As a community pro, you know all about working with people — so leading your Community team should be a walk in the park, right? Well, not exactly.
Team leadership is more than just guiding a group of individuals towards a common goal or managing tasks. It involves influencing others, motivating them, and enabling them to want to contribute to the success of the organization. With all that in mind, here are six skills you can develop to effectively lead the people on your team.
Community Managers are notorious for wearing many hats, juggling a plethora of tasks, and not having time for much else. Between managing the community, stakeholder relationships, and a team of other CMs, taking care of yourself might come dead last, and it definitely shouldn't be that way. When it comes to leading a team — and protecting your mental health — prioritization is key.
Sofía Rodríguez Mata, Head of Community at Venafi, says her number one self-care practice is setting boundaries. "It really boils down to prioritization and setting strong boundaries. I know you might be thinking, 'Sofía, all the tasks on my long list are important, and they're never ending,' but you need to understand that you have a finite amount of time and bandwidth."
Understanding which of your tasks is the most urgent, relevant, and impactful is the key, says Sofía. "Pushing back and setting boundaries is not only important for your mental health but the psychological safety of other people in your organization — especially the ones on your team.”
Head of Community Engagement at Gatheround Marcie Walker is fiercely protective of her time — and "guards her calendar like a mama bear."
"I live by my calendar, and my whole team knows that," she says. "I'm pretty shameless about putting everything on my calendar, not just work stuff. I'll put in my gym time, lunch time, snack times, and dinner with friends, and I'll not be booked for meetings during that time.”
Sofía adds that it's OK to have a personal life in conjunction with your work life. "That's healthy, and because I want my team to do that, I'll practice it publicly first.
Another important time management skill: avoiding unnecessary meetings. If communication could be a message or email, it should be, says Marcie.
"One of the things that I've had to be intentional about is not allowing myself to be pulled into too many meetings, whether internal or external," she says. "It can be easy to hop from one meeting to the other without debriefing, and your whole day becomes a blur."
Time management for leaders also extends to managing your team members' time. This will look something like:
Danielle Farage, community builder, work futurist and founder at Danielle Farage LLC, says actively listening to your team can foster open communication, honesty, and ultimately team success.
"Active listening is not just telling your team, 'Hey, I think this is what's best for us, what do you think?' It's really hearing them and engaging with what they have to say," she says.
You can actively listen by avoiding distractions and evaluating what the speaker is saying nonverbally, reflecting on what has been said, and responding thoughtfully. In this way, you will be able to understand their message better and make them feel heard.
Building rapport with your team members is crucial, and a great way to do this is through weekly one-on-ones, says Sofía.
"I think it's really easy to get into the habit of just getting through tasks and talking about work all the time, but what really sets you apart as a leader is making sure that your team member feels seen and that you're actually advocating for them and supporting them in their growth.
This is especially important when leading teams remotely, says Sofia.
For Marcie, relationship building also involves meeting up as a team.
"In my first role as a CM at Meetup, one thing I absolutely loved was that my leader made time for a monthly retro," says Marcie. "This was a time for the team to debrief and reflect on their learnings, what's going super well and what's not serving us as a team anymore, and what we'd like to change moving forward."
These monthly sessions not only brought the team together but also anchored them into a similar vocabulary about their work.
What's going right, and what needs improvement? Communicating this to your team is essential for your leadership success.
You can communicate this feedback during your one-on-ones, in broader team meetings, or in a document if you want to keep track.
For Marcie, an essential part of giving feedback is celebrating successes along the way.
"Something I've learned when it comes to feedback, especially for Community teams, is celebrating our wins," she says. "I think one thing that is like a misconception about the community industry is that it is an easy job. People see us creating relationships, hosting events, and having fun, but this is a hard job — and your team knows this all too well."
"So taking 30 minutes with your team and celebrating your wins for that month or quarter and giving each other kudos is so important," she says.
Team management can extend to other teams you work with within your organization, particularly in community roles. For Community teams, cross-functional work can prove the value of your community and impact business in significant ways.
Sofía's work as Head of Community involves getting buy-in for community from various stakeholders. She created the framework R.E.G.A.L — an acronym for Research, Educate, Guide, Animate, and Link — to do this effectively. She breaks down what this means:
"When you're going into these meetings, to educate stakeholders, or partners or team members, you're going first to research your audience," she says. "You want to understand their goals, frustrations, and limits, and it's really likely that in their limits, you're going to realize that they don't know what the Community team actually does."
Here, you'll know what approach to take with the relevant stakeholder. That brings you to your next step…
"Depending on how much your audience knows about the Community department, you're going to want to communicate how community impacts the business," explains Sofía.
"They need to understand why someone would join your company's community and its benefits. This way, they can see how they as cross-functional team members can participate to benefit their department and align on business goals."
Take all that knowledge you've just shared and show the stakeholder the connection between their department and the community.
"You already gave them the context. So now you need to take what you learned about their frustrations and limits and guide them into realizing that they can find a solution for those through the community," she says.
Paint a picture for your stakeholder.
"This is where you bring in case studies and success stories and have them speak to other people from within your team," says Sofía. "Here, you want to help them see what the potential of your partnership will look like and how they can continue to work with the community, and then you wrap it all up by…
It's time to link up with your stakeholder.
"So it's not just about the kickoff. It's not just about the initial presentation. It's about really looking into forming a partnership with that stakeholder. So meet up often. You already planted that seed, and setting up a time to meet with them is nurturing the seed, so it grows into a valuable partnership," says Sofía.