Welcome to the ongoing series on how we are building Cabin! In this deep-dive we talk about changing leadership styles and how a shift from direction to advocacy can support DAO and other digital-first organizations at scale.
Charlie joined the town hall first. ‘Gotta make sure CraigBot is recording for folks who can’t attend’ Charlie thought. This was the community’s first meeting and the anticipation was palpable. “gm gm gm gm gm”, Discord pinged. Simultaneously, Charlie thought back to how hierarchy and leadership could make or break online communities.
How could Charlie best support long-term community sustainability and harmony? How could Charlie do that without being the “strong directooooor”? Without being “CEO”? How would Charlie be able to best guide the decentralized group of contributors?
DAOs continue to change, and within them new contributors are becoming trusted leaders and caretakers. These members are usually easy to pinpoint: everybody trusts them, they somehow always know how to stay level-headed, and they always seem to do the right thing at the right time.
In this article, we will talk about DAO Leadership Magic, and how we can create organizations where:
We could argue that these are the same outcomes of leaders in traditional organizations, but how we get there feels different.
I’m not sure about you, but as a community member it’s apparent that these leaders don’t behave as traditional directors. If we look through the twitter timeline, other labels emerge: stewards, gardeners, shapers, advocates.
The extended internet universe is a weird place. Sometimes it’s safer, like your cozy group chat. And other times it’s more dangerous, like spam on Discord. We’re in the digital wilderness, having left the walled gardens and terrible design of the corporate intranet suburbia.
Operational model requirements change in this weird wilderness. A SaaS CEO wouldn’t fare well leading a troupe down Oregon Trail. DAO leaders have to rethink every piece of organizational management from onboarding to career progression.
In more ordered environments we would look around, categorize the situation, and respond with best practices. But in complex and chaotic environments, we need to take action before most of our analysis is complete.
A successful web3 leader:
Instead of direction, our leaders have to support community members to probe and then navigate the new terrain. We need leaders who give each of us courage, and be trusted to sound the alarm of opportunity and risk.
Sensemaking calls for courage, because while there is a deep human need to understand and know what is going on in a changing world, illuminating the change is often a lonely and unpopular task.”
- Deborah Ancona, SENSEMAKING Framing and Acting in the Unknown, MIT Sloan School of Management
Thinking back at my recent experience in DAOs, I can easily pinpoint folks that demonstrated strong leadership in this complex environment: Carlos, Caroline, Jay, Chase, Jon, Zak, Dame, Dom.
And each time, a consistent theme emerged. They didn’t give me instructions. Instead, they gave me courage to craft my own journey. Listening and watching them was like fetching a compass, getting better oriented, and then being offered support to accomplish my personal objectives.
How? Well, the Twitter DAO community was very helpful in highlighting a few activities, which happened to coalesce into three leadership activity pillars:
Note: Adding a comment from my friend David Erlichman “Facilitation is a key skill for DAO/network leaders: guiding groups to find common ground and collaborate with one another by holding space for different points of view and helping conversations flow.”
None of these activities and skills are related to control, work delegation or performance management. Instead, the activities focus on helping other individuals become leaders of their own journeys.
Not all leaders deliver across all skills and activities - in some cases the leaders may be stronger at one aspect than another. But a distribution of leaders across all three pillars seems to be needed to create a long-term sustainable community.
By communicating the vision, supporting individuals, and being an example, leaders help contributors believe in themselves, advocate for their work, and carve out their own path.
As leaders craft courage in individuals, they also have to create a network effect of trust and inspiration. The best example of this network power may have been when Sirsu mobilized the purchase of Black Punks. DAO leaders aren’t just inspirational influencers, they are network shapers and catalysts.
A leader’s personal network could seem small, but their mobilization power could be gargantuan. A call-to-action from them is not only heard, but executed by the swarm.
These leaders have network perfect pitch, always know how to attune and resonate with the right empathy.
If you are from a traditional organization, you might see how this relates to managerial leverage. One friend described managerial leverage as, “The ability of a person to move resources (capital and talent) to a specific business priority, with the least amount of effort possible”. For example, CEOs are often granted this power to move entire organizations. Challenges are common and no amount of leverage can guarantee a transformation program’s success. Bad habits, approval systems, bureaucracy, and individual apathy impact potential momentum.
Let’s call this concept Community Mobilization Strength. It helps to think about shaping and catalyzing networks by combining two variables: Community Reach, and Community Influence. The combination of both which then leads to Community Mobilization:
In other words, as reach and influence increases, a DAO leader’s momentum compounds. How do leaders achieve this network development? It’s grittier and more tactical than most people realize:
The last piece is crucial. The benefit of developing others compounds over time and outweighs the initial investment required. As a result, those with most influence in web3 are often those that have helped others become leaders.
This might be the killer feature of DAO leadership: there’s an incentive for mutual growth. This self-reinforcing loop becomes a recursive process.
Navigating the unknown digital world is a hard task. We can no longer rely on explicit direction, when none of us fully understands the breadth of the impact of this new technology and cooperation models.
And yet, we can give each other courage and strengthen our networks. We can move away from traditional frameworks of directive leadership and increase our focus on helping each other craft new paths.
Next Generation Organization Characteristics, via Simon Wardley
Status as a Service, via @eugenewei
Impact Networks (Book), via David Ehrlichman
Index Coop Operating Model Evolution via @indexcoop