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Monday, March 29, 2010

Social Media and Leadership

Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead (J-B Warren Bennis Series) by Charlene Li argues that a new organisational structure is required to accommodate and benefit from the culture of sharing that social media has fuelled over the last four years. The information flow we all experience daily can no longer be organised into neat org-chart silos. Instead, it demands a new kind of leadership — one based on letting go of the command-and-control model and embracing openness and relationship building.

Information sharing and dialogue, both internal and external, are key to the openness Li prescribes. But how can leaders be open in a world where they need to be in control? “If you think you are in control, you’re fooling yourself. As soon as you start listening, you realise you’re not in control.” Li proclaimed. “And letting go will yield more and better results.”

Here’s a distilled version of the five steps she laid out for achieving open leadership:

1. Have an open — but not undisciplined — strategy. Align openness with your organisation’s strategic goals. Examine your 2010 goals, pick one in which both openness and social media can have an impact, and start there.  “Every organisation is both open and closed. You must be strategic with what you are open about and not,” Li advises.

2. Understand the upside. Clearly define your goals.  What is the value of an open approach — beyond ROI?  Customer lifetime value, for example, should include the value of new customers that come from referrals, the value that their new insights bring to your product offering and the value of their word-of-mouth support. New customers who come with valuable networks — which you can then tap into — are the most valuable. The more open and engaged you are, the more you’ll be able to get value out of these expanded networks.

3. Find and gather support from others who are realists/optimists. Seek out leaders on your team who are open, rather than the pessimists or worried sceptics who are conditioned to default to a command-and-control mindset. The stakes for embracing openness are high, but the costs of not engaging optimistic allies are also high.

4. Manage risk with ‘sandbox covenants’. Clearly define the outlines and risks of your experiments so your team members feel secure rather than threatened by change. At the same time, be sure to let them know that these experiments in openness are not going to stay small forever.

5. Embrace failure. In same way you have a success file, keep an accessible failure file.  This is an important way to stay authentic and open to the fact that not everything succeeds.  Team members will recognise that all true relationships involve failure and success. 


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