Posts Tagged ‘Communities’

I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.


communityIn a recent search on Google for “community definition,” the following appeared at the top of the results:

  • “a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common;
  • a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”

How do you define “community”? What kinds of communities are you a part of? What separates a community from other groups you may belong to that you would not consider a community?

We speak of geographical areas as communities, yet I know only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people in my city. Is that a community?

What about groups of people with whom you work, play, worship, volunteer, or go to school? What about the neighbors who live closest to you – do they make up a community?

My title at work is “community manager” for our enterprise social network of 29,000 employees and growing. Is that one large community or does it consist of many smaller groups that qualify for the designation? There are, after all, about 1200 special interest groups among that 29,000 members.

In reading the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto this week, I loved the simple definition of community I found there: “a group of people who care about each other more than they have to” (p. 133).


I am fortunate to be part of several groups I am proud to call communities according to that definition – my team at work, many segments of the online community I manage at work, my church, and others. We all care more about each other than we have to.

Whether you have ever thought about the definition for a community or not, I suspect you know one when you experience it.

What communities do you belong to? How do you know you’re in a community?

Org ChartIn yesterday’s post, I reviewed Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.  One point briefly mentioned in the review is the idea of leading from the bottom.  Today I want to explore that idea more.

When Godin first discusses the idea in his book, he tells the story of when he started full-time at Spinnaker at the age of 24.  He was charged with making software games out of science fiction stories.  Nobody reported to him – no programmers, no secretaries, no staff whatsoever.  What did he do?  He started a newsletter and distributed it twice a week throughout the company talking about the opportunities, the challenges, and the successes.  One by one, people voluntarily joined the cause – even on their own free time – to be a part of what was happening.  He led from the bottom and people joined him for the journey to the point of being wildly successful beyond what many thought possible with few resources allocated.

I think back to a couple of times in the past year when there were stories in the news that caused a grassroots reaction from others via social media.  There was the young 20-something lady who started a campaign against a major bank when they announced a jump in fees.  The movement caught on and in a matter of days the national bank reversed its decision.  That lady had no position of authority.  She had passion and a Facebook page.  Just this past week the Kentucky bourbon distillery Maker’s Mark had to change its recent decision to lower the alcohol content in its signature product after the public outcry regarding its plans to do so.  Opponents had no authority over the company other than as fans and customers, but that was enough.  They led from the bottom.

Looking around at people in my life, I see others who voluntarily take on mountains to climb because they care and because they think they can make a difference one day or one person at a time.  They don’t wait for permission.  They don’t sit back and say “I’m only one person; what can I do?”  They don’t get stuck in some endless period of analysis paralysis.  They begin one step at a time doing something, and others join them in the cause because others have been wanting the same thing, but needed a leader to forge the path.

One of the reasons my schedule stays full is due to the fact that I think we are put on this earth to make a difference, and that as long as we have life and breath we can and should be doing what we can to impact others in meaningful ways.  I believe that is true for you as well, although, you’ll have to decide what those ways are for yourself.

At work, I have nobody that reports to me.  I may never have direct reports at my company.  I’m fine with that.  I still know I have the opportunity to make a positive difference.  I can impact individuals and even the entire company regarding how we communicate internally.  Outside of work, I have several personal passions – mostly faith-related – that drive me to do things weekly because I think they are the right thing to do, and because the idea of just living for myself outside of work seems a waste and, in fact, offensive to me.  Nobody “reports” to me outside of work, either (except, perhaps, my dog), but I’m fine with that, too.  I can still live each day faithful to who I am called to be in confidence that it will be a life lived imperfectly, but genuinely for the One who gave it to me.

What passions do you have for change?  Where do you want to make a difference?  Whether you have any positional authority or not, whether anyone reports to you at work or outside of work, your passion and example of doing something to lead can be just the spark that others around you need to join your cause and to make a difference.

Don’t be afraid to lead from the bottom.

TribesI finished re-reading Seth Godin’s Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us today.  It’s a book that is on my very short list of books worth re-reading now and again.  The point of this small 2008 book is that there are groups of people (a.k.a. tribes, followers) just waiting for someone to step up and take a leadership role to help make change happen.

The book is a bit hard to review on one hand because it has no table of contents, no chapter divisions, no index to easily go back and find a thought – only seemingly random section headings that have content under each heading for a few sentences or a few pages. Good luck on outlining the book.  Godin acknowledges that potential critique near the end of the book, and if he’s not worried about it, neither will I.  The focus should be on the content of the book, not the structure.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for rebels – those willing to challenge the status quo and attempt to make change happen.  Godin refers to this person throughout the book as a heretic and encourages such behavior for all who see a different vision and aren’t afraid to try to make it come to pass.  “Heretics are engaged, passionate, and more powerful and happier than everyone else” (p. 49).  Long live the heretic!

Tribes is filled with short stories of people – many of whom you have never heard – who made the decision to make a difference and then who started to lead others who shared the same passion down a path of affecting change.  Rebels and heretics will find nuggets of hope and strength in these stories, encouragement to go forward in their worlds and lead their tribes.

