Leadership Lessons of Web 2.0 – Secret #4: Permission To Fail

This is the fourth in a series of posts looking as how aspiring leaders can learn from Web 2.0 practices and theory.

On The Web: On the web, users are accountable for their own behaviours in a community and in most cases, the community will create its own champions and police those who don’t meet community standards. The community will learn from its mistakes and get stronger, faster, better over time.

Take Wikipedia as an example – as most people know, not every entry is 100% factually correct, but the community’s passionate, engaged users they have learned how to correct most of the mistakes themselves.  If Jimmy Wales hadn’t given them this trust, Wikipedia would have faltered early and often and would’ve ended up no better than the Encyclopedia Brittanica or World Book.

Another example of how communities deal with ‘failure’… If Ralph writes a horribly inappropriate comment on Jane’s blog,  Jane’s community (the audience) has several methods of policing itself.  It can chastise the behaviour within the community (in the comments) or it can flag inappropriate behaviour directly to Jane.  The key is that Jane doesn’t necessarily have to be the first one to act every time someone is offensive – in fact, it’s more valuable for Jane to let the community sort out its own problems, because THAT’s what strengthens and defines the community.

As A Leader: In order to build trust and full engagement with your team, you need to be okay with failure, too.  If a team tries something that’s different than the way YOU would have done it and it doesn’t work, you can’t panic and madly reach for the reins again so you can re-assert control.  Just as you trusted the team with the initial idea and execution, you need to trust that the team will learn from its mistakes and get stronger and better from each failure.

And you need to build in mechanisms for the team to deal with problems on its own.  Yes, you still need someone that let’s people ‘flag as inappropriate’ situations that you must solve yourself.  However, as a leader, you can’t solve everyone’s problems all the time.  The team needs to learn to solve its own problems – just like on the web, that’s how the team gets stronger, faster, and better.

It’s not about you.  It’s about your team.

Have you ever succeeded because you’ve been given ‘permission to fail’?

Related Posts:

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #1: Give Up Control

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #2: Engagement

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #3: Be A Valuable Community Member

Leadership Lessons of Web 2.0 – Secret #3: Be A Valuable Community Member

This is the third in a series of posts looking as how aspiring leaders can learn from Web 2.0 practices and theory.

On The Web: Take the example of two different types of bloggers.

Jim has a great looking blog with very compelling content.

Sandra has a basic template blog with relatively average content.

BUT, Sandra has a healthy stream of visitors to her blog every day, while Jim is quickly fading into obscurity.

Why does the mediocre blog win the race?  Because Sandra participates in online communities that are related to the subject matter of her blog.  She comments on other blogs, participates in forum discussions, and generously helps other bloggers where she can.  As a result, Sandra is seen as a valuable community member.  Other community members have gotten to know her and, as such, visit her site regularly.

On the flip side, Jim knows he’s got a great blog, but can’t be bothered with stooping to comment on other, inferior blogs.  He knows everything about his subject matter and adamantly believes that once people ‘find’ his blog, the crowds will come pouring in.

Unfortunately for Jim, they won’t.

As A Leader: You can’t just hire people and let them loose.  And you can’t force people to listen to you just because you’re the boss.  If Jim the blogger was a manager, his confidence and talent would lead him to automatically assume status as the ‘hub’ of the community.  While he may think he’s the hub, though, his team won’t.  That’s because, just like on the web, you have to earn loyalty.

And the way to earn it is to first become a valued and valuable member of your community.

  • So be generous.
  • Help out your team members when they need it.
  • Get to know them.
  • Support them when they’re having troubles and champion them when they succeed.
  • Teach them.
  • Coach them.
  • Support them.
  • Take an interest in their interests.

Once you become valued and relevant for your team, they will give you something far more valuable than the position of leader – they will give you the status and respect of a leader.

It’s not about you.  It’s about your team.

Related Posts:

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #1: Give Up Control

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #2: Engagement

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #4: Permission To Fail

Leadership Lessons Of Web 2.0 – Secret #1: Give Up Control

I was recently in a seminar about leadership and in the middle of the day, I had a revelation. The theory behind being an effective leader and leading a high-performance team is based on almost the exact same theory as Web 2.0.  I’ve created a series of posts revealing ‘The Leadership Secrets of Web 2.0’, which details some of the core tenets behind Web 2.0 theory and how they apply in real life situations as the leader of a team.
Secret #1: Give Up Control – The Power of One Vs. Many.

On The Web: Wisdom of the crowd (crowdsourcing) CAME from the web.  The web discovered the massive power, knowledge, and efficiency that results from letting go of control and trusting the community to help solve problems and come up with better ideas.  This is core concept of the Open Source movement and projects like Wikipedia – turn over the keys to the community and let them drive. After all, a few million brains are almost certainly more powerful than just yours.

As A Leader: The wisdom of the crowd is almost always greater than the wisdom of the leader, too.  Many leaders’ natural instincts tend towards control – they’ve likely reached ‘leader’ status because they have experience, they’re smart, and they’re good at solving problems and producing results.  So it’s often very tough for a leader to actively give up control over an idea, a project, or a problem and place that responsibility entirely with his or her team.

