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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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Lutz November 25, 2010 at 8:38 am

Leadership is about one’s actions, not appointment or title. Leadership is modeling the way and having a vision that is worth others rallying together with you.


Michael M McCurry CMP November 26, 2010 at 6:54 am

Amen to that Dave.

Thanks for weighing in with these brief, but wise thoughts!



Sam Smith November 27, 2010 at 10:35 am


This discussion reminds me of the old Charles Barkley commercials for Nike – where Barkley said “I am not a role model.” At the time, Barkley had been in the press for some un-role model-like comments and behavior. While Barkley might not have wanted to be a role model – HE WAS a role model. People looked at his actions and comments in a different way than others.

I think the same applies to leaders in online communities. Online community leaders ARE held to a higher standard – whether they like it or not. People naturally observe, critique and react to leaders comments and actions in a different way than if the comments came from regular members.

Recently, I was at a party with a friend of mine that is a volunteer chapter leader for an international association. He said that as chapter president he can’t critique other member’s ideas in public (which includes social media) because they view the comments as coming from the chapter president and from the organization. When you look at it in the context of Steve Farber’s comments about leaders building up the people around you – it makes sense. My buddy’s job is to shepherd the ideals of the organization and make the people around him better – whether he agrees with those ideas and their execution or not.


Michael M McCurry CMP November 28, 2010 at 9:45 am

Hi Sam, hope your holidays have been terrific!

Thanks for taking time to weigh in with your thoughts and adding to the discussion regarding online community leadership!

Question — If community leaders are held to a “higher standard” how is that standard defined? Is it decided by a community vote? Are there perhaps different “higher expectations” that could apply, from community member to community member, depending on their own individual point of reference?

While I respect your opinion (and your friends) that an online community leader should not critique other community member’s ideas publicly, I must disagree with you both. An essential element in a community is transparency, and diverse opinions should be openly shared, whether a person is a community leader or not. In fact, sometimes other community members may be apprehensive about sharing their thoughts, and a leader may need to ask the tough questions, that no one else has the courage to ask.

Steve Farber, in his book “GTY” (Greater Than Yourself) says this about what leaders must do to make others greater “Give them tough, honest feedback and hold them accountable to their commitments.”

What a leader must never do is publicly “throw someone under the bus” or personally attack them. Disagreement is a healthy thing, and is not about someone being right or wrong, it’s about learning.

Sam, Thanks again for sharing your opinions and thoughts.



Tahira November 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

I think that the nature of being a leader is all the things mentioned, with a good dose of humility thrown in. If I look at it from the bigger perspective of leadership, then the nature of this is you will look up to someone whose core values have some alignment with your own, and whose beliefs and ideas you may not always agree with but that these do appear rational, and when you do disagree it is about dialogue and not dictatorship. (Toxic leaders are another issue).

The questions are good – who decides who the leaders or an on-line community are? Appointed or self-appointed? By default such as they started it, knew someone who started it or are an active voice in it? Greg’s comment that he is not that active but is considered a leader is a good example – but Greg would be a default leader as he has defacto led so many changes and initiatives in the industry for such a long period of time. This is a good thing.

Open, honest, transparent – anything else will be outed quickly so it is really the only choice, from members and leaders. On-line also gives people who may be quieter in a group setting the time to think and respond thoughtfully and to provide valuable input, and this should be encouraged. I think #eventprofs has proven itself to be a welcoming place, with leaders who care about the industry and the community, and that even in taking the energy and time to question yourselves, this is just another example of great leadership.

Thank you and keep it up.


Michael M McCurry CMP November 30, 2010 at 9:37 am

Tahira –
I love your comments here.

Humility is an important trait that I did not mention, thanks for calling that out. Dialogue is clearly much better than Dictatorship, as a good conversation can turn a disagreement into an “Ah Hah” moment 

Online communications does give people, who are less comfortable in a f2f setting, a safe environment to communicate their thoughts. The only tough thing about online interaction is the message can sometimes be misunderstood, since there is no voice inflection, or body language to support it.

I agree that #eventprofs is a terrific community, and am glad you took time to add your thoughts to the discussion.

Thanks again,



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