The Head Mod (or Leadership) Guide

Leadership can be one person, usually called the Head Mod. There is also the Co-Head Mod position, which can be two or more people. As a zine project grows larger, it is more likely there are more overall mods then led by overall more Co-Head Mods. (3 Co-Heads in a team of 9? mods might be the highest number I have seen, but it’s not something I remember accurately.).

We use the term Head Mod” in this guide, but anyone can demonstrate leadership. A collaborative zine inherently has more than one person on it, and anyone who has ever had to step up will know its leadership-demonstrating people dont have to be official” Head Mod(s).

There is no “one way” to be a Head Mod (leader). The Head Mod role will manifest unique connections in every mod team based on the individual’s character type. Different people have different styles of leadership, and that’s okay! One of us “connects”, keeping people accountable and projects moving from one objective to the next, while the other one “enables”, empowering the heck out of their crew, pulling the hard work behind the scenes so the rest of the guys can go out and do what they do best. Reflect on what kind of person you are in a group and figure out the verb that describes you!

Being a Head Mod is about being present. You are the main leadership. You need to understand the needs and expectations of the people looking towards you for instructions. Then, when decisions need to be made, the Head Mod will make it, or they’ll coordinate/delegate it.

Coordination would be where the Head Mod takes the team across milestones and assists with facilitating the tasks performed by other mods. Good coordination requires listening, communication and clarifying. Being able to define what the team should do next is the most important. Taking things into account can be one form of value provided by the good Head Mod while they are coordinating the rest of the team.

Delegation would be where the Head Mod assigns another mod to carry out some assigned task. It involves moving additional work to another team member who may be the most appropriate or the most skilled. Good delegation involves identifying the strengths of the other mods and assessing their relative workloads. Exercising careful IQ and EQ will allow the good Head Mod to reasonably assess if the other mod may be “at risk” of being unable to deliver due to factors such as burnout. That said, if delegation is done well, the result can be delivered more time-effectively since the assignee is given sole ownership.

Head Mods don’t necessarily have to have the most experience. The good Head Mod will assume responsibility of finding an answer in situations where they do not know the answer.

It’s okay to make mistakes.

If something has not gone to plan, a leader will have a responsibility to select next steps.

(this section will be fleshed out in the next update)

Should a zine not have a guaranteed funding source, it is doubly imperative there is visible leadership, whether that leadership is demonstrated by an official Head Mod OR someone else. While the mathematics can be delegated to the Finance Mod, securing enough funding to break even will always require a combination of multiple roles working together. In the role of “connector”, the Head Mod (or someone assuming leadership on behalf of the Head Mod) will assist with coordination between tasks and help the zine be successful.

It can be the hardest job, with all the pressure from leading. The difficulty can also be compounded by lack of experience; leadership styles are unique to every person, and learning that while trying to complete a project will present extra challenges for a new Head Mod. However, should the new Head Mod get through the project, it can also be the most rewarding. You were the one who saw the project through from start to end!

The biggest tool a Head Mod has in their arsenal is listening, listening, and listening.

To influence people, develop listening skills.

The Section for Oddly Specific Advice

'Yes' and 'No'

Some people are good at saying yes, and some people are good at saying no. There are also people who are terrible at saying yes and terrible at saying no. The reasons for this could be infinite (didn't read, unaware of context, cultural context) but whatever it is, you need to keep an eye out for this. Someone in the team should demonstrate leadership and keep an eye out.

It's a kind of lame and avoidable situation if something happens and then the mod team is going, "I didn't realise", or "It wasn't clear", and so on.

Example 1: Miscommunication

The original message stated "react if you are available". A user left a 😢 react. It turned out the user was unavailable, however because the react was ambiguous (we talked about using unambiguous reacts in the "Organization" section), the original poster assumed the user would be available. A simple "hey User, may you please clarify what your reaction means?" could have prevented much disappointment.

This type of example is a communication issue, which means communication skills are needed to resolve it. Which means, you need to keep in mind the makeup of the mod team's members. Sometimes this leads to confrontational dialogue. Sometimes people are not in a position to be confronted. What is socially acceptable to you may not be socially acceptable to someone else in the mod team. This is a natural part of how a group figures things out. (We talked about the cycles of group formation in the "Working in a Team" section in Fundamentals.)

Don't panic or anything. Most of the time it goes ok. If this doesn't come naturally to you, you can probably find someone in your life who is a natural mediator. Go ask them for help.

Example 2: Mismanagement

A person is doing many tasks at once. This person has taken on more obligations than they may be able to handle. You, another mod, are worried that because they are always saying "yes", they may not deliver on all the results.

As a forewarning, diagnosing these situations is very difficult. People are all different. You know that already, I am just repeating it in bold type to help us be on the same page right now. It's part of how I personally avoiding assumptions. There is a chance you read this whole page, choose to work differently, and that is fine.

The most important part is to clarify what your own worries are. Are you speaking about them personally, or is it an issue with the work being assigned and/or left behind?

  • The 1st one is what comes up a lot when working with friends and family - knowing personal facts about someone influences your judgement. Like how relatives should not be doctors. You need to take a step back (create distance), take a break (very important), and check your own assumptions. Venting carries the risk that original conclusions become more entrenched. Do some exercise? The goal is to come back with as clear a mind as possible.

  • The 2nd one is directly related to the team's management. Will discuss more under "delegation", it's a whole other topic.

Of course there are nuances and it can be both. Hopefully this question helps you take a first step on the resolution path.


Delegation is hard. Sometimes delegating too little can end up in worrying. Sometimes delegating too much also ends up in worrying. We just can't win. It's tough.

Like everything about leadership, there's a lot of online advice articles about delegation. When you're feeling stuck, look some up.

This small section here is in revision and will specifically address the community that tends to make these zines.

Being overwhelmed

Hello, it's nice to see you too. Maybe this happens a lot.

It's okay.

This is the one section where we suggest to stop looking things up. Maybe go back to yourself. Do whatever self-care means to you, or if that's not working, try out some other kind of self-care you haven't tried before. The deeper you can sink your roots, the less likely you will fall down in a storm. Build those roots up.

That's all I have to say on this one. There has never been another generation which has had to deal with navigating so much data. Honestly, our brains are processing so much all the time, it's really amazing somehow.

I'm sure you will figure out the best way forward for yourself.

Additional material

Using Effective Listening to Improve Leadership - this has direct instructions on how to do it

Listening as a Leadership Tool - this research contains a collection of direct quotes from acclaimed books and demonstrates in more detail why to do it

Attitude is hugely fundamental. Refresh the other sections:

Section: Working in a Team

Section: Workload Management

Section: Managing Risk

Ownership and buy-in are two different ways to get things going, and are not limited to Head Mods. If you’re encountering difficulties right now, try looking them up. (The search term team” or “leadership” or “community” may need to be added to get a wider range of results.)

Tip: If you aren't doing it already, look up variations of your specific problem on the internet for advice. e.g. "how do i deliver bad news", "how do i deliver bad news to an employee", "how do i deliver bad news to my boss", "how do i tell bad news to someone who isn't listening", ...

Other resources:

What it takes to be a great leader - Roselinde Torres (via TED)

For new Head Mods, this page of Slumber’s guide contains a non-exhaustive list of objectives which comprise the creation of a zine.

We are planning on making a
Help! My Zine Caught On Fire” guide after this one. In the meantime you can contact us / subscribe to our list for help or to be notified.