Community Leadership Summit Wiki

Grow your community by turning followers into leaders[]

This talk began by the moderator, Dan Allen, sharing the story of how he used a strategy of turning followers into leaders to rebuild the Seam project team and community.

The gist of the story is that about a year earlier, the project was mostly abandoned by the core team and the mailinglist had gone idle. To reignite the project, he went out on a limb and decided to distribute ownership of the project by appointing the title "module lead" to community members that expressed interest. They lived up to their title and brought unique ideas and perspective to the project. In under a year, the project grew from 3 to 30 developers, and the community growth ensued. He discovered that the most rewarding part was not witnessing the community grow, but rather watching the inviduals grow into leaders, and then continue to lead in other areas.

The group then discussed some of the reasons behind why this strategy worked, and why it's worth the perceived risk of sharing ownership.

  • attracting people to a project is firstly about making them feel empowered to participate
  • once they step forward, your job is mostly just to get out of their way, or remove barriers
    • they are probably already motivated, so your job is just to make it possible
    • guard them from being discouraged by people with sharp tones or bad attitudes (in fact, purge those people from the community, because they are likely killing it)
  • a team of leads encourage each other to continue participating and to deliver on what they promise
    • Someone suggested over time leads may have to fulfill a minimum set of responsbilities
  • a leader is motivated to see what they own succeed (for example, they will ensure their build is stable)
  • leaders build on each other's work for mutual benefit (two modules will integrate so that they have additional features and more interest in their piece)
  • having leads from the community ensures that corporate interest never dominates a project or that one person doesn't have veto power on ideas

We discussed why it's important to turn followers into leaders:

  • simply put, "it scales"
  • a single leader will eventually run out of resources to manage the growing community
  • a single leader is too easily tempted to get too big an ego and destroy or discourage the community
    • a distributed leadership team has checks and balances built in


The blog entry "How Github Saved OpenSource " explains well why it's in the best interest of the community to encourage members (followers) to become leaders.