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4. Leadership & Engagement
In this video, we're going to cover some of the most common questions that come up when we're working with people that are getting into this microsolidarity stuff. Especially these questions around leadership: who's in charge? what about the ownership?, those sorts of things. And questions of engagement: how do we get people in my community to pay attention and to engage and do stuff together?
So first the leadership piece. This is obviously a really big topic and I'm going to try and just compress and pull out some useful small pieces, some stories from my experience. I don't think that's this is the last word to say on leadership in a community context, but maybe I'll open some useful questions.
A lot of people, when they get to this stage of the practice program, they're thinking, where do I start? That's one of the first questions. There might be a couple of people in the group that are ready to start a congregation, but for most people that's a commitment-, that's a bridge too far.
For most people we recommend starting a crew. Nati and I have different opinions on this, but just in my view, I think it's easier to start a crew within an existing group. Maybe something that's a little bit like a congregation. So it could be an existing community that you're part of: it could be a Facebook group, or maybe there's a festival that you go to every year that you really love... any kind of preexisting community that has some kind of shared identity, some kind of shared that sense of what it means to be "us". I think is a really great place to start when you're going to compose your first crew. You don't necessarily need it. You could just start with the people that are on this program.
The focal point here I recommend is: what's the smallest, first step that I can take in the right direction? Can I invite everyone into one conversation; are there the four people that I want to invite? We'll have one conversation, we'll do one Case Clinic or some other kind of relational practice, and then if that goes well, then you make a slightly bigger invitation: would you like to come back? Would we have three conversations? Or six conversations? Just start small and let it grow step by step. That's really the essential piece.
Now there might be a couple of people in the group that are ready to start a congregation and I think it's essential to conceptualize this as a multi-year commitment. To establish a congregation where you're expecting to have at least dozens of people, building relationships of trust, really getting to know each other, starting to support each other in meaningful ways, both in terms of their emotional solidarity and economic solidarity. I think it's a lot of work involved. It's a lot of invention and construction and you're constructing something out of nothing, right? Maybe you've got something in your imagination, some very vague idea. How do you actually manifest that into reality? It's going to take a lot of time. It's nice to imagine that the community will be "self-organizing", that everyone is just going to take responsibility and make this thing. But yeah, at least for the start, while it's mostly imaginary and it's not real yet, the first couple of founding people are going to have to provide a lot of energy. It's just going to take a while. Eventually you might get into this position where many different people have this sense of ownership and many different people are taking acts of leadership and helping the community to go really well, but that's probably not going to happen overnight. So just be really, be really clear. Do you have the capacity and are you up for making this big commitment and making a big experiment?
At least when Nati and I were designing our first congregation experiment, we said, we're going to do a six month trial. The first invitation is: we're going to have a gathering, you're invited to come to this gathering and then we're going to have crews/home groups for the next six months. And then at the end of that six month period, we're going to review and decide if we want to keep going. While we announced ot people a six month experiment, in the back of our heads, we're already thinking, well, if that goes well, we'd like to do it again two or three times, maybe. So it's already a year, maybe two years that this experiment's going to continue. So you have to look a bit into the future when you're in that founding position.
Assuming like me, you want to be in a context where everyone gets to lead sometimes, where there's a sense of shared power, shared responsibility, shared accountability, that no one is a particularly special person. There's not really like a boss or one person in charge, that it's distributed. To get to that stage, your role as a founder, as initiator /caller or /host, whatever your language, a lot of what you're going to have to do there is about encouraging. It's encouraging people to step in and to step up.
For me, this is really simple. I love talking. I love having opinions about things. So when we're in a group conversation, I always want to volunteer with my advice or my idea, oh, have you thought about this? But as someone who's trying to encourage other people to own their own agency and to cultivate their own leadership, maybe it's more useful than me giving my answer is to say, "Hey Jim, what do you think? Hey, Sally, what do you think?" Like, "I think you've probably got something really useful to share on that point". Just doing this basic skill of encouragement, you know, "what you're doing is great. I love it. How can I support you? You should do more of it. Have you thought about doing it this way?"
