Two of the principles of the Boulder Thesis, in Brad Feld’s seminal book on startup communities, is that (a) the leaders have to take a 20 year view, and (b) the activities must be consistent and address the entire entrepreneur journey.

This means that the community leaders need to show and build for continual leadership. 

How else would a 20-year view play out? Let’s not argue the length, granted 20 years is a long time. Instead, let’s maybe focus on a multi-year (maybe 4-6 years) effort with consistent activities.

This notion of a 4-6 year personal commitment creates significant challenges for many leaders:

  • Government leaders typically operate on a political timeline of 2-4 years
  • Investor leaders typically operate in 4-5 year timelines around their own fundraising needs
  • ESO (Entrepreneurial Service Organizations)  leaders seem to turnover executives every 2-4 years. (BY the way, I think they should as a matter of practice.)
  • Entrepreneurs, Founders and their Employees who serve as community leaders have significant pressures on business building that can see them lean in or lean out at a moment’s notice.
  • Regional Corporate leaders, like startup leaders, also can lean in and lean out based on shifting corporate priorities (the community is never #1 in their list of priorities).

What many leaders fail to understand is that their charm, experience, drive, power, motivation & intent, can be critical factors in the initial success of a community.  It is awesome to be part of that and in those meetings. But sustaining individual leadership over the target time period (4-6 or 10-20 years) as a community of leaders is just about impossible.

Which brings me back to a subtle but significant trait of a healthy, robust and growing ecosystem.

Communities exhibit continual leadership not individual leaders.

Your current leaders will probably be heavily involved for 3-4 years before their motivation changes. Leaders will come and go for all of the good reasons stated above. No judgment here – just stating the reality of what happens in every community I have served. 

But knowing this requires the leaders to build sustainability into every action. Call this succession planning or creating and maintaining a bench (like a consultancy) it does not matter. The bottom line is you must plan for this or community leadership begins to stagnate.

Interested to read more?  I just released my new book: Build The Fort – The Startup Community Builder’s Field Guide.