What does Open Leadership mean for Associations?

We’re declaring this Summer 2010 the Summer of Buzz. Therefore, we’ll be reposting here from the Buzz blog some of the coolest blog posts about the topics our speakers will be digging into – the ones we know you’ll be interested in even if you can’t make it to Buzz. The first few are on Open Leadership.

Our friend Ben Whitford, a contributing editor to SmartBrief on Social Media, recently interviewed Charlene Li about her new book, Open Leadership. So between now and June 16, when you’ll have your chance to hear from Charlene Li in person, we’ll be posting insightful tidbits from that interview.

Ben: How did you move from your previous book Groundswell to your new book Open Leadership? More broadly, can you explain what exactly you mean by “open leadership”? It seems you’re advocating a top-to-bottom rethink of the way companies are doing business–injecting openness into everything from customer service to product development to staff development.

Charlene: As I was speaking with companies about Groundswell, half of the questions were about how to implement a social strategy, but the other half were about a great discomfort with the sense that they were “out of control†. I also saw executives struggling with the whole concept of sharing and engaging. And what I found most interesting was the repeated question: “How open do I need to be?†I saw that the adoption of social technologies was causing people in leadership positions to rethink their entire perspective on power–the source and use of it. So yes, it is thinking about business in a different way where the benefit is that by letting go of the need to be in control, you have the opportunity to enter into a true relationship with your customers and employees. The biggest benefit of open leadership is looking at business through the lens of relationships, rather than that of transactions.

Ben: What can organizations do to bake openness into their ways of doing business? Is it just a question of getting on Twitter, or are there more significant philosophical shifts required? How important are sandbox covenants and the social-media team to this process? In many ways social marketers seem like the people most in-tune with the principles of open leadership–is marketing a driving factor?

There are two parts to this question. First, the mastering of the technologies are just the beginning–while there are certainly best practices when it comes to using tools like blogs, Facebook, or Twitter, it’s essentially using forms to publish easily and quickly. The bigger question is how you use these tools to establish or deepen relationships with other people. So while anyone can tweet, the most successful, popular Twitter users keep in mind parameters and guidelines for what they are writing.

Being open impacts all areas of your business, ranging from how you market (or more approprirately, talk with customers) to how you hire employees. That’s why sandbox covenants are so powerful. The sandbox covenant is the process by which the open leader defines how big the “sandbox†is, and then in concert with employees, customers, and partners, defines the walls of that sandbox clearly. Sandbox covenants help define just how broad or specific you will be in your relationship, thus clearly defining it for everyone involved. Having a social media team is just the beginning–those folks can certainly focus and speed up implementation. But you also need to have a vision for how openness will permeate throughout the organization.

One aside–while social marketers are a natural place to start, I actually think being more open in the hiring process (with blogs, a social networking presence, Twitter accounts, etc.) provides companies with arguably the most important place and time to be open–when you are trying to hire someone.

More to come from this interview soon. Already you can get a sense that this will be an important conversation to have at all levels of your organization–if you’re not already having it.


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Maggie McGary May