Jade Meskill, Derek Neighbors, Trish Gillam, and Chris ‘Dragon’ Lee discuss how leadership works in Gangplank.
Jade Meskill: Hello and welcome to the “Dangercast.” We are going to talk about the culture and design of Gangplank. I’m Jade Meskill.
Derek Neighbors: I’m Derek Neighbors.
Trish Gillam: I’m Trish Gillam.
Chris Lee: And I’m Chris Lee.
Jade: Today, we are going to talk about, what does it mean to be a leader inside of Gangplank?
Derek: Inside of Gangplank, what does it take to be a leader?
Jade: What does it mean?
Derek: Oh, what does it mean?
Derek: I just say that what is takes would be too stupid that you are a leader.
Jade: No, no. We don’t want to talk about that.
Derek: What does it mean to be a leader? It means that you are inspiring and motivating and modeling and showing the way for other people. It’s equal parts doing and inspiration.
Jade: How’s that different than being a leader somewhere else?
Derek: Leader somewhere else ‑‑ usually it’s you adopted the title Leader because somebody gave you the title of leader.
Chris: Here, you just work to make things happen. Nobody’s necessarily telling you what to do or giving you the authority to go do something. You just step up and start doing stuff and start making things happen.
Derek: I’d say outside Gangplank, the way leadership tends to work, or that I see it in most organizations, is somebody is given the title of leader. Usually that title of leader is manager, director, vice‑president, president, CEO, you name whatever title you want to put behind that.
Two things are extended via that title. One is authority. You have the authority to do something, usually over other people. You have the authority over other people and resources to do things. If we don’t get results, it’s your fault. You get accountability.
What happens is that those that report to “said leaders,” view it exactly as that. You get to lord over me, so I have no stake and no ownership in the outcome that is to be. If anything goes wrong, it’s your fault.
Jade: That’s positional authority.
Derek: Positional authority.
Jade: We’ve used the term “leaderless organization” quite a bit. I think that causes some confusion, so maybe reconcile that idea with what we’re talking about. Chris said there’s no positional authority at Gangplank. We’ve talked about that idea of being a leaderless organization. How does that actually work in practice?
Derek: A lot of people when they think when you say “leaderless organization,” they immediately jump to, “Oh man, it’s just 100 percent chaos. Nobody’s in charge. Nothing will get done. How do you resolve any dispute? How does anything happen because there’s nobody that is ‘in charge’”?
“Who do you go to when the shit hits the fan,” is what people immediately tend to think. When people say leaderless or organization or we talk about it maybe in Gangplank at times, I don’t think we say as much anymore because of the problems that it causes.
We really say that there’s no appointed leadership. There’s no institutional authority. It’s the people that rise to the occasion. There’s still leaders, but they’re leaders because they’ve gained the influence by either what they’re doing, what they’re inspiring, or through some form of integrity. The leaders exist.
I would expect if you walk into most Gangplanks and you said, “Hey, how do I get this done”? Or “Who’s in charge of this”? There’s some idea of somebody who you might talk to, even though that person isn’t necessarily the anointed leader of something.
Chris: That’s definitely a good example. When people come in and they ask about how they do something, there are definitely the people that we point to based on what they’re interested in participating in.
It’s not something where somebody said, “Hey, you’re the guy to go do this,” but just through their actions over time they’ve just shown that they can help with things and make things happen. Then we point people in those folks’ direction, depending on what they’re looking to participate in.
Jade: It’s a meritocracy?
Derek: Yeah, that’s a good way. We used to call it “showupocracy” which I think there’s a lot of value in that, but sometimes people can just show up and not actually provide guidance, cannot provide actually doing things.
Then you have an entitlement problem, which we’ve seen as well where, “Hey, I’ve been around here a long time, and I show up every day, therefore I should have final say and authority in absolutely everything because I’m the oldest turd in the room.” That’s really great, but what have you done for us lately?
