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

Kirsti Buick
Content Creator and Copywriter at Commsor

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 Community Education Manager 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, a Strategic Community Consultant, who has 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," he adds. "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.

What does this look like IRL? Brian has some examples of how 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," Brian says."Your success as a leader will be measured in strategic outcomes, not volume of minor decisions, documents generated, or meetings attended."

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.

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 brand-new 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.

We're also hosting an info session to talk you through it. Sign up here to join us on August 17th at 11 a.m. ET.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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