The reason why you have to give up control is this:

If you are the person solving your team’s problems and simply forcing them to execute your solutions, then you are a Manager.

If you are a person who sees your job as making your team work more effectively, growing their strength, earning their trust, and engaging their passion, you are a Leader.

It’s not about you.  It’s about your team.

So learn from the web.  Tell your team the desired outcome and then… give up control.  Hand over the keys. Take a leap of faith.  Put that faith in your team.  Prepare to be blown away.

In what other ways can Web 2.0 provide leadership models?  Let me know in the comments!

(This is the first in a series of posts about Web 2.0 Leadership Lessons.)

Related Posts:

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #2: Engagement

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #3: Be A Valuable Community Member

Web 2.0 Leadership Secret #4: Permission To Fail


Others Writing About These Ideas:

Networks & Leadership

The Curse Of Web Success – Matt Good’s Dilemma

Taking advantage of social web tools has MAJOR benefits for just about any creative type with something to say.  But it can also create MAJOR problems.

Take the excellent example of Matt Good. He’s signed to a major label and has what most would consider  a very successful career.  Unlike the majority of music artists, though, he’s also a VERY passionate user of new media. His website, matthewgood.org, is not just a home base for fans of his music, but fans of his writing – whether it’s about politics, human rights, or a variety of other topics NOT related to music.  And his consistency in regularly posting smart, relevant, valuable content has developed a large audience.  I’m betting most of them come to read what he’s written and not just to listen to his music. He’s also on Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, and most interestingly, Twitter, posting everything from updates on Montreal Canadiens sports scores, to interesting web links, to alerts about new posts on his blog.

Why is this important?  Because a couple weeks ago, his new album, “Live At Massey Hall,” was released and it quickly rose to #2 in the Canadian iTunes store and hit the top 40 in the U.S. iTunes store.  And apparently, there wasn’t a single scrap of promotion from his record label.  According to Good, the only place the album was significantly promoted was on his own website.

Think about that.  A passionate and engaged community that visits Good’s site regularly because he has a lot of interesting, controversial, and strongly opinionated things to say about things that AREN’T necessarily about music helped to deliver a huge first week of sales of a music album.  How much influence can his site have on touring?  Merchandise sales?  ANYTHING else related to Matt Good?

He’s got his “1,000 true fans” and then some, but this tribe wasn’t created solely through exposure to his music.  Matt is an extremely compelling example, perhaps the poster child even, of why musicians need to do more than just make music. (Even though something tells me that Matt would have this site whether he made music or not…)

Without actually asking his community directly, I can offer a few pretty good guesses as to why he’s had so much success:

  • Matt’s audience feels like they ‘know’ him because of his web presence, in a very different way than they know him from buying or listening to his music.  There’s an intimacy created that’s unique and separate from recorded music.
  • Matt and his web presence have become part of their digital ‘routine’ – it has become valuable enough that Matt has earned credibility as a source of quality, trust, and relevance.  If his blog is this entertaining, why wouldn’t his music be equally so?
  • Matt’s community can talk to and with each other on his blog through commenting.  Many of them know each other, too, and feel like a member in the ‘Matt Good appreciation club’
  • Matt actively engages his community.  He’s currently posting new site designs previews on his Flickr site, presumably for feedback.

Here’s the big problem…  Matt has become a victim of his own success.

He’s currently redesigning his entire site because he can’t afford to hire people to maintain it and deal with the level of traffic he gets.  He gets zero funding for the site from his label (which is ironic, since the site is probably making them a lot of money this month…).  He’s considered scaling back considerably and eliminating commenting, although the protests of his community appear to have changed his mind on this.

I believe that if Matt’s site loses commenting, his impact will shrink considerably.  The ability for fans to actively participate – to be heard by Matt and to share ideas and thoughts with each other – is what nourishes and grows a community.  Participation breeds loyalty and without it, the reasons to come to a site regularly diminish.

So what should Matt do?

I don’t how his site works, how much work goes into it, and how much editorial judgment is needed on a day-to-day basis, but my gut is that Matt should turn to his community for help.  I know of a great many sites that use their community to help moderate comments, edit content, provide design help, etc.  There’s always a great deal of discomfort in giving up control over things like this (particularly if you’re an artist!).  It’s a GIANT leap of faith.  However, faced with the option of a limited community versus a passionately run community facilitated by the community themselves, I’d choose the latter every time.

Frankly, Matt’s in the rare and unique position of having a problem that most artists would kill to have – too much traffic to manage.

And that’s the point.  If Matt, without any external support or funding (despite being a successful major label artist), can take the time and effort to build a community like this, why aren’t more artists (who need a passionate, engaged community even more than Matt) following his example?

Take a risk.  Put yourself out there.  Let your fans get to know you.  Let them talk to you. Ask for their opinions. Talk back to them.  Share your opinions on THEIR blogs.  Give them a reason to come and visit your website every day or every week whether you’ve got a new album or a tour or not.

And if you provide regular value, relevance, and connection to them, they will return it to you when you need it most.

Just ask Matt.

***P.S. Don’t judge Matt’s site by its current design – he’s reverted to a very basic WordPress template while he works on the new version.