It's a whole posture. It's a whole skill. As someone who's founded a bunch of different communities and crews and companies like this, it's a real practice, it's a muscle that I've had to stretch over the years to really learn how to get out of the self-serving approach like, "I'll do it. I'll fix it. I'll be the hero." You know, very much feeding my own ego, and looking how to cultivate and develop other people. It becomes like a choreography, that as we're encouraging other people to step in, that means I'm going to have to step out to a degree. It's like a two-player game, I'm going to have to make some space for the other person to arrive into.
So in that sense, shared leadership means giving up power. It means that, if I want to be in an environment where it's not just me calling the shots, but there's 10 people or there's 30 people that feel like they're empowered, like they have a meaningful say, that's going to mean that not everything is going to go my way. And again, it's a whole developmental process. It's a whole kind of maturity to get used to the idea that I'm not in control. Like this is a shared project and some things are going to go my way, but some things I'm going to be really unhappy about it. And I'm just going to have to learn how to cope with that. And as someone like me, who's kind of a perfectionist, who really wants things to be done a certain way, it's taken a lot of conscious work and self-reflection and cultivating my self-awareness and having feedback and reflection from other people, to learn. Where are my boundaries that are really important that I need to hold on to and say, this is essential? To say, I can't allow to cross this boundary. And where are the opportunities, which are much more often, when I can actually just let things go and be patient, be tolerant, be curious about how other people might do things in a different way.
And over time, I learned that when other people do things their way, a lot of times, their way of doing things is better than mine. You know, we've just got a different way of thinking. They've got a different perspective, a different set of priorities. Some people, maybe you'll be really natural at this. Other people like me, it really takes a lot of effort to learn. How do I give up power? How do I give up control? How do I allow for this group to be more spontaneous and less according to my plans. I still am kind of a beginner on this process of stepping in and stepping out, stepping forward and stepping back.
That really needs to be intentional. Like, I don't think that just happens by magic. You know, I don't think it happens overnight either. I think it's a patient process and I wanted to share a little story from from my experience at Enspiral, which for me was just a really striking example of a kind of leadership that I wanted to emulate. I had this role model, that I had never seen before: I love that, I want to do that.
So quite early after I joined Enspiral, maybe I'd been there for less than a year. We were at one of our big gatherings. It's this kind of peak moment in our shared calendar and everyone's present. Josh Vial, who's the founder of Enspiral, on one of the evenings he told the story about how he had been in a very significant leadership position since the start, and that he didn't want to be there all the time. Eventually he'd like to be just a community member, like all the other community members. He used this metaphor, which has stuck with me ever since many years ago, of starting a fire. When you first get that little flame going, you may have to blow on it a little bit. There's little embers, and you blow on it and that helps the flame to catch. And if you don't blow enough, then maybe the flame is gonna go out. But if you blow too much, then maybe the flames are going to go out, cause it's gonna blow them out.
He said that he could see his role as a founder of this community as being the one that's kind of blowing on the flame. That he wants to contribute. Because if he doesn't put the energy in there, then maybe nothing's going to happen; it's not going to happen without him. But if he puts in too much, it's also going to dissipate and disappear because people are just going to be relying on him to do everything.
And so he did just a beautiful job of saying, this is a balancing act, I'm trying to walk the fine line between these two poles and I need your support to walk that line. He announced in six months time, I'm going on a real holiday. I'm going to be unavailable. I'm not going to be here.
And so for the next six months, we went through a process together where basically we found what all the responsibilities were that he was carrying, and how could we farm them out to different people? Who has the permission to edit the website? Who has the spreadsheet that has everyone's email address on it? What are all these little tasks and the little roles that he was carrying and how can we distribute them? Over that six month period we got more and more people taking on their little piece of those very practical tasks. And then he went away, he went on holiday and he was unavailable. He was out of reach out of contact.
He came back six months later to find there was another 8 or 10 of us, that had really stepped up in a different way. Probably it was a bit of a mess. You know, it wasn't as efficient and perfectly designed as he had it in his mind, but the thing was alive and it was working and many more people felt like they had the sense of ownership, the power, the influence. Like, this is my place and it's up to me, it's my sense of responsibility.
