Reaching The Online Generation

An Initiative of CityTeam Ministries

The Long Tail of Leadership

Posted on | January 7, 2009 |

(This post represents an emerging idea, at least for me.  I decided to go ahead and throw it out there to get some feedback.  I look forward to the conversations. I don’t want to imply in any way that I’ve talked with Chris, Kevin, or Seth.  I’ve just read their stuff and it has me thinking.   - Paul.) 

Chris Anderson Introduces The Long Tail

 Chris Anderson ( wrote a book called The Long Tail  which, as it so happens, introduced a concept he called ‘The Long Tail.’  (You can read a brief summary of Chris’ book here.)  In short, Chris uses the Long Tail to illustrate a phenomenon online where total sales of almost unknown books or albums actually equal or surpass total sales by blockbusters in their field.  Merchants like Amazon and iTunes aren’t limited by geography and shelf space, so they can afford to host books, albums or songs that only sell a couple of copies a year.  Doesn’t sound like much if you only think of one product, but when you can host a million products like that for almost no cost, the impact is tremendous!

 Seth Godin Adds to the Conversation

The Long Tail Chart

Seth Godin  provides this illustration of the Long Tail in a post where he talks about the profitability points along the tail.  You need to read this article.  Seth does a great job of explaining a really important concept people must understand if they are working online in any capacity.

Seth also adds to the conversation in his recent book, ‘Tribes.’  If you haven’t read it, stop right now and buy a copy.  You can read it in a day or two.

 Kevin Kelly Makes an Important Point

 Kevin Kelly  ( added an important piece to the conversation in this article.  Kevin points out that the creators of media (artists, authors, and musicians) make money in the short head of Chris Anderson’s long tail.  But aggregators of media - like Amazon  and iTunes  - make the money in the Long Tail rather than the artists.

 That is a really brief summary that really doesn’t do justice to the depth of thought that Chris, Seth, and Kevin put into this principle.  Please read their stuff for a much better understanding of the conversation.

 Applying The Long Tail to Leadership

longtail2As I read the conversation between these guys, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Long Tail principle could be used to illustrate an important leadership concept.  I decided to adapt the graph a little.  ‘Leadership Capacity’ refers to the number of people or tribes a person leads.  ‘Number of Leaders’ may be pretty self explanatory, but it refers to the number of people who can lead.  The Long Tail of Leadership captures the idea that few people have the capacity to lead large groups of people and a great number of people have the capacity to lead groups as small as 3-5 people.  People like Rick Warren can lead several thousand while your average blogger might only lead ten or so. 

 For the purpose of this post, I’m going to define leadership as the capacity to influence a group of people to behave in a certain way consistently over time.

When I changed the graph around, I began having several thoughts about leadership and how leadership affects the online generation, but I just want to cover the biggest here.

 Two Approaches to Leadership Development

 You can look for people with the potential to be in the short head, give them bunches of education and training, and hope they can knock one out of the park.  They look good and your organization will benefit. But all your eggs are in one basket and the organization’s success rises and falls on these super-leaders. 

Most MBA programs try to develop these super leaders.  Seminaries, too. 


Find leaders in the mid to lower tail and help them lead their tribes.  If you help them significantly enough, your relationship becomes influence.  Influence is the most effective currency any leader has.  If you influence enough leaders in the long tail, you actually end up leading more people than most super-leaders. 

 In this approach, all your eggs aren’t in one basket – at least as far as leadership of your company is concerned.  If one leader self-destructs, their community replaces them.

 Think about it this way…it takes a high capacity leader to start a tribe from a group of non-related individuals.  If you leverage the leadership of existing tribes, however, you cut leadership development time and cost in half because you aren’t expecting them to lead strangers.  Instead, you help them lead their existing tribes more effectively.

 Also, as people lead their existing tribe more effectively, those with the capacity to lead larger tribes, will.  Those with the capacity to lead multiple tribes, will.  If you watch for these emerging leaders and mentor them, as they develop, you have a better chance to develop leaders who do great thing rather than non-leaders who merely think they are great. 

The Online Generation is full of existing tribes with existing leadership.  Help those leaders help their tribes and you will develop the influence necessary to change a lot of lives.

 Of course, you have to really want to help people, or they will see through you in a moment and you will lose any hope of making a difference beyond your own tribe. 

 As you can tell from the context of this blog, I focus on meeting people’s spiritual needs.  That may be your focus, or not, but I think we can all benefit from pulling apart these ideas, flushing the bad ones down the toilet, and developing the best ones. 

 I look forward to the conversations.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati
  • TwitThis
  • E-mail this story to a friend!


4 Responses to “The Long Tail of Leadership”

  1. Posts about Internet Marketing Experts as of January 8, 2009 | The Lessnau Lounge
    January 8th, 2009 @ 9:37 am

    [...] pounded out an email to Darren with a burning question! I have been so impressed with how Darren The Long Tail of Leadership - 01/07/2009 (This post represents an emerging idea, at least for [...]

  2. Bronson Taylor
    January 8th, 2009 @ 10:40 am

    I love Chris Anderson and Seth Godin also (if they write it, I read it, period).

    Your post reminded me of the leadership strategy of Paul. He was a high capacity leader who could pull together groups of strangers, but then he eventually appointed elders (probably easier to find than another Paul) and they led the tribes (churches) that were already established.

    Like Amazon and i-Tunes, whoever can best organize the long tail of leaders will be the one with the influence like that of Paul.

    Here’s 3 things Paul did to organize the long tail leaders:

    1) He knew what he was looking for in a tribe leader (eldership requirements).

    2) He didn’t just delegate responsibility, but he also delegated authority (even to this level of leaders)

    3) He had contact with them using the technology of his day (letters and messengers).

    Last observation: The further to the left that a high capacity leader falls on the chart, the further to the left the long tail leaders that he can gather and inspire will fall.

  3. Paul
    January 8th, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

    @Bronson - Thanks for coming by and for the comment. Great thoughts! I would disagree a little with the wording of #2. I don’t think Paul delegated authority. I think he just recognized people who already had authority within the existing community.

  4. Bronson Taylor
    January 8th, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

    @Paul - I did a quick study and I think you’re right. Acts 20:28 seems to say that the Ephesian elders weren’t in authority because of Paul but because of the Holy Spirit. Maybe my 2nd point should say:

    2) He didn’t just delegate responsibility, but he recognized their authority (even to this level of leaders).

Leave a Reply

  • About

    Who is God?' was one of the top three sentences googled in 2007, according to Google Zeitgeist. According to Alexa, the top two religious websites are Muslim, with BibleGateway coming in at a close third. The Online Generation is spiritual. They are seeking. And the church is the last place they would go to find spiritual fulfillment. This site is dedicated to those walking with The Online Generation and living lives of obedience to all the commands of Jesus Christ.
  • Badges!

  • Partners to Reach the Online Generation

    CityTeam Ministries
    Missions Resource Network