Leadership in the Social Business Era


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Openness and Trust become more important than control and accountabiltiy

Social Business Series (IV)

The articles in this Social Business Series are being written for real-life Sales and Marketing Professionals in small and mid-sized companies, who are busy running their business and have not had the time to read everything  in the emerging Social-anything space or spend a lot of time in consumer social websites.

In this series of articles, we have explored the definition and scope or Social CRM/Social Business Software, the Use Cases for Social CRM, and Social Lead Generation and Marketing Funnel.

Let’s now focus on Leadership in a Social Business Context. We have previous written “The Click Company” booklet covering leadership but I also recommend the excellent “Open Leadership”, latest book by the co-author of “Groundswell” Charlene Li.

Classical Leadership

The classical approach  to running a business: define a mission and a vision, articulate strategic goals, decompose the goals into functional components until you can assign individual tasks. If the task decomposition is perfect and you have a good personal accountability system, the theory goes, the mission gets accomplished and everyone is happy.

Leadership is needed to project the vision and “inspire” people to stay aligned and do their job.

Analytical skills are important to build the strategy hierarchy and the leverage is the control and power derived from the fact that compensation of employees are directly or indirectly connected with their personal objectives.

The limitations of Classical Leadership

I have worked in strategic planning for several years and invested much of my time studying business execution. So it is not easy for me to admit that classical methods alone fail more often than they work.

Most of us have experienced this: Breaking complex problems into independent, self-contained smaller problems is easier to say than do and dependencies and need for coordination over functional lines is never zero. But the stronger the accountability system, the least incentive there is to collaborate across functional lines. It is easier to reach partial objectives and blame other for team failure than to pursue the joint mission and risking not reaching partial metrics.

People often take the easier path, specially when they are not inspired or empowered.
Classical business execution pursues the efficiency of specialization but ignores creativity and the synergy of collaboration, which makes it inefficient in any activity that is any more than mechanical execution.

So, what is Open Leadership?

According to Charlene Li, Open Leadership is taking advantage of the upside of giving up control. She argues that, not only giving up control is inevitable (because of the generational change in progress), but the future of leadership is bright if we can leverage technology and manage that transition well.

An Open Leader needs to cultivate transparency as a tool and trust as the currency of influence and power. More tactically, it is also important to gain familiarity with social technologies that are already in use by most consumers and that are now being adopted by the corporate world to support that new culture.

What do I do now?

In this Social Business Series, we are trying to be tangible and pragmatic. But as any leader know, you don’t become one by simply adopting some  “5 top tips to be a great leader”. So, the bullets below are not that.

I am assuming you are already a successful leader and know that influence can come from control or trust, that efficiency can come from specialization or collaboration, alignment can come from process or inspiration.

The pendulum is moving towards reliance on trust, transparency, collaboration and inspiration. So, I look at my own experience as an organizational leader, put together with my recent involvement with Social Computing technologies and offer a few items that you can act on today.

Becoming a Social Business is about a shift in culture and attitude first, but technology becomes an important tool. Assuming that you are willing to start the shift in culture, the bullets below focus on getting familiar with some of the related technologies.

  • Get familiar with Social Computing – You are probably already a member of LinkedIn. Spend a few minutes on the site looking at the features they have added lately (social status updates, recruiting, advertising, company update summaries, API’s). Invite a few people you know to connect, notice the effect of that simple act on what you learn about people you haven’t talked to for a while. Isn’t it time for corporate applications to start taking advantage of the wealth of information in the LinkedIn database? If you haven’t done so, pick Twitter or Facebook and spend a few minutes a day in it. As a business person you simply cannot ignore something that hundreds of millions of people are using every day. It takes a few weeks for you to start understanding the value of it beyond the noise and apparently irrelevant information.
  • Share more. Look at your organization. Does the person on the warehouse floor know what your business priorities are? While transparency is not dependent on the tool you use to communicate, try blogging internally or externally for a change. If you don’t feel comfortable writing, encourage someone else in the organization to do it. Make the point of sharing something you normally would not and watch for the feedback and results.
  • Talk to your marketing people, read a book. Either of the two books mentioned above are good. Your marketing people are probably the ones following social media developments more closely. Ask them how companies are using Twitter to communicate with the market, provide customer service, prospect for new sales leads. Social Technologies are transforming marketing first, but will apply to every area in the business.
  • Engage more. Try breaking organizational layers and functional lines. Talk directly to customers. Take people from different departments out for lunch. Stop using e-mail  for things that can be done by just walking around and talking to people. Value interactions and results more than documents as deliverables of projects.

Let people show you there are other ways of accomplishing the same things, give up some control and see how it feels like.


If you find this article useful, keep an eye out for the other articles in this series. You can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog and leave comments suggesting other topics of your interest.

Also in the Social Business Series:

This article was originally written for and posted at http://www.theclickcompany.com
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