So that explicit, intentional process of stepping back and making space for people to step in meant he could get out of the way as being the sole founder. I mean, he's still a really important character. He still anchors something about our values and our vision. And he still has a lot of relationships with a lot of the people. he probably knows more people than the rest of us do. But his role is much less, the difference is much less now. We're more playing similar roles because he went through that stepping back process, very intentionally.
That's very inspiring to me. That's the model that I'm trying to emulate, and maybe that's a useful way for you to think about your leadership too.
One of the main questions we get asked is about "how do I get people in my community to be more engaged?" Before we look into the how, I want to backtrack a little bit, and look at how engagement actually works. And I'm sorry to break it to you, but if you're expecting hundred percent engagement, you're going to be frustrated because engagement in communities doesn't actually work that way. For more that we try it, for more that we really want it, engagement works in different tiers and in different levels, depending on the capacity of people, their priorities and the way that they will like to engage or not.
Jacob Nielsen did a big study on digital communities. And then what he found about this 1-9-90 participation rule was also later on mapped into other offline communities as well. What they discovered, there's 1% of people in a community that are going to be super active, right. There are the activators, they're going to participate, they're going to create content, they're going to set up events. They're trying to push into new things of doing, commenting, connecting.
There's a 9% that are going to be more active collaborators. So they're going to be supporting the 1%. They're going to be sharing the information around they're, maybe gonna comment on some of the posts, they're going to participate on the events and things like that.
But then there's a 90% that are passive supporters. And what that looks like is, they're actually there, they're reading the information, they're reading the comments, but you might not realize. They might share the information about events, but maybe not; they might participate in the events, but maybe not. Maybe their participation will be a little bit more sporadic.
So why is it useful to know about these different ways of engagement? Because the main thing that we can do is not to think, "how do I get people to engage" but acknowledge that this happens, acknowledge that this is the way that tends to work, and name the different categories, to clarify the paths, to move between those categories, to set up rights and responsibilities. If you are going to be in this space where you're more engaged, these are the responsibilities that you have, these are the rights that you have. This is how you become one of the engaged people.
People that tend to be in the one or the nine, they'll also collect more social capital. So it's important that we know how to move between those spaces. I'm not going to go deep into power dynamics, but maybe we can talk about it in one of our calls.
So I want to give you an example from Enspiral again. As you enter the network, you will become a "Contributor". You will be on that 90%. As you participate, you get engaged, and people get to know you, maybe you'll jump onto a working group. Maybe you'll be super active on the different channels that we have and so on. And as people know, you you'll be invited to be a "Member" - in this case that's the 9%. Members hold different responsibilities in the network. Members can invite Contributors. So those are the rights, but Members are a backstop, if something goes wrong, if something is happening, if someone has an issue, you can always reach out to a Member and you know that they're going to be there and jump into whatever needs to happen to resolve it.
Then we have a 1%. In Enspiral, the 1% from my perspective is people that are more engaged into working groups. All the things that need to happen in the network happened through working groups, right. They're people that say, let's come together and figure out what are the admin pieces that we need to solve, or let's come together and decide what we do with our finances, or in my case, how about we figure out how to distribute and how to create the pods and support the process.
So those are the people that would be a lot more engaged into making the community function. We also have a Board and they have final legal responsibilities. So there's also members that can jump into the Board, and we try to change them once in a while. The board doesn't do much more than b e our legal support because of the configuration of being a foundation in New Zealand.
So why is it useful to know all those bits? Because being able to acknowledge and name those different categories also gives you space to figure out what are the needs of different people in those categories? What do they need in order to engage or to participate in the way that makes sense for them, for their capacity and their priorities? If we know those needs, then we can create spaces for different people to engage in their own way.
We've seen as well with the right invitation that we can create for people. You might be able to shift the 1-9-90 to a 10-20-70, something like that. It's possible to shift these percentages, but it's very useful to know that this is how normally it tends to be in a community. So you can reduce your expectation, but also maybe your frustrations, on trying to get everyone to be super active.