The Social Age is about communities: communities that are no longer defined by purely physical or geographical borders. Today, our communities crisscross the world, our membership and conversations facilitated by social collaborative technology and shared through the amplification of ideas. Social Leaders need to understand where these communities exist, how to engage in them and how to utilise them to lead effectively.
Unlike in more traditional leadership models, leadership in the communities of the Social Age is through authority based on reputation, not hierarchy. In other words, leadership is earned not bestowed.
We start by looking at Location. How many communities are visible, how many hidden? A community may be formal and internal, for example, a group of colleagues conversing on a Yammer or Intranet forum, or it may be formal and external, like a professional discussion on LinkedIn. Membership may be entirely drawn from an employed population (typical for an intranet), a combination of employed and contractors, or almost entirely external, beyond traditional organisational control or view. Communities based around professional challenges may fall into this category, such as a community of global project managers or people who are interested in research on Unconscious Bias.
Different communities have different types of conversations and, as a rule, the further away they get from the formal space, the less under the influence of the organisation they are. It’s not that organisations can’t engage in these conversations: it’s just that they have to recognise the semi formal nature of the environment. In the Social Age, the meaning and conversations are co-owned and co-created by communities, not owned and imposed by organisations. That’s why Social Leaders have to understand the ecosystem and phrase conversations accordingly.
Communities serve different purposes: Social Leaders need to understand the different purposes of different communities and adopt an appropriate stance and style as a result. Communities are used for sense making, for creating ‘meaning‘ in Social Age terms, but they are not always about sharing ideas we already understand. They may be about enlightenment: bringing new knowledge and ideas to the members. Within a community, different people will be enlightened in different areas and Social Leaders need to understand where they curate their position and act accordingly.
Communities are used for support and challenge: flip sides of the same coin. When we bring ideas or problems to a community to resolve, we can expect both support and challenge. It’s this very process that gives community sense making such value.
Communities can be used to subvert existing wisdom: this subversive nature of communities is important for agile businesses, because they rely on this subversive process to be creative, to be innovative. Existing processes give existing results: sometimes we have to break things to reiterate them in a better frame. But leaders engage in these subversive spaces carefully: the mantle of leadership counts for nothing in subversive spaces and may indeed be a hindrance.
Some communities give us status: professional bodies or exclusive clubs for supporting change. Again, Social Leaders need to understand their terms of engagement in these spaces and may indeed want to create these spaces themselves. Building your own exclusive community for subversives or change agents may be a powerful way of mobilising the semi formal channels in support of your individual and organisational goals.
Finally, communities can be powerful amplifiers, and amplification is a core feature of the Social Age: understanding how ideas stories are amplified enables us to be heard more widely without shouting more loudly. It’s about creating and sharing magnetic stories: sharing wisely.
So what’s your role within these communities?
We can identify nine functions of the role: to ‘Nurture‘ individuals and ideas, to ‘Support‘ the community, to ‘Lead‘ it in certain areas, to ‘Engage‘ in other conversations, to ‘Crossover‘ between communities and share wisdom, to ‘Narrate‘ the stories that are told, sometimes to ‘Moderate‘ conversations, to ‘Grow‘ the community, to ‘Facilitate‘ change.
With limited time and resources (not to mention emotional energy), Social Leaders need to plan how they engage. We don’t want to get stuck in one segment: too much time moderating may be at the cost of nurturing. To much growth is no good if we aren’t getting value by sharing great stories (although conversely, great stories will generate growth, or they will if we share them widely with amplifiers… it’s a great circular process!).
So let’s join it together to look at how Social Leaders should approach Community: they need to map the communities to understand the ecosystem of engagement. Once they’ve determined where the communities are (both the formal and social ones) they can decide on the purpose of each, which will impact whether and how you engage and what role you take (recognising the need to be agile in role over time. Once we’re engaged in communities, we pause to reflect on what we gain through membership and, in time, narrate those stories back out into our communities. That’s a truly social way of working.
‘Community‘ is the fourth of the Nine Components of Social Leadership. We’ve looked at it in terms of ‘location‘, ‘purpose‘ and ‘role‘ to establish rules for how and why we engage and what we can expect to get out of it.