Jade: I think when that phrase originally was used, the idea of showing up and doing were one and the same.
Trish: I think it’s the difference between taking initiative and the turfer ownership. Sometimes people come in and they try and claim that because they’ve been involved with some initiative or some area, but it’s theirs and everyone must get permission from them. We really go towards to whoever takes the initiative.
Also, it doesn’t really matter what title people have given you, if you’re not actually taking initiative, no one really looks at you as the leader.
Derek: That’s an interesting thing that I definitely have seen over the last five, six years, whatever. There is a pattern of people that tend to want to come and participate in Gangplank. You can substitute the word Gangplank for community.
People that come into community generally want one of two things. They either want authority, “I want to be the whatever leader.” “I want to be in charge of this.” “I want this thing.” What they’re really saying is, “I want to be given institutional authority over people and things.”
Now, it might be a scope of things. “I don’t want to be the president of whatever this community is,” but “I want to be in charge of this aspect of the community. Please anoint me and give me that title, so that people are forced to do what I say and I’m entitled to certain resources that are available to me.”
The other thing I tend to see is that people want possessiveness of some kind. They come in and they either want the authority portion of it, or they want some form of possession.
Jade: Exclusive domain over something?
Derek: I would almost call it power, maybe even it is reverence from other people. I want people to have to respect my authority, because I am the thing. What we have found is that when people come in and do that, and you give them any form of leadership, it always, always ends poorly.
It either ends poorly because they don’t have the best interest of whatever they’re trying to lead, it’s really all about them. Or they tend to fall down very quickly because the minute that something starts to grow, and I think you see this in community when community really blossoms, it’s like that hockey stick growth in a start‑up.
It explodes so fast when it explodes, that if you do anything to contain it, you actually kill it instead of really letting it go. When you get those type of people, what happens is, community starts to build itself and that person is trying to wrangle, “But, I’m the boss, I’m the boss, I’m the boss. Why are you doing the podcasting? You didn’t check it out. You have to go through my process before you can use that resource, because I’m the podcast manager.”
You get all of this weird possessivy crap that starts to happen that turns people off. That’s one of the big differences between traditional community and an organization that’s a company. People that show up to company show up for a paycheck. They’ll tolerate a whole lot of shitty leadership in exchange for a paycheck.
When people come into a community and they’re not getting paid, they tend to tolerate a whole lot less of that kind of behavior before they’ll leave, or before they’ll say, “Yeah, I’m just not getting engaged. I’m not going to give you 100 percent of the best me that I’m interested in because of that.”
Jade: How have we dealt with that problem?
Derek: We suck at dealing with that problem.
Jade: How should deal with that problem?
Derek: Some of it is we have to get better at teaching people how to be good leaders. What I mean by that is, the world’s model currently of leadership is much more of an organizational, positional title of authority role. That is the status quo when you look at most leadership programs, even if they say, “We’re about servant leadership.”
At the end of the day, what they’re really trying to do is teach you ways to manage people. In Gangplank, it’s how do we teach people how to get the best out of people, not manage people. How do you inspire people to do really great things? How do you teach them the skills to be able to be more effective at what they do?
Jade: I think one of the big things that we’ve done is, I used to call it “picking winners.” We were doing a lot of assigning people roles and authority and we’ve really put a stop to that. While that causes a bunch of chaos in the short term, the long term benefits far outweigh having some of that certainty of having this person in charge. We used to do that a lot. You were in charge of this initiative and we would ask people to take ownership of it.
Derek: People were like children they begged. They begged us for a title. “Can I please”? And then we got stupid and we were like people are begging for it, maybe these, some of these initiatives that we have that we don’t have anybody to be dumb enough to be leaders for, maybe we could sucker them into being leaders, by giving them a title.
