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Cultivating Leadership in Online Communities: Insights for Community Manager


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In the ever-evolving landscape of online communities, the role of a community manager as a leader is increasingly pivotal. Drawing from the article "Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?" by Professor of Leadership Emeritus at Harvard Business School Abraham Zaleznik, this article offer insights into developing effective leadership in online communities, a realm where traditional managerial approaches meet the dynamic needs of digital interaction.

The Transformation from Manager to Leader Leadership transcends conventional management. It's not just about maintaining order or ensuring smooth operations; it's about inspiring change, fostering engagement, and building a community culture. The shift from manager to leader in online communities involves embracing creativity, ethical conduct, and imaginative vision, qualities that go beyond mere competence and control.

The Power Dynamics of Online Leadership Leadership in online communities involves navigating the delicate balance of power and influence. Unlike traditional settings, power in online communities is often more decentralized and fluid, making the role of the community manager crucial in shaping the community's direction. Effective community leaders use their power to influence positively, championing collaboration over competition and fostering a sense of shared purpose.

Real-World Examples from Successful Online Communities Take, for instance, the leadership approach in communities like Stack Overflow or Reddit. These platforms thrive not just on effective moderation but on visionary leadership that fosters a sense of belonging and collective intelligence. Leaders in these communities are not mere enforcers of rules but catalysts for member-driven innovation and engagement.

The Manager vs. Leader Personality in Online Contexts Online community leaders differ from traditional managers in their approach to goals and relationships. They are more inclined to shape community expectations actively and engage in deeper, more empathetic interactions with members. This contrasts with the manager's focus on processes and systems. A leader in an online community, therefore, is more of a visionary, guiding members towards a shared objective, be it knowledge sharing, support, or collaborative problem-solving.

Shaping Online Community Goals with Leadership Effective online community leaders shape goals that resonate with their members, driving participation and engagement. They understand that community goals must evolve from member needs and aspirations, not just from top-down directives. This approach is evident in communities like GitHub, where leadership fosters innovation and collaboration, aligning community activities with the evolving goals and interests of its members.

Embracing Conflict and Change for Community Growth In online communities, leaders embrace conflict and change as opportunities for growth and innovation. They understand that challenges and disagreements, when managed constructively, can lead to richer community interactions and stronger engagement. This leadership quality is exemplified in thriving online forums where leaders facilitate healthy debates and discussions, turning potential conflicts into opportunities for community development.

Conclusion: The Path to Effective Online Community Leadership To cultivate effective leadership in online communities, aspiring community managers must embrace a holistic approach that combines managerial competence with visionary leadership. By understanding the unique dynamics of online interactions and focusing on building empathetic, goal-oriented relationships with community members, leaders can foster vibrant, engaged, and innovative online communities. As online platforms continue to grow and evolve, the role of the community manager as a leader will become increasingly vital in shaping the digital landscape.

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