Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Community of Practice Leadership

In my previous post, I mentioned new management principles suggested in Gary Hamel's book The Future of Management:

  • variety, diversity, experimentation, depoliticizing / depolarization of decision making
  • resource allocation flexibility through a market model
  • enabling activism through democracy (devolution of accountability, distributed leadership, unalienable dissention rights)
  • engagement and mobilization through meaning and common cause
  • increasing the odds, and successful contribution, of serendipity
These are in stark contrast to the principles of "modern management," generally comprised of standardization, specialization of tasks and functions, goal alignment, hierarchy, planning and control, and extrinsic rewards. (Well summarized in Gary's book, page 151)

I'm currently working with the leadership team of a project management community of practice to enable them to grow the community and enrichen knowledge conversations and member learning and development. Many of the ideas and concepts in Gary's book have me thinking about what leadership really is in the context of a community of practice, and in turn, their relavence to the specific community I'm working with.

Much has been written about communities of practice (what they are & how they differ from task teams, how they work, value propositions, what the challenges are, nascent vs. seeded, etc.). Much of the writing talks about a variety of roles and responsibilities in the context of communities (e.g. facilitator, coordinator, information manager/librarian), and talks generally community leadership and its importance.

Gary has a very intreaguing reference in The Future of Management to some points from Mary Parker Follett's book, Creative Experience, first published in 1924:
  • leadership is the capaticy to increase the sense of power amonng those being led, in essence to create more leaders
  • difficult problems are best solved by creating "higher-order solutions" through the integration of diverse perspectives of all relavent stakeholders
  • growth of organizations is maximized when the local communities within are effectively self-governed
Certainly visionary thinking for the time.

I'm not sure anyone has specifically, and with any great degree of depth, succintly explored the leadership dimension in communities as it has been explored more broadly in the context of business. At least, I haven't found it yet.

The questions that form in my mind are:
  • What core principles (should) guide community leadership?
  • What should effective community leaders do/act/practice to align with the core principles?
  • What is community leadership and what makes it different than other forms or contexts of leadership?
  • What are the key leadership processes in communities and how are/should they be shared across a leadership team?
  • How can visibility, horizontality, transparency, inclusivity be woven into community leadership, while maintaining or increasing leadership effectiveness?
  • How should community leadership be rewarded/recognized in the context of organizational hierarchy?
As I explore some of these questions with the help of colleagues and experts, I'll share emerging ideas here.


Syano said...

From my standpoint, comparing business and community leadership, community leaders have less resources to implement projects. Unless there are major problems in a community, the business leader is more motivated than a community leader. has more info on leadership and other related topics.

Anonymous said...

Syano.. From what I've seen, inside organizations, many community leaders do have fewer resources - in particular in organizations that value hierarchy over horizontal collaboration. In his book the Conductive Organization, Hubert Saint-Onge does make a fairly compelling case about leveraging the value of strategic communities, with topics tied to real business challenges, and using this value to access resources (time, money, talent.)

I do have to disagree with you on your point about motivation though. I've seen many instances where a strong belief or "cause" in communities creates a very motivated leader (and follower), and I've met many a business leader who is "going through the motions." Should a business leader have a strong enough "cause" they as well can be equally motivated.