Growing local community
Almost four years ago, in June 2012, I asked two of my friends to help me set up a local Agile group in Krakow. A few months later we held the first ALE Krakow meeting. Since then we’ve grown tremendously: from two dozen people at early meetings to more than a hundred on every event; from no social media to Facebook and Twitter accounts and more than a thousand members at a meet-up; from presentations done by local speakers to hosting international experts from all over the Europe and the USA. Our challenges have changed as well: from how to find participants to how to find rooms large enough to accommodate a hundred people, and from where to find speakers to when to find time to coordinate so many initiatives.
A few days ago I participated in an ALE Krakow retrospective. Friends and other group leaders who’d joined our community in recent years discussed how we can make this group even better. The conversation about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go helped me clarify the thoughts I’d had on growing leaders and my own path toward leadership. I’ve realized that over the years I went through four important steps that helped me grow, but they also helped me develop other leaders. I’d like to share these steps with you, hoping they’ll be useful in identifying where you stand and where you want to go.
Before we take the first step, however, I’d like to highlight that these are my steps, on my path. You don’t need to follow the same steps or the same path. Each of us has our own starting point, direction, and goals. Nor is this a ladder. Being where you are is completely fine, as taking steps requires time and effort. The second point is that although I’ll be focusing on local Agile groups as an example, I found this mental model applicable to any activity we’re involved in. It should be fairly easy to relate it to, for example, your work for your neighborhood, your kid’s school, or an environmental protection group.
Step one: Passive leadership
The very first step is to join a community. That can mean becoming a member of a local Agile group, attending Agile events such as conferences, or even subscribing to an online discussion group. “Hey, that’s not a leadership,” you might say. Yes. Well, mostly yes. It seems that you’re just observing what’s happening in your group. However, there are two signs of leadership in this step, and that’s why I call it passive leadership. First, you’re investing your own time, which you could spend watching football or playing games. Second, most likely you will share new knowledge with others. Maybe you’ll try a new technique you’ve seen at a conference during an upcoming retrospective. Next time you’ll send your colleagues a link to an interesting article. Then you’ll ask friends to join you during the next group meeting. That might not seem like much, but it’s an important part of building every community, and every groups needs this kind of leadership. This way you support other members of your community, show that there are people with the same challenges, give others courage to act, and provide them with feedback that helps them grow.
Step two: Active leadership
This is the moment when you decide to show more active involvement. You help organize local events, look for speakers, make sure the room is booked or announce events on social media (believe me, that takes time). You try to support other people in your group, but you also come up with your own ideas. This is the moment when you switch from learning new things about Agile to learning new things about leadership. You experience how challenging it can be to coordinate a group of volunteers, who have regular jobs, families, and community work they do for free. You learn how difficult is to keep commitments when it’s raining outside and you need to leave home to get to the other side of the city just because you’re “the organizer.” But you also learn that you can depend on others. You learn how it is to work with the most enthusiastic and committed people on earth. You give much more than as passive member, but you also take much more from your community, speakers, and co-organizers. And, most likely, you have way more fun with it as well.
Step three: Stage leadership
The second step gives you the comfort of stepping back when you’re too busy with some other activities, or just want to have few weeks off. However, at some point you might decide to create your own initiative. There can be different reasons for that – perhaps there’s no local group in your city. Or an existing group only focuses on a particular niche and you want to target a broader group; or it’s the other way around and you want to focus on some specific subset. What I’ve also noticed is that after supporting the initiatives of others, people decide that they can do them better. They start their own group to do the same just a bit differently and to promote their own brand.
Definitely, that’s another step in leadership. Now you’re on stage. You have the biggest responsibility, as every failure will be your failure. People don’t show up? Sorry, you should have done more marketing. Room’s not ready? Sorry, you should have arrived 30 minutes earlier. This is also the moment when you learn a lot about running a nonprofit organization. You learn everything from how to find a new room through how to get sponsors, how to promote an event to how to reach out to a conference speaker who’s coming your city. You also learn how to look for and get help from other people.
Step four: Prompter leadership
“If I’m already on the stage, how can I possibly move any further?” Well, now things get a bit complicated. The next step is when you realize that the community is not about you but about other people. Then you can step off the stage and help other leaders grow in your community. At first that can be difficult for your ego, but when you see these people becoming new leaders, you know you’ve succeeded. This is the moment when you accept that others might not look as awesome as you do on the stage (who does?), but it’s better for the community when you’re backing them up from the prompter’s booth. So you start focusing on these people, rather than on yourself. You learn to build trust in other people. This is also a moment when you look at other communities and try to build bridges rather than differentiate. Instead of running yet another Agile conference in your city, you join forces to build the most awesome event on the continent.
Step five: Servant leadership
“Wait a second, you said four steps!” Yes, I did. However, the fact that I myself have seen four of them doesn’t mean that the fifth doesn’t exist. I’ve just got a gut feeling about how this one should look and what it could include. It’s not about what we’re doing right now but rather about what we’re missing. ALE Krakow has grown so fast that we might have lost some of our followers. Our international speakers might have closed the door on less experienced local speakers. Our leadership teams, which we perceive as open to anyone, can be seen as an ivory tower, inviting only the elite. Two new Agile groups have been formed in Krakow in just the past year. So the question remains, how to reach out to every single ScrumMaster in our area? How to connect and find similarities with other groups? How to help grow other leaders?
I don’t have answers for these questions. And most likely I won’t be able to find them on my own. Luckily, I know that there are awesome people in ALE Krakow who will help me find out what to do and make it happen. Together, we can serve other leaders in our community. And, by the way, our leadership team’s mailing list is named “ALE Krakow Servant Group,” to remind us why we’re doing all of this.
Once again, I want to highlight that this are steps I’ve seen myself and others take toward leadership. That doesn’t mean you need to follow them. You might decide to stay on any step, as every one of them requires time and effort. You can also decide to move from any of them to any other. So don’t treat these steps as levels, with the goal being to achieve the highest one. It’s OK to be at the point where you feel comfortable with your level of engagement. And your involvement in different initiatives will vary as well. On one you will be a passive leader; another will require you to take more responsibility and go onto the stage.
Meanwhile, if you visit Krakow in Poland in the future, please join us at ALE Krakow! You can also read more about us at http://www.alekrakow.com/p/about-us.html