I just read Sarah Robinson’s Bewildered and wanted to pick up the conversation here, as well.
Here’s a bit of her post for context:
Here’s what I see: There are a number of so-called leaders in the internet and social media space who seem to stick with what I can only call a “clique”. They primarily talk to this small group of peers, support this small group of peers and promote this small group of peers.
And I get it – they are free to make whatever choices they want, but from where I sit, it doesn’t look like leadership or expertise. It looks like high school and the cool kids table.
First, I don’t want to go back to another high school / cool kids discussion like we did in Launch Fatigue, which is still the only thread I’ve ever had to shut down. (By the way, ’tis the season.)
Second, thanks for writing this, Sarah. You beat me to the punch – I tend to wait until I have something constructive to say, but that may be a while because I, too, am bewildered, and I’m still exploring a lot of the space to see what’s the most aligned way for me to navigate it.
I wanted to pick this up here to give a somewhat different perspective, not as someone who knows better, or who’s outside, but rather as someone who’s exploring the space. Here’s what I’ve noticed:
1. It’s really challenging to have open, meaningful conversations with a crowd.
It normally devolves to small talk and drama pretty quickly, since a thread lasts about three minutes before a new conversant jumps in. For me, it’s about like jumping around in the kiddie pool – fun for awhile, but not really fulfilling. (Maven much?)
2. What people say they want and how they act are two different things.
I’m pretty inclusive and accessible, and it’s interesting to notice that people’s actions show that they prefer people to be exclusive. They want the attention of people whose attention is hard to get and get frustrated when they don’t get it. So people want inclusivity but value (or at least reward) exclusivity, if they’re being honest. (I’m not sure how to round that square.)
3. Your in-person behavior sets up a precedent and expectations about what you’ll do when you’re not in person.
I was at an event where I had some great conversations with a guy and I followed up with him via email to see how he was doing after the event. In case you’ve never met me in person, the boundary between Charlie qua coach and Charlie qua human pretty much doesn’t exist. He wanted to have a quick, impromptu conversation via phone with me, and I was aware that it might quickly turn into a de facto coaching call. So, before agreeing to a conversation, I tried to set some boundaries so we wouldn’t go there if that wasn’t what he was intending.
Granted, there are probably all sorts of ways I could have expressed it differently, but the bottom line is that he was upset and mad that I didn’t just pick up the phone, which is what he thought I should do. While I understand his feelings, I respectfully disagreed with his conclusion – if I picked up the phone every time someone wanted to talk to me, I’d be on the phone all day. I’m already on the phone for many hours most days.
Because I had made the space and intention to be open, generous, and free at the event, it seems that he had the expectation that I would be open, generous, and free outside of the event. But having a service-based component in the business means that I have to draw boundaries somewhere.
And, given the last point, people seem to value your service more when it seems harder to get. (Don’t try to game this – it generally backfires.)
4. Perceived social asymmetries alter expectations.
I’ll be writing more about this one soon, but I wanted to put it in here, too. I recently went to Gary Vaynerchuck’s book talk here in Portland, and many people were excited about the fact that he spent 30 seconds talking to them after they stood in line for 15 minutes to do so. I stood in the line, too, because I wanted to follow up about something I asked him last year.
Think about that for a second. Most people would feel disregarded and overlooked if you gave them 30 seconds of your time, but when there’s a perceived social asymmetry – in this case, fame and influence – it changes those expectations. A “Thanks [Name]!” tweet from Gary counts more, socially, than a “Thanks [Name]!” from me.
Many people praise Seth Godin because he responds to email. However, the praise comes not from the pure fact that he emails, but because of the context of the relationship. When there’s not so much of a perceived social asymmetry, people get mad when people don’t respond to email.
5. We can only be in so many places at once.
At a certain point, you have to make an intentional choice about what you’ll read, who you’ll talk to, and where you’ll get information on because you reach your consumption and connection point. Your threshold will vary – as a connector, Pam Slim can keep up with more people than I can, but as a maven, I can keep up with more information than she can. I can’t play her game and she can’t play mine.
But the fact that we are limited in where we can be doesn’t change. If you’re interacting with hundreds of people, the addition of one additional person affects how you can interact with the other hundreds. The same thing goes for reading blogs, articles, websites, and such from your community – the addition of one more has a toll.
Part of “sticking with your people,” then, is making sure you have enough time to take care of yourself and the relatively small amount of people you can support in your ecosystem. Some people choose to pull back on the depth of the relationships to go for the amount of relationships. Others keep a smaller fire. Any choice has its merits and disadvantages.
I wish I could do more than share observations about patterns I’ve seen, but I’m learning as I go when it comes to this. There’s a delicate balance here in that we can love (agape) all people for the unique beings they are and we can’t give everyone equal attention, despite the best of intentions.
Love and care aren’t nearly as finite as time and attention, and that’s the rub. Or, to tie this conversation back to Sarah’s, you can’t lead everyone all the time if you want to be an effective leader, but being a leader doesn’t justify an exclusive mentality.
How you choose to navigate the path is up to you, but know that it’s a precarious path that’ll challenge your values and you’ll have to get used to the fact that the best that you can do isn’t good enough for a lot of people. The real question to stay present about is whether your choices align with your values.