In the Social Age, our Communities make us stronger, if we are willing to invest in their strength, and hold the humility to listen. In the work i recently published in the ‘Community Builder Guidebook’, i talked about the underlying social fabric of the Organisation: essentially a view that we have a layer of connection, and from that layer emerge different types of Community, according to instruction or need. For example, a formal project team, an emergent charity committee, or a protest group. Each has a different level of formal permission, and different mechanism of operation, but each shares similar underlying levels of social cohesion.
So a decision for a Social Leader is where they will focus their efforts: on strengthening our underlying Social Capital and levels of interconnectivity (to provide the foundations from which various Communities may emerge according to need), or to view themselves as architects of a single community. And then, within that frame, to decide what type of interventionist they will be.
This illustration playfully indicates some stereotypical roles: it’s not intended as a shopping list, or a definitive view. It’s a sample, and possibly the most valuable exercise for an individual Social Leader to complete is to sketch out their own understanding.
But the principle is sounds: one must decide where to focus effort. On the underlying social fabric of the Organisation, or on specific instances of Community: and then having chosen, to decide what coat one will wear today.
In line with any leadership capability, diagnosis, fluidity, and the ability to flex between styles is important, but also to recognise that some of these things will require us to learn new skills: one cannot be a physician through intent and enthusiasm alone.
Let me take you on a tour of my own ideas behind these:
The Farmer: this type of leader has a focus on growing things, on getting something done. They plant the seed, they water and nurture it, they feed it, and ultimately harvest the fruits. They view the Community as the foundation of what they build, but they have a clear view of the thing they are trying to achieve.
The Engineer: this type of leader looks at the Community as a system, and seeks to understand it. Where is the friction, where is the heat? What is making a noise? How can i optimise it, or make it run faster, or make it use less fuel? The engineer is an interventionist, and takes a systemic view. So their interventions are broader than one plant.
The Curator: this type of leader feeds a Community carefully, curating chosen content and adding it into the system. They pride themselves on knowing what the Community likes and needs.
The Therapist: this type of leader seeks out those people in the system, or groups, who need support. They listen and provide frames and structures of development that conform to their belief system of how we are healthy and whole.
The Physician: this type of leader looks for sickness and pain. Their specific competency is in both diagnosis, and prescription. They seek to find out what is wrong and have a mastery of diagnostic tools and techniques, and they apply treatment or drugs accordingly. At risk of being mechanistic, they differ from the engineer in that their practice is an art and more subjective.
The Soil Scientist: this relates to a view that there is a social fabric to an Organisation which underlies the emergent Communities. The soil scientist is not concerned with what the Farmer wants to grow, but rather in creating the fabric and interconnection in which we can grow anything. In that sense, their work as a leader is not directly purposeful, task based, or applied, but rather seeks to invest in the overall health of the system. Soil is a complex system, almost impossible to synthesise artificially. It’s a hard science to master.
Of course these are playful abstractions: but consider your personal Social Leadership practice. What would your types of Community Building roles look like, and which do you need to learn?