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Essential Skills of Strategic Leadership


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In the ever-evolving landscape of online communities, the ability to navigate uncertainty and leverage opportunities is crucial for community managers and forum administrators. Based on consulting work with 20,000 executives and research from the Wharton School, this article delves into six essential skills for strategic leadership in the digital realm, especially in unpredictable environments.

The Six Pillars of Strategic Leadership in Online Communities

  1. Anticipating Trends and Changes Strategic leaders in online communities are adept at foreseeing shifts and trends. Like the CEO who diversified his product portfolio in response to market changes, a community manager might anticipate and adapt to new social media platforms or changing member interests. Tools like social listening and analytics can be invaluable in staying ahead.
  2. Challenging the Norm Questioning the status quo is vital. Emulating leaders who encourage diverse viewpoints, a community manager might challenge existing moderation policies or engagement strategies to foster a more vibrant community. Encouraging debate and open dialogue can lead to innovative solutions.
  3. Interpreting Complex Information The best leaders synthesize diverse inputs to find new insights. For example, a community manager, noticing a decline in engagement, might analyze various data points and member feedback to identify underlying causes.
  4. Making Decisive Choices Strategic decisions often require swift action. Community leaders must balance rigor with speed, considering both short- and long-term impacts. This might involve deciding on new community guidelines or choosing the right platform for community expansion, ensuring that every decision is well-informed and timely.
  5. Aligning Stakeholders Online community managers must align diverse stakeholders, including members, moderators, and external partners. This involves clear communication, building trust, and engaging in collaborative problem-solving.
  6. Learning from Experience Learning from both successes and failures, like the pharmaceutical company that shifted its culture towards innovation, is essential. Community managers should analyze what works and what doesn't, adapting strategies accordingly. Embracing a culture of continuous learning can lead to more effective community management.

Applying Strategic Leadership in Online Communities

  • Stay Informed and Proactive: Regularly engage with industry news and trends. Use tools like Google Alerts or social media listening platforms to stay ahead of changes that could impact your community.
  • Foster Open Communication: Encourage members to share their thoughts and feedback. Regularly host Q&A sessions or discussions to gather diverse viewpoints.
  • Analyze and Adapt: Use analytics to understand member behavior and preferences. Be open to adjusting strategies based on what the data tells you.
  • Be Decisive yet Flexible: When faced with critical decisions, weigh your options carefully but don’t shy away from making tough calls. Be ready to pivot if circumstances change.
  • Build a Supportive Network: Develop relationships with other community managers, industry experts, and members. This network can provide support, advice, and fresh perspectives.
  • Learn and Evolve: Regularly review your community's performance. Learn from both the wins and the losses, and use these insights to refine your approach.

Conclusion: Elevating Your Community with Strategic Leadership

By mastering these six skills, online community managers and forum administrators can navigate the complexities of digital spaces more effectively. Whether it's anticipating changes, challenging norms, making informed decisions, aligning stakeholders, or learning from experiences, each skill plays a crucial role in shaping successful and vibrant online communities. Remember, the path to exceptional leadership in the digital age is paved with strategic thinking and adaptability.

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