Open Leadership

Summary Written by Rhancha Connell

The Big Idea

Success Through Trust

"Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow. At a time when customers and employees are redefining how they make and maintain relationships with social technologies, it’s high time that organizations rethink the foundations of business relationships as well."- Open Leadership, page 9

In his presidential campaign, President Barack Obama’s use of social media opened people’s eyes to the power of what we’re coming to call “Open Leadership”; “having the confidence and humility to give up the need to be in control while inspiring commitment from people to accomplish goals.” Relinquishing control to accomplish more through collective efforts is a powerful concept and potentially tough for organizations to adopt. To highlight the concept’s opportunities for success in organizations, author Charlene Li shares her insights on the tactics used by various companies and how they achieved success.

Open leadership is essentially about fostering new relationships and taking existing relationships to a deeper level. People commit to companies, projects and leaders that they care about. Li suggests there are five ways to nurture commitment as a leader, as exemplified by companies thriving in the Open Leadership economy:

  1. Respect that your customers and employees have power
  2. Share constantly to build trust
  3. Nurture curiosity and humility
  4. Hold openness accountable
  5. Forgive failure.

As you can see from the list, trust plays a major role in corporate success in the 21st century. Trust instills loyalty at all levels – customers to employees. Sharing information via Facebook, Twitter, blogs or an internal company intranet system connects you to your customers / employees all the time. Responding to people’s questions or concerns in a timely manner will solidify and deepen your relationship with them. Remember, the power has shifted and the individual consumer now has a voice that can be heard by millions. As a company, you need to be aware of that voice and respond to it, especially if it is a negative comment. Consumers respect companies that admit when they have made a mistake –means the company is being transparent, open and authentic! It is not a failure, especially when you learn from it.

Insight #1

Bigger than the Numbers

"We tend to overvalue the things we can measure, and undervalue the things we cannot."- John Hayes, CEO of American Express, quoted in Open Leadership, page 76

One major hang up many organizations have and the one that stops them from implementing or fully committing to a social media strategy is that there is “no firm ROI on social media.” Again, they’re missing the shift in thinking. We need to move past the numbers; the raw “transaction” element of business. Successful brands are more than just the product they sell – they represent a movement; something bigger than themselves. Obama represented a concept – “Change”. Obama didn’t promise something specific to each person who donated to his campaign budget. Instead, he clearly shared who he was, and what he thought the future could look like. He painted a picture so vivid that people were excited to play a role in creating it. They didn’t ask about the “ROI on their contribution”, they moved beyond the numbers and got behind a movement.

As John Hayes has pointed out, “There are non-financial metrics such as customer satisfaction and employee loyalty that can be observed and measured; although they don’t necessarily lead directly to revenues, you know there is a link [to social media].” (Open Leadership, page 76)

At its core, Social Media is nothing more than a very inexpensive tool to engage with, and have meaningful conversations with, millions of people. Think less transactional and more conversational. It’s all about the long term.

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Insight #2

The Open Leadership Mindset

"Leadership takes on a different dimension in a connected, networked world – that of being a catalyst for change both outside and inside the organization."- Open Leadership, page 164

There are two mindsets that define and determine how open you are as a leader. The first is your view of people – are you optimistic or pessimistic about people’s intentions? The second is your view of successes as either an individual success or from the efforts of a team. Where does your mindset fit on the spectrum?

There are also three very important characteristics that open leaders possess: 1) curiosity, 2) humility and, 3) a desire to develop other open leaders as well. Open leaders constantly seek out opportunities to improve themselves and the world around them. They are driven by learning and they see social technologies as a way for them to extend that learning. Humility gives them the self-awareness and confidence to admit when they are wrong or need help. Open leaders have members on their team who complement their weaknesses, allowing them to thrive in their own areas of strength. In order to create and sustain openness within an organization, there are four areas to focus on:

  1. Values drive the vision
  2. Leaders set the tone and example for others to follow
  3. Extending the old culture into the new
  4. Systems and structure sustain the transformation

Throughout Open Leadership, Li shares several case studies that illustrate how each of these transformed a specific organization.

This book is a must read for every organization wanting to thrive in today’s open economy. The internet isn’t going away and the world of social media keeps growing; bigger and more engrained with our day to day life every day. We need to embrace this new open economy and grow alongside it. For many of us it is a scary thought but it truly is the only way. I hope you pick up this book and join the many of us who are working towards open leadership. Be a part of the open leadership revolution that needs to take place! Like Ghandi once said; ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Read the book

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Charlene Li

Charlene Li is founder of the Altimeter Group and the co-author of the critically acclaimed, bestselling book “Groundswell.” She is one of the foremost experts on social media and technologies and a consultant and independent thought leader on leadership, strategy, social technologies, interactive media and marketing. Formerly Li was vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research and a consultant with Monitor Group. She was named one of the 12 most creative minds of 2008 by Fast Company, and one of the most influential women in technology 2009.

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