In a year marked by isolation and alienation, the best leaders have been working hard to cultivate a sense of belonging.
Businesses have been prioritizing community for their staff, users, and customers. TechCrunch recently wrote that companies “are finally investing in community in a meaningful way, dedicating actual budgets to community instead of simply stealing a few dollars away from the sales and marketing team.”
We spoke with one of the community industry’s experts, Kevyn Klein, about the intersection of community and leadership.
Kevyn is the award-winning leader of the global teacher community at VIPKid, a global edtech company that connects students and instructors for 1-to-1 online English lessons. Her vision is to create a space where online educators feel supported and empowered in their work, and grow it to connect the best teachers globally.
Our interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Note: VIPKid is one of LeadersAtlas’ corporate clients.
Recently, more organizations have been recognizing Community as a core business function. Why do you think community is so important for businesses today?
Community is a little bit of marketing and content creation, a little bit of user experience, and a little bit of customer service, all intertwined. But, at its core, you’re connecting people who believe in your brand or believe in a particular mission, to help drive business outcomes from acquisition to retention. Commsor CEO Mac Reddin said on Twitter recently: “Community puts humanity back to business.”
You focus a lot on empowering community members – which, in the case of VIPKid, are online teachers – to become leaders. What does community empowerment look like at VIPKid?
It’s really important for us to make sure that teachers on our platform are connecting with each other and sharing their best practices. That’s what makes them better educators for their students. One of the things we do at VIPKid is to empower diverse leaders in the teacher community to share what they know and their unique perspectives. We see this through teachers hosting meetups or online forums, creating social accounts, or sharing YouTube videos talking about their experience. These community voices really resonate with and inspire the broader teacher community.
Who exactly are these leaders?
At VIPKid, when we talk about community leaders, they are our most active teachers on the platform and in our social groups. Many don’t even see themselves as community leaders most of the time! They’re just sharing their joy and helping other people. They don’t realize that we think of them as influencers or community leaders. But oftentimes, once you call that out to them, they become really interested in learning more and developing their community leadership skills.
When we discover these leaders, we’ll start reaching out and finding ways to help them be even better community managers.
That’s super interesting – that many of these community members don’t even see themselves as leaders, but that’s how the company views them. How do you foster influential community members?
When we look at influential people in the community, we look at what that person is doing that is attracting and building relationships. Are they telling authentic stories, are they really active in comments sections?
By finding people who don’t necessarily see themselves as community leaders and inviting them to take on leadership roles, you really see their confidence and impact grow.
They’re leaders because they influence the personality and sentiment of a community. It’s confidence and authority – not being afraid of saying what other people are feeling. For example, some of our most popular people might say, “Is anyone else feeling really burnt out right now with the pandemic and teaching early mornings? Is everyone OK?” And that person receives a ton of engagement because lots of people are feeling that way.
What other things do you do to help build community in a large organization?
At the end of the day, community is all about building relationships. People want to be heard and they want to be seen. Engage with a diverse set of people, find out their strengths, encourage them, and be real. The more corporate you sound, the less you build trust. The more real you can be on an individual level, the more willing people are to put themselves out there in the community. My favorite part is when you can amplify their idea and help turn it into a reality for the community at large.
You talk about communities as the relationships people have amongst each other. But, having interpersonal relationships doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re part of a community. What’s the context that individual relationships occur in that creates a community?
It’s easier to build a community around a shared experience. In VIPKid world, it means you’re an online teacher, teaching early in the morning, with very specific issues that are unique to this community subculture. It’s really that shared experience that brings people together.
We’ve found that the most celebrated stories in our community are the stories around incredible teacher-student relationships. That’s something everyone can rally around.
Do you find that relationships amongst teachers in the VIPKid community are fundamentally about celebrating? About learning? About solving problems? Are they all three in equal measure?
It’s all three. Generally, communities start with one focus.
For example, when VIPKid started, teaching in your basement at 4 am and totally loving it was such a foreign concept. And, honestly, people were just really excited to find other people like them to discuss this new frontier and get social proof that they were on the cutting edge of something big. The other aspects of the community came later.
Do you think about your professional team as a community?
I do. And I think about our company as a community. Again, it all comes back to relationship building and creating opportunities to hear unique perspectives. Being part of a totally distributed team, I think a lot about how we can be efficient in that context. How can we have a lot of asynchronous opportunities but also build relationships when we’re not able to meet in person? How do I make the little virtual face time we do have really meaningful in terms of relationship building? I try to make sure that the “work stuff”– project tracking, memo writing – can be done offline.
We only have one monthly meeting. We like to use half of that time for icebreakers and small group discussions, so it’s not just typical meeting content and work updates. I also like pairing people up who normally wouldn’t work together and having them share a problem they’ve had and give each other feedback. That encourages new conversations and builds relationships.
How do you empower your employees and your team to achieve their full potential at work?
I focus on my team members’ long-term career goals, not just the role they’re in now. When I’m giving feedback, it’s for their career. I’m not just giving feedback so that their work is better for the company. I don’t think people feel truly intrinsically motivated that way. I make sure my feedback is tied to an end goal for them personally.
At LeadersAtlas, we believe everyone has a superpower. What's yours?
I like to create structure in ambiguity. I like to be put in a very ambiguous place and pick a direction and create some structure for everyone else.
LeadersAtlas helps leaders and their businesses thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution by tapping into the skills and passions of their teams and customers. Technology makes it easier than ever to get the input from others needed to be a great leader. We design programs that earn attention and build trust to create a shared sense of purpose and progress.
Our solutions help leaders empower their people, improve collaboration, and boost morale to transform their organizations - all through an easy and fun program conducted via Zoom.
We’ve served companies across industries, including HP, IDC, and VIPKid.