Then we found out, oh my God, they turned into these possessive ass holes the minute you give them a title. Maybe this is a bad thing but that is another pattern that I see or another thing that is very difficult about this type of leadership style and I am seeing it in organizations that are for‑profit businesses trying to go to a much more organic, self motivated…
Derek: …autonomous type of things. What happens when nobody is motivated to do the thing that I think is really important so if we allow, OK here are these 10 initiatives, or these 7 initiatives, or these 3 initiatives, or this one big thing, or one big program and it’s necessary to be successful in a community and be a Gangplank.
We need people to step into that and you hear the crickets strip, and nobody steps into that, what do you do? Like, I know we did, we panicked and said, oh God we have got to get sucker somebody in to paint the fence like Tom Sawyer here and anoint them with, “You are in charge of this thing.” We used to do the thing of “Hey Chris, you are going to be in charge of whatever it is. Nobody will take, until you can find somebody else to be in charge of it.”
Derek: And it solved some short‑term problems but it created all sorts of long‑term pain. Because either Chris really wasn’t interested in it or wasn’t interested in Gangplank. He wasn’t doing anything for it anyways. So we had this false sense of somebody was taking care of it and it wasn’t or if he didn’t and he did it than he got drunk with the power of “ho ho ho or moo ha ha, I am now the overlord Czar of this thing and I started to do all sorts of…”
Jade: And he rules the calendar with the iron fist.
Derek: He could do all sorts of stupid stuff…
Derek: …so I think, it’s a hard thing to do, it’s like, how do you inspire people to fill the holes that our organization has?
Jade: What are some of the challenges that you guys have seen?
Trish: I think one of the challenges, I mean it’s scary to be a leader. That trade‑off when you have managers that you have agreed to put up with your crap because they deal with the blame.
Jade: I think it is really scared to choose to be that leader. Right?
Jade: Because it’s your fault.
Chris: I think one of the other challenges is that we still have holes that nobody has stepped up to fill. I remember the old days when people got appointed, we had all the different initiatives and at least had someone in name that was supposed to be working on something.
Since that doesn’t happen anymore, you have some people that are passionate about the initiative that they are working on and they are actively moving it forward, where we have other initiatives that really not much happens because there is nobody driving that. I think some of those things are important at Gangplank still.
Jade: So how do we fix that problem?
Derek: Some of it is, we do a poor job articulating why those things are important. It’s the classic kind of why problem, like we don’t say, why those things are so critical to a healthy successful Gangplank. Instead of just seeing it as a ship work, I will never forget like talking to [inaudible 14:23] about little bit about music and saying, ‘Hey, we really could use somebody to step up in this space.”
And at the time his big thing was like “What the hell does that even mean, like music”? Because it wasn’t the musical studios. I start talking about so much more than music. I think he got really interested in it, but then he was like “Yeah, but now it’s too overwhelming. I am not a physical artist and I am not of this and I am not of that and now I feel woefully underqualified to even begin to do that”
And I really think, especially in the instance of Gangplank ‑‑ it’s not just a community, but each one of those initiative is a tiny community within that community. You’ve got the community of a city and then you have got the community of the building and the space and the people within the city and then you have got another little subset inside of that ‑‑ that is an interest, am I interested in health? Am I interested in studios?
The hardest part about being a leader is how do you get followers? How do you build that community and that’s where we have really fallen down. We have not shown people how do you go out and solicit like what you are doing and what your vision is to other people to get them interested and get them to help you go where you want to go.
Chris: Yeah, I think that’s true but the other thing that you said about letting people know how important some of these initiatives are to Gangplank is key, because you know there are people trying to lead initiatives that can use the help that you just mentioned but we have these other holes that we need to get filled. So I think really focusing on talking about the importance of those roles and functionalities is something like that can be really helpful.
Trish: Could we do a podcast on each initiative?
Derek: I think, we already did some of them. I think Gangplank Junior we might not have done, but the rest of it we have done.
Jade: That’s all the time we have for today. Thanks for listening to the Dangercast. If you have any suggestions or things you would like to hear us cover please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.