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 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.
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.