8thandHome.com

Redefining Communities

Conversations about leadership and the evolution of community in the digital age.

Naomi Hattaway

Written by

Saying my piece at naomihattaway.com | Building a community at IAmATriangle.mn.co | Helping families “find home” at 8thandHome.com

Redefining Communities

Conversations about leadership and the evolution of community in the digital age.

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