There are a few sections which lay out precisely Godin’s underlying thoughts and principles.  One is where he describes his thesis:

  • For the first time ever, everyone in an organization – not just the boss – is expected to lead.
  • The very structure of today’s workplace means that it’s easier than ever to change things and that individuals have more leverage than ever before.
  • The marketplace is rewarding organizations and individuals who change things and create remarkable products and services.
  • It’s engaging, thrilling, profitable, and fun.
  • Most of all, there is a tribe of fellow employees or customers or investors or believers or hobbyists or readers just waiting for you to connect them to one another and lead them where they want to go. (pp. 12-13)

Another meaty couple of pages list five things to do and six principles behind creating a micromovement:

Things to do:

  1. Publish a manifesto.
  2. Make it easy for your followers to connect with you.
  3. Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another.
  4. Realize that money is not the point of a movement.
  5. Track your progress. (pp. 103-104)


  1. Transparency really is your only option.
  2. Your movement needs to be bigger than you.
  3. Movements that grow, thrive.
  4. Movements are made most clear when compared to the status quo or to movements that work to push the other direction.
  5. Exclude outsiders.
  6. Tearing others down is never as helpful to a movement as building your followers up. (pp. 104-105)

This review would be far too lengthy if I tried to write about all the notes I took and parts I underlined.  Besides the main points above, I’ll just mention a few more ideas that stand out to me…

“Skill and attitude are essential.  Authority is not.  In fact, authority can get in the way” (p. 20).  Too many people think they can’t lead because they do not have positional power and the accompanying authority that goes with it.  Malarkey!  You can lead from the bottom of an org chart any day.

“Organizations that destroy the status quo win” (p. 35).  I hear many companies talking about being “disruptive,” yet too many of them are still mired in old ways of thinking, stifling policies, outdated practices that lead to anything but disruption, and a culture of protection and control that inhibit and sometimes downright punish innovation.  These dinosaurs will die as others who actually walk the talk pass them by.  “The organizations that need innovation the most are the ones that do the most to stop it from happening” (p. 113).

“The only thing holding you back is your own fear” (p. 44).  

“Change isn’t made by asking permission” (p. 70).  This thought goes hand in hand with another: “The easiest thing is to react.  The second easiest thing is to respond.  But the hardest thing is to initiate” (p. 86).  Heretics initiate change.

“When you hire amazing people and give them freedom, they do amazing stuff” (p. 98).  I work on a team like this and can vouch for its truth and source of energy and inspiration.

I do find it odd that Godin chooses not to engage a tribe, himself, on Twitter.  He has two accounts there – @SethGodin and @ThisIsSethsBlog.  The former account is a mere placeholder with no activity, reserved so that nobody else can claim it, while the latter tweets whenever there is new content on Godin’s blog.  It’s his choice, of course, to be involved or not in whatever technology platform he chooses, but it seems like a missed opportunity to not use Twitter to engage with a willing tribe of followers.  That choice does not, however, impact the truth and value of the book.  You’ll find his website at

If your goal is to manage, this book isn’t for you.  If you want to keep the current organizational machine functioning as smoothly as possible with little disruption, don’t bother reading it.  But if you have a goal to produce change – at work, in your community, in your neighborhood, in government, in your church or elsewhere – then read this physically small, 151-page book and take away some insights and inspiration to lead a tribe.  “Do what you believe in.  Paint a picture of the future.  Go there.  People will follow” (p. 108).

One final thought… While reflecting on the book, the brief YouTube video of First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy came to mind.  I encourage you to watch it.

We’ve all been there – frustrated from being in the dark about major decisions that impact us until the decision is made.  These decisions may be handed down by top management at our companies, other organizations we belong to, or the local, state or federal government.  It is a bit degrading to be a stakeholder in something but to be ignored until you are either told “this is the way it’s going to be” or are expected to merely give a thumbs up or thumbs down vote on a decision that could possibly have been better with more involvement of others up front.

Is it possible that the fortunate few making the calls behind closed doors still make the best decision and that we end up where we should?  Yes.  But why should we take that chance?  We can get to the best solutions and decisions with happier customers (or members or employees or citizens or family or…) if we do at least a few things better, such as:

  • Be open to changing and improving processes.  Doing something because it’s always been done that way is inexcusable.
  • Listen to our stakeholders and be responsive to consistent issues that cause friction.
  • Initiate involvement of all stakeholders early in the process.  Don’t wait until complaints are rampant.  The prevalence of social media as an avenue for this makes the lack of doing it so last century.

What I have in mind at the moment is a recent decision made in a volunteer organization I am part of.  I completely agree with the final decision and support it 100%.  What concerns me is the lack of people involved in that decision and the message it sends to the larger membership when such an important decision comes out of nowhere having involved only a few people.  How does that make the larger community feel in terms of their input?  Not very important.

Good leadership seeks to involve all stakeholders in significant decisions early and often.  In this case, I am grateful for the final decision, but the process will (again) certainly leave a bad taste in the mouths of many.

Leap year lesson #156 is Involve your people in decision making.