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Andy Leonard

Andy Leonard is an author and engineer who enjoys building and automating data integration solutions. Andy is co-host of the Data Driven podcast. Andy is no longer updating this blog. His current blog is

How to Tell You’re a Community


I read a slogan yesterday and laughed out loud. Literally. Had I been drinking coffee at the time, I would have needed to clean my laptop screen. When the laughter subsided I realized the organization that created the slogan believes it to be true. At that point my community mentor instincts kicked in. I now see this as an opportunity to share.

You Are a Community If:

  • You cooperate. What does cooperation look like? Well, it’s the opposite of competition (see next list). Simply put, you help. Who do you help? Anyone who needs it. Do you help only those who join your effort? You can, but that’s not usually how community works. Bona fide communities help other communities, even. Do you help those who help you back? That’s called “business” and business is different from community.
  • You are transparent. Does this mean you share everything about everything? No, it doesn’t. It means your kneejerk reaction is to share information and you sometimes reconsider. Communities openly share successes and failures. It’s how they learn and grow.
  • You want to learn and grow. I don’t mean in numbers (only), I mean the vision and standard operating procedures grow. Growth often involves diversity, especially in  leadership. True growth means integrating agents of change into leadership. Messy? Yes. Uncomfortable? Definitely. Disruptive? If it isn’t disruptive, it’s not growth – period.
  • You serve the tribe. This isn’t merely fungible, tit-for-tat service; it’s looking out for others in the same way you look out for yourself. Maybe caring for others more than for yourself.

You Are Not a Community If:

  • You compete. Examples include slapping one another on the back while exclaiming “We’ll crush them to bits!” or otherwise scheming to hinder or destroy efforts and activities in the same space as your community because, well, they’re just not you. Businesses compete, communities do not.
  • You obfuscate operations. If the default kneejerk reaction of your organization is to hide facts and make exceptions to disclose them, that’s not transparent. Operational failures are a fact of life in any organization. Communicating them – openly – is part of the prevention process. It facilitates growth and learning by seeding change.
  • You resist change. If you’re not open to new ideas and feedback – especially negative feedback – you’re not really a community. Communities thrive on improvement. This infers change. Communities recognize agents of change and welcome them into their ranks and leadership; they do not actively block agents of change from participation or leadership.
  • You serve yourself (first). If it happens to work out that someone else benefits, that gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling. Preservation of personal status and status quo are not the earmarks of a community.


This is by no means an exhaustive list but I hope it offers examples of the differences between genuine communities and those who merely wish to describe themselves as communities.


Published Thursday, August 25, 2011 12:30 PM by andyleonard

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Adam Machanic said:

You forgot to tell us what the offensive slogan was.

I also don't agree about competition meaning that you're not a community. Anyone who competes in organized sports of any kind would certainly not feel the same as you. Competition can be quite healthy to a community in the correct context.

August 29, 2011 12:14 PM

andyleonard said:

Hi Adam,

  You're right, I didn't tell you the slogan. ;) I wasn't offended by it, though; I was amused.

  I didn't do a very good job explaining my point about competition (and seriously doubt I'll clear it up here): I think there's a difference between vying for public attention, sponsorship, and training dollars in a clean, may-the-best-opportunity-win fashion and using politics and dirty tricks to gain the advantage. I believe true communities are noble and take the high road. I think that's akin to your point about competition being healthy to a community in the correct context.

  Lest anyone read more into this than is intended, I share these sentiments about a collection of communities with which I'm engaged. Some of these communities are technical, some are not.


August 29, 2011 12:41 PM

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