Lessons in DAO Leadership #1

tl;dr: Driving results in a decentralized community requires a different set of skills and competencies than a traditional centralized one. Just like the business models do not transfer, neither do the work styles.

Apparently, I’ve been blogging about DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations) so often that my mom, an avid reader of this blog, has picked up on the theme.

What can I say?

I find them endlessly fascinating.

Although it’s crazy to say it, I can definitely imagine a world where a large number of people are working for DAOs.

View image on Twitter

Given my contributor experience in the GenesisDAO and at Decred, I am rapidly ascending the learning curve of how one behaves and coordinates with other people in the areas that are not controlled by the blockchain.

In a DAO, things like money and rules are controlled by a blockchain.

We can call that “on-chain” activities and governance.

However, there’s an entire world of “off-chain” activities and governance, which refers to the social aspects of how people treat each other.

You may have a verifiable, immutable Reputation score, but if you are ineffective or rude in your conduct, that’s going to hurt you.

To get a first-hand perspective of what it is like to work in and for a DAO, take a look at Eric Arsenault’s post, My DAO Experiment: Part 2.

Eric and I have been working together (along with a growing group of others) to wrestle the beast known as the DMO to the ground and see what we can make of it.

As the person who made the proposal for the DMO to the GenesisDAO and accountable for its results, I am the “leader” of the project.

In a DAO, anyone can be a leader. There are no titles. There is no authority “given” to you. You earn it based on the strength of your proposal. If it passes, BOOM….you are the project lead.

Having been a leader in a traditional organization and now have an opportunity to lead a decentralized project, I’ve been thinking about what I personally need to do differently. There might be lessons for others.

Leadership in a DAO

Ironically enough, the best insight I had into the kind of style I would want to develop came from an article in the sports section of the Wall St. Journal, Steve Kerr: He’s Like Belichick, With Less Grunting.

Kerr is the coach of the Golden State Warriors, a team that has made 5 straight NBA Finals. It’s a remarkable run.

Players WANT to play for Golden State and there were numerous games this year where the team had a starting line-up of 5 All-Stars. That’s just unheard of.

So, what does Kerr do to empower these world-class athletes so they can perform at the highest levels without egos getting involved?

“He understands it’s a players league,” Myers [ed: the General Manager] said.

And the players are the ones who should benefit and be credited the most. He genuinely believes that. Even when he got to our team, he had the security to credit the [previous coach] Mark Jackson about the foundation that Mark had built. I think that set a tone.”

It’s a players league.

DAOs are the same. No one works FOR you. They are free to take their talents to another team within the same DAO or go to any other DAO.

Today already, there are DAOs (using DAOstack) for top-tier projects such as Gnosis, Polkadot, and Kyber.
In other words, if they don’t like working on your team, there are plenty of other places for them to go.

What DAO Leaders Do

While I was giving blood recently, I was catching up on my “Watch Later” list on YouTube and reviewed a presentation by Simon Sinek called Most leaders don’t even know the game they are in.

There’s a great anecdote at the 4:49 mark about his stay at the Four Seasons hotel in Las Vegas.

You can watch it here.

Sinek’s story illustrates a key element of DAO leadership: Create an environment that gives all of the players on the DAO team the opportunity, space, and environment to perform at their absolute best.

The way s/he does that?

With empathy.

Empathy– and I’ve been on a multi-year journey to nurture this within myself (with a long way to go!)– is not something that is part and parcel of a traditional organization.

But in a DAO environment, because of the low friction associated with joining and leaving a group, it is looking to be super-critical.

What is so powerful about a DAO team is that it comes together based on shared interests and vision (another role of the leader). It is a community of passionates.

It’s like the embodiment of the Margaret Mead quote:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Without empathy for the needs and situations of the other members of the team, the players, if you will, you will never get anything done of any significance. You can be an individual contributor, but the bigger things require others. That hasn’t changed.

[An interesting side note is how, in the absence of traditional authority, to drive accountability and encourage the desired cultural norms. That is why both of these are working groups within GenesisDAO.]

What has changed is the profile of an effective leader. It’s not about gathering glory, accolades, promotions, and recognition from your boss.

It’s about earning reputation by empowering others.

Lao Tzu said:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”


Lessons in DAO Leadership #1 was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.