Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What Expectations Do Online Community Members Have of their Leaders?

This is the third in a three-part series of collaborative articles on the subject of online communities. My sincere appreciation is extended towards Christina Stallings, Greg Ruby, Kiki L’Italien, Liz King, Eric Lukazewski, Kristi Sanders, Cameron Toth and Jeff Hurt for sharing their thoughts and opinions regarding this topic.

To recap the conversation thus far, Monday’s blog post was centered on the question of what makes online communities rock.  Yesterday thoughts were shared  regarding expectations of community members towards one another.  In the final installment, of this article series, the focus shifts towards the role of online community leaders.

My guest authors believe all community members (including leaders) should, at a minimum, treat one another with courtesy, respect, honesty and professionalism.  I agree.  What’s unclear is what additional standard(s), if any,  apply to community leaders.

What Expectations Do Online Community Members Have of their Leaders?

Question:  “Should Community Leaders be held to a Higher Standard? If so what is it?”

Christina Stallings — I think the baseline expectations are fair for all members.   Leadership should set the example by modeling the core values I mentioned earlier (previous article) of courtesy, respect and transparency.

Kiki L’Italien — Yes. Community leaders hold the members’ trust. Therefore, a community leader should keep that trust by staying abreast of the latest trends and conversations taking place in their community. Leaders should also seek to help softer voices be heard and support members’ efforts to move the community’s cause forward.

Liz King — The leaders in the community are responsible for maintaining the open environment of the community. They need to welcome new members and encourage the other members to stay open, honest and supporting.

Greg Ruby — Community leaders should probably be held to a higher standard, although it is tough for me to define a community leader. Some folks consider me to be a community leader in #eventprofs, even though my contributions have been minimal of late (that will change shortly!!!) and I don’t consider myself to be one.

Eric Lukazewski — They should be held to a higher standard but not given higher authority or control.  Leadership should be displayed through characteristics that are consistent with desired actions from other community members, while personifying the goals for the group as a whole.

Kristi Sanders — Community leaders should be open, honest and transparent, so if their actions are called into question, they will be easy to explain.

Cameron Toth — There automatically are leaders in every community but I feel a leaders job is to push other members to be leaders.  In that sense the standard is high for everyone.  Respect is earned.  If community members are not actively engaged in earning trust and respect then you have a person who is seeking to disrupt your community.  I believe the word on the streets for this type of person is a “hater”.

Jeff Hurt — I am not sure how I feel about this statement. It is difficult to answer without some context. It raises other questions in my mind. What is a leader? Who defines the community leader? What is the community leader a leader of? What is a higher standard? What is the normal standard?

If a higher standard means that a community leader is not allowed to voice their opinion or views, then I disagree. We live in an age where people should be allowed to voice their thoughts and ask tough questions. If not, it becomes a type of censorship in my opinion.

Clearly, community leaders should model the behavior expected of the greater community.  More importantly, a true leader will seek to make those around them stronger and better than they are.  Steve Farber, a renowned leadership guru, is passionate about this concept.  He writes about it in his book entitled “Greater Than Yourself:  The Ultimate True Lesson in Leadership“.  I highly recommend this book.

Some Closing Thoughts on Leadership and Community

The leadership road can be painful, and is not without it’s frustrating moments.  It can also be very rewarding.  Sometimes leaders must ask the tough questions no one else is willing to ask, or call out important, yet difficult issues.  And.. they must encourage their community members to voice their opinions.  It’s essential to the health of a growing community.

Leaders, like any other human being, make mistakes.  Instead of denying their shortcomings, they admit them.  Smart leaders will surround themselves with people that complement their strengths, and make up for their weaknesses.  They seek to learn from the community around them.

Leadership is not a popularity contest.  It’s not a Kumbaya festival.  Some community members may disagree with actions or statements made by their leaders, or other community members.  I believe all members of a community have an equally important responsibility to openly air their concerns. That transparency will distinguish a great community from a mediocre one.

I know I don’t have all the answers regarding the best way to grow an online community.  What I do believe, with all my heart, is that disagreement, or criticism, levied in a respectful fashion, and born out of a shared passion for the greater good of a community, is a very positive thing.  Conflict, when handled judiciously, creates a learning opportunity.  When actions are motivated by  self-gain that’s a different matter altogether.

Question:  In your own experience, with online communities, which of the thoughts expressed in this article make sense to you?  What would you add, or change to what’s been said?  Thanks in advance for weighing in with your opinions!

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