On Leadership, Leverage, and Trust

I hesitate whenever I hear the word leverage in the same sentence as community. It just doesn’t sound right, in the same way the phrase, “using a friend” doesn’t feel right.

However, truth be told, communities are meant to be leveraged. A community that is addressing a problem is collectively leveraged to do so. However, community leaders must be careful because the of their position and ability to leverage the community for personal gain. An actual or even perceived conflict of interest is a betrayal of trust. Communities are built on trust, and thus a leader’s potential for a conflict of interest is worth discussing.

Leverage

Leverage is defined as having positional advantage, and the power to act effectively.

Would you join a community where the primary goal was to make the community leader rich, famous, or advance his career? Probably not. Leaders who are in it for their own personal gain, glory, or pride are innately repulsive, and there are countless examples of such misguided leadership that cause the masses to be skeptical of our political leaders’ motivations. And yet, an effective leader leverages the community (i.e. use positional advantage) to benefit the community and addresses the problem(s) to be solved. This positional advantage underscores the trust that must exist between the leadership and the community.

Trust

How should the leader behave to gain and retain that trust? The community leader’s motivations should always be consistently and clearly for benefit of the community. In fact, the members of the community are paying for it with their engagement in the community. In return, they expect the leader will do nothing but leverage the community appropriately for its own good.

Thus, I suggest that community leaders should always act with humility and transparency: A humble person knows it’s not all about him/her, and a transparent leader has no hidden motivations. Such leadership establishes a foundation of trust that will create an attractiveness to and validation of the community, making it difficult for anyone (including the skeptics) to find fault.

The Nozzle

As I speak with individuals about the goals for their community, inevitably I aim to understand what primary problem he/she is attempting to solve, and for whom. If the responses become too generic, I tell them about my lesson learned from a garden hose.

The nozzle of most all garden hoses typically enable two extremes: One that widens the water stream to a near mist, and the other focuses it into a narrow jet. Imagine yourself hosing down the side of a house that’s covered in dirt and grime. If you adjust the hose nozzle to mist, you will indeed hit a wide area of the wall, and you may even hit every corner with some droplets of water. But if the goal is to knock dirt off, your efforts will not be very fruitful. However, if you focus the stream to a narrow jet, then you’re using the same amount of water to hit a much smaller area on the wall, but you are likely knocking that dirt right off.

Focused impact

If you want to make an impact and get something accomplished, focus your efforts. It’s an alluring trap for community builders to attempt to be everything to everybody in exchange membership growth (which I’ve warned against in an earlier blog post). People are more willing to join a focused group with a specific purpose that can create a real impact. Communities with such focus may grow slowly, but they grow with the right people involved. And in my opinion, nothing has a greater organic attraction than a community that is making an impact. Focused efforts create that impact, not wide sprays.

You only have 24 hours in a day, so completely annihilate one problem versus dampening a yard of them.