To Community is to Serve

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The heart of the leader is manifested through service to others.
—Dr. Atika Tyner

Community. It can many different things depending on what lenses you’re wearing.

A gathering of people with shared affinities. A locality inhabited by neighbors. A US television show starring Joel McHale … you get the drift.

I think of community as a verb. It’s something that’s done to bring people together, to help provide an outlet for the previously voiceless, to rally support around a cause, etc. To community is to serve. Community builders can hold many types of titles that vary depending on where and how one works. I’ve had the honor to serve several communities with the following titles: corporate communications senior manager, director of enterprise collaboration and communications, and director of community engagement. These corporate titles all fall under a more important umbrella concept: servant leader. It’s so important to me that it’s featured front and center in my CV’s objective statement: “Operates as a servant leader—helps build others into leaders, not followers.”

Community members are seeking connection, growth, positive reinforcement, motivation. They may have skills and experience that need to be highlighted to the broader community. Most of the time we serve not as an expert, but as connective tissue. Community members are seeking a framework in which they can work, problem solve, play … they aren’t looking for another boss or worse, a policewoman/man to tell them what to do and how to do it. Be that leader that surfaces other leaders in order to build them up. In turn, those leaders will continue to build other leaders. It’s like a Ponzi scheme that’s legit. It’s not only the right thing to do for your community, it feels damn good to help drive other’s success.

So, what are the characteristics of a servant leader? I don’t profess to know them all, but here are some that I’ve culled over the years from working with servant leaders and striving to be one myself. What am I missing? Share in the below comments.

  • aware
  • humble, but fearless
  • outcomes-focused
  • transparent
  • listener
  • empathetic
  • healer
  • persuasive
  • curious

To Community is to Serve
So how did I get here? I worked for almost a decade in marketing and communications before realizing that I was missing out on the other side of the conversation. I created content for audiences, but had limited opportunities to connect with those who were absorbing my output. Fresh out of university at my first job at an optoelectronic tech startup (waaay before tech was seen as cool), I threw myself into volunteering activities outside of work that appealed to the still-nascent servant leader in me. After a couple of years at the tech company, I moved on to a role at a pharmaceutical corporation, and found ways to integrate my need to serve with my job—for example, I organized a day at my company during which we had students from an underserved local public school visit our site. Think “bring your community to work day”!

After a few more marketing– and communications–focused roles at several other corporations, I realized that I needed to be in a role that fulfilled more of the “play” and “serve” sides of my personality. I stumbled upon a unique role at a fire and security company. I had the opportunity to craft employee communications while building and driving adoption for the organization’s first–ever online community. What a privilege it is to serve others while producing value for a company! I started calling myself a community manager and wore the moniker proudly. From there I recruited to build an employee community at another security company.

In my most recent role, I had the honor to serve Salesforce’s nearly two million–member customer community and not a day went by that I didn’t learn something from the thousands of leaders within the destination. The most important thing I learned was to double down on my service outlook. So today—on CMAD out of all days—I’m proud to share that I’m beginning a new adventure in which I’m responsible for leading and growing facebook’s Help Community.

Here are a few servant leaders that’ve had a HUGE impact on the way I think and work. What leaders do you geek out over?

  • Marcia Conner
  • Craig DeLarge
  • Frank Eliason
  • Kristen Engelhardt
  • Ira Gottlieb
  • Chris Heuer
  • Erica Kuhl
  • Maria Ogneva
  • Jamie Punishill
  • Michael Schultz
  • Biz Stone

Phoebe Venkat

Manager, Community at Facebook
Phoebe is the manager of community at facebook, where she provides mentorship and guidance to a global team of community experts, aligns cross-functional partners to ensure the best possible experience for its platforms, and helps drive growth for the company’s Help Community. When she’s not serving her team members and community, Phoebe can be found at the library, playing Wii with her son Shai, eating pizza with her husband Shawn, or watching scary movies with her mother Hanna, the O.G. servant leader.

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