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August 4, 2021

CM to CCO: Mindset Shifts to Help You Start Thinking Like a Community Leader

Updated on July 13, 2022

Multitasking is your middle name, Community Manager.

In between all the (deep breath) moderating, prompting engagement, dealing with platform bugs, creating content, hosting events, resolving conflicts, etc., a Community Manager's job can dissolve into one big game of whack-a-mole (as Director of Community Education at Commsor Noele Flowers lovingly calls it).

And with so much going on, it's easy to get stuck in the daily grind — which is why taking the leap from Community Manager (CM) to community leader can be so darn hard. "The transition is particularly jarring for community folks because we're so used to being deep in the weeds — I hear from a lot of CMs who step into leadership roles that what they struggle with the most is zooming out to the big picture," Noele says.

However, keeping the big picture in focus is probably one of the most important mindset shifts you can make when transitioning into a senior position.

"As a strategist, your role is to craft a vision and direct resources to bring it to life," says Brian Oblinger, SVP of New Products at Commsor, who has held VP Community roles at enterprise-scale organizations. "As a manager, your role is to enable and empower your team to perform well and reach the goals you’ve set for them.

"Neither of those things can happen without setting aside the tactical details and mastering strategic execution at a high level. This requires significant mindset changes from the day-to-day view of community management.”

Of course, that's easier said than done. We suggest breaking it down into the actionable points below.

Think strategically

Stepping into leadership means you have to leave some of the day-to-day behind to focus on big-picture strategy. If you’re used to being an Individual Contributor, it can be easy to confuse strategy with tactics — but they are different.

“I try to think of the two as follows: strategy is ‘what is our vision and our mission and, from a high level, how do we get there?’ and tactics are ‘here are the specific things we’re going to do to get closer to achieving our vision and mission’,” says Alex Angel, Chief Community Officer at Commsor and The Community Club.

“As a CCO, you don’t necessarily need to craft each and every program or event that’s happening in your community. It’s your responsibility to say ‘we exist for [this purpose] and the business is trying to achieve [these objectives] this quarter/year. Team, what do you think we can do over [period of time] to get us there?’

“You’ll be spending your time working with other execs at the organization figuring out the purpose and objectives (i.e. the strategy), and your team will spend their time thinking about what they can do to meet those objectives (i.e. the tactical approach).”

Brian shares some examples of IRL situations to shift your thinking from tactical to strategic.

Tactical: We need to buy a platform to host our community.

Strategic: We need to build a multi-year roadmap that includes technology requirements to reach our goals and deliver value to the business

Tactical: We need to drive more engagement.

Strategic: We need to deeply understand our member personas and their motivations for visiting/participating in the community so that we can build experiences that exceed their expectations

Tactical: We ask the social media team to post content about the community every few weeks to help drive traffic.

→  Strategic: We collaborate closely with the marketing team to ensure alignment on content, promotional, and events calendars for maximum efficiency across our teams

Make a few high-quality decisions

As we’ve already touched on (and you likely know all too well), community folks are used to wearing many hats, and juggling a plethora of responsibilities. But at a higher level, the opposite approach is needed.

"If 100 items that need decisions come across your desk every week, it’s critical to know which to delegate, which to delay, which to ignore completely, and which to spend significant effort and resources to tackle," says Brian. "Your success as a leader will be measured in strategic outcomes, not volume of minor decisions, documents generated, or meetings attended."

When deciding what to delegate to your team, context is everything, says Alex. “The tasks should be relevant to both the growth of your team member as well as your own, and ideally, tie back to key strengths you identified in the hiring process.

“By freeing up your time from some of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing your community, what new responsibilities can you focus on that will take your community and your Community team to the next level?”

Live in the future

As an individual contributor or middle manager on a community team, you're likely reacting to new requirements and events as they happen. But strategic community leaders need to constantly look ahead, make assessments about the future, and proactively direct resources to ensure alignment with the long-term roadmap.

"Effectively balancing the now with the future is a difficult task that takes some practice," Brian says. "You also have to commit to actions, numbers, and outcomes that are uncertain, which can be unsettling. Focus on long-term goal setting and driving toward them — that’s what leaders are expected to do."

Focus on what matters

This one is particularly true for community folks looking to position themselves as potential leaders.

"Recognize that when you begin to focus on a small amount of high-impact work (vs. being the ‘go-to’ person to ‘get it done' with any number of tasks), you will be seen more as a leader who is able to think strategically and will be better equipped to stepping into roles where you coach others on the day-to-day," Noele says.

Community leaders need to consider aspects beyond the team and the community to the business’s goals. “You need to be business-oriented first and foremost, as much of your focus will be on company-level strategy and how the Community team's efforts tie back to the organization as a whole,” says Alex. “This will likely be a big shift from team lead roles where your primary focus is typically on strategy for the community itself.”

Champion community internally

One of a CCO’s most crucial responsibilities is to advocate for their team and the community with key stakeholders in the company. Focus on how the community touches aspects of the business outside of your team, such as Product, Marketing, Support, and Sales.

“It’s all about painting a picture and having some concrete examples with real people as the focal point. When you can show real people having real impact on the business, it makes your work feel more tangible and relatable,” says Alex.

“A great way to show the value your community is bringing to your organization is to align with other teams on their objectives and craft yours to support theirs. If other teams have revenue targets, SLAs to uphold, product interviews, or retention goals, show them how community impacts those and work together to create processes and reporting that doesn’t require you to assemble them ad hoc.”

Ready for the next step?

While this mindset shift is a great start, transitioning from Community Manager to a more senior role (oh hey, Chief Community Officer) is a whole lot more complicated than that.

Enter: C School's Leadership Track.

From the team that brought you the first-ever career-change course for Community Managers comes a program for experienced CMs looking to develop their careers and build readiness for leadership positions.

Taught by Brian Oblinger (and guest lectures by other community veterans), this 12-week, small cohort-based course was built for community professionals with 3-8 years of experience in community management who are looking to level up their skills into leadership positions (like Senior CM roles, Director, VP, and even CCO roles).

This remote course will teach you how to:

  • develop community programs with concrete business objectives in mind
  • establish best-in-class operational excellence
  • hire and manage people in a community environment
  • communicate with company executives and leaders

We're incredibly proud to present a cohort-based educational experience that will elevate you as a professional as well as the community industry as a whole.

If you're a CM looking to take the next step, we'd love to have you on board. You can learn more about the program, view the full curriculum, and start your application here.

Kirsti Lang
August 4, 2021

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