From The Art Of Community by O'Reilly (http://www.artofcommunityonline.org) by Jono Bacon
“Learning without thought is labor lost.” —Confucius
Great community leadership requires accepting the volatility of community. Volunteer communities are a bubbling pot of varying personalities, commitments, skills, and experiences. It is this reason why I often refer to the work of community leaders as “herding cats.” But as leaders we are here not only to lead and inspire our cats, but also to learn to see the patterns in the chaos that is community.
There are many patterns out there: common personality traits, techniques for getting people excited about something, methods of handling conflict, common opinions, and more. It is these patterns, correlations, and structures that help us to not only better manage our own communities, but to share our experiences with others. When I see a pattern, I want to share it so you can use it in your own communities. Unfortunately, the randomness of the chaos can sometimes hide these patterns from common view, and many perceive “community measurement” as something of an oxymoron.
Earlier in this book we contrasted logical vessels such as programming languages and more randomized entities such as community:
[Programming languages] live and breathe in a world where the answer to a question is yes or no. There is no maybe. In a world where maybe does not exist, you can plan ahead for an answer. With community, the importance and diversity of the question are equally essential.
You could be forgiven for thinking that community is unpredictable and immeasurable, but let’s not overemphasize the challenges of “maybe.” Community may not be as straightforward as “yes” and “no,” but that doesn’t mean that we can’t see the patterns, learn them, and share them. Our strategic plan has helped us lay out a blueprint for what our community can achieve. But a plan is just that: a plan. It is a statement of work that we intend to do. It is not enough to simply provide your community with a strategic plan, even if it was collaboratively produced. Your community is going to need help, assistance, and some gentle nudging to achieve these goals.
Great community leadership requires regular and consistent feedback. When we originally produced our strategy, we were conscious of creating a feedback loop to gather input from our community. We now need to enforce the same feedback loop when it comes to the execution of the items in that plan. To really know we are achieving our goals, we need to be able to measure our community effectively.
People can be broadly divided into three groups that define their approach to tasks. The first group believes that they know best. They go after their goals with little or no input from anyone else. They have a clear idea in their minds of what needs to be done, and they do it. They don’t solicit feedback, because they don’t need feedback: they know best. They are confident, if a little cocky at times.
The second group wouldn’t know a decision if it hit them in the face. They need extensive help and guidance to not only flesh out how to achieve their goals, but also need coaching in the individual steps involved. If they had their way, they would ask you to do it for them. In the absence of delegation they instead want you to advise, make decisions, and generally think for them.
I am a fan of neither cocky nor procrastinating people. I am, however, a huge fan of the third category of people: those who are confident in their approach, but reinforce and improve said approach with feedback, mentoring, and guidance. Interestingly, many of the members of the first group, shun this approach as a perceived admission of imperfection. Well, I hate to break this to you, folks, but none of us are perfect. The American singer and actress Eartha Kitt described it perfectly: “I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.”
The greatest leaders are always willing to listen and learn, and the most inspiring people I have worked with have all taken this approach. This is what I personally strive for, and I encourage you to do the same. As we discussed earlier, community is very much a soft science. It is an art form that is improved and extended by sharing stories and experiences. It is these tales that extend our knowledge and offer us insight. The greatest gift you can offer to a community is the willingness to listen. When leaders listen, their community talks and everyone feels engaged.