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The role communities play in leadership

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The role communities play in leadership

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The rich diversity of the web is often seen as much of a weakness as a benefit.  The ability to locate content and communities of all shapes and sizes, covering pretty much any topic you can care to mention has given rise to accusations that the web is nothing but an echo chamber.  It’s said that because there are communities for all beliefs that we increasingly seek out those just like us, therefore only ever consuming content that already confirms what we believe.

Of course, the flip side of this is that each of us, regardless of our peculiar peccadiloes, can often find a group of people that are just like us, thus reinforcing that we’re perhaps not so peculiar after all.  A study published recently by the University of Missouri emphasises this fact.  They explored the lady whom many would no doubt regard as the lighthouse for peccadiloes – Lady Gaga.

“Our work tends to focus on studying audiences who are maligned or consider themselves awkward,” said Melissa Click, assistant professor of communication in the MU College of Arts & Science. “In our study of Lady Gaga followers, we found that she uses social media not for promotion but rather as a communication tool with her fans. She shares personal and ‘insider’ information through social media and develops feelings of intimacy with her followers. By revealing her embrace of her own differences and unusual behaviors she allows her followers to embrace their own differences.”

The researchers found that a significant number of fans found emotional support from their engagements with Gaga’s Twitter feed.  Whether they were struggling with homosexuality, eating disorders, or simply thought of themselves as different, they found strength from Gaga.

In addition, the social support network Lady Gaga fosters encourages her followers to be more charitable to each other, Click said. Often fans create support communities that allow her followers to encourage and inspire others in times of difficulty.

“We found that among the more salient themes that emerged from our research was that participants’ perceived relationships with Gaga affected how close they felt to her,” Click said. “They felt that she is the voice who celebrates their differences instead of mocking them, and this was a very positive thing.”

Now you may think this is rather trite, but it also has some nice lessons for leaders, for Gaga is nothing if not a leader of her community of fans.  Various psychological studies suggest leadership boils down to four distinct rules:

Rule 1 – Do you reflect your team?  Psychological research has shown that leaders succeed when they reflect the characteristics of their team.  The more you are seen as ‘one of us’ by your team, the more likely you are to be able to lead them successfully.

Rule 2 - Do you champion your team?  As well as being seen to reflect your followers, you also need to be championing them.  Too often leaders are seen to be in it just for themselves, and it’s therefore not surprising that their leadership capabilities are weak.  Leaders need to advance the collective interests of their followers in order to lead them well.

Rule 3 – Do you create this identity?  Leaders don’t tend to wait for leadership to be bestowed upon them.  Instead they create the opportunity by forging the shared identities and policies of their group.

Rule 4 – Do you turn vision into reality?  Leaders should be able to show results in order to achieve a devoted following.  Shallow rhetoric might work for a short while, but followers want to see you can translate your words into reality.

Lady Gaga does each of these things rather well.  Maybe therefore there are some lessons there for us all.

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