Wednesday, January 03, 2007

How Not to Lead - Failed Trust

The Z-list is the #1 lens on Squidoo not because of the quality of its content as much as the sources of its origin, an opportunity.

For Seth Godin, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the power of Squidoo when combined with the wisdom of the crowds through the use of Plexo. For many bloggers, it was the opportunity to tap into Seth Godin's ability to draw attention, i.e. generate a crowd. Because so many people trust Seth Godin, it was an opportunity for many readers to get some value by tapping into his take on blogs.

Things didn't go as planned: the list when viral, the voting went sour and Seth jumped ship. What started under the moniker of Seth Godin is now under the management of Ray Edwards.

This is not to say that Ray can't or won't do a great job, but you have to ask yourself, "Who is Ray Edwards? Why do I care about his recommendations?" If you signed up for Seth Godin's take on the world of blogging, this move made a less than relevant list less relevant still.

Herein lies the point in my spending so much time on the Z-List. The Z-List is a perfect illustration of the number-one mistake that most leaders make; they violate their follower's trust.

I'm not sure how much of Seth Godin went into the Z-List. I suspect his participation amounted to little more than putting his name behind the list and making a few posts on his blog.

Unfortunately, the appearance was that he was at the helm. The appearance was that bloggers could submit their blog, Seth would moderate and voting would put them in their place. The appearance was that this was an opportunity for bloggers to get a thumbs-up and for reads to get a good referral from Seth Godin himself.

Perhaps it was an unrealistic expectation, but it was the story that many bloggers/readers heard, or at least the one they wanted to hear.

In many ways, this is understandable. If you go to the Plexodex site, you'll see that moderation by a "responsible party" is the argument intended to alleviate concerns that Squidoo might become like those other voting sites.

Which brings me to the issue at hand, violating the trust of those that follow you.

If you define leadership as a relationship of trust that mitigates risk by providing direction and measure, then by placing his name behind the Z-List, Seth Godin has taken a leadership position; the same can be said of all Lens Masters.

In placing his name behind this list, he is telling bloggers that he will apply some form of measure, i.e. moderation to the list. If their site makes the cut, then a visit to their site is a good risk. Additionally, he is telling readers that he has found a good direction and if they follow him, he will help mitigate the risks of finding information about the topic at hand.

At first glance, this appears to be a fool-proof demonstration of the power of Squidoo and Plexo.

The problem is the "responsible party" did not take responsibility. When the voting started turning ugly, Seth started looking for an exit. Rather than take responsibility to contribute the time and effort required to fixing the lens, he dumped it in Rays lap.

While I agree with the tack that Ray is taking, keep out the spam and let the chips fall where they may, his actions beg the real point of the list, an opportunity to find and share a trusted opinion.

In short, Seth Godin violated everyone's trust. Fortunately, the Z-List stakes are low, but this failure on Seth Godin's part is a perfect illustration of how not to lead.

What are your thoughts?

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Take care...




Oldude59 said...


I've only found your blog by tracing back from your linkedin profile, so excuse me if you've written on what I am intending to base my comment.

In the regard to leadership, I believe that leaders have to develop a "voice" that they must stay consistent or authentic to. The other facet I see leadership having is a need to be a learner to the demands of leadership. Therefore leaders run the constant risk of losing his or her "tone" with different audiences because of the learning by experimenting they are engaged.

I don't have any additional information on why Seth G made the move he did other that what I've read in your post. But I imagine that at worst he learned that his tone or style was not moving squidoo in the direction of his vision.

As an aside, I have several lens and had no idea that he was not running things - in fact, don't really understand how the lens achieve the ratings they do.

Back to my point, I expect a leader, not a manager, to be forthright and tell his/her followers the justification for stepping away from a situation. Therefore if Seth did not contribute that kind of statement, this is what I would fault him - not that Ray or Plexco has stepped in. I point you to Nick Wilson as an example. He established his leadership in my mind when he wrote to the performancing community to clear up the information about the transactions there.

My concern is not Ray's changes on the Z-list but loyalty to the audience that supports the building of the list.


Colby said...

Leaders have to lead something. Some choose to lead people. Some choose to lead a business model. Some choose to lead a life of experimentation. Whichever path a leader chooses will direct his or her behavior.

Just as Squidoo allows us to see the world through many lenses, we have to see leaders through various lenses as well.

A leader spends 60% of time managing people's expectations - and the rest of the time clearing the path of anything that gets int the way of what creates value for his or her particular leadership model.

Seth has brought us opportunities to position ourselves, profiles ourselves and engage with others in new ways by gathering the forces of social behavior in environments of new media and creative insight.

Do we have to shoot people for not living up to our expectations? Did he make a promise to each of us to be something beyond what he is? Doesn't he have the right to also have fun and play with ideas and then leave the business modeling to someone else?

I think the real issue here is that we expect people to be something that they are not...and they just want to experiment, play and bring us opportunities. We are responsible for doing something then with those opportunties.

Oldude59 said...


I'm confused, it happens often, so I'm not afraid of the feeling, but yet. In your original posting you fault Seth for violating "everyone's trust". In you response to my comment you say that it is "us" that have to manage our expectations. It's most likely both, but I thought the issue was the leader/follower engagement and how those series of transactions should be handled. To that end, he can leave, stay, change or turn flips its OK as long as he maintains integrity with the audience he assembles long the way.

Even then, there are times when he will have to break faith because of reasons the audience need not know or be consulted on, but his integrity is the victim.

Leadership is no simple matter - hundreds if not thousands of articles, books and views have been and will continue to generate discussion. It comes down to this for me, at least, authenticity.

Has a leader maintained his honor to himself in the conduct of his/her expressions. Only Seth knows that. We can only report on what messages we read into that conduct. At worst we can ask the leader if what read is what he meant us to read. This is where our expectations come in - do we dare to ask.

For the most part I, too, think that leadership is in a state that needs discussion and perfecting. So thank you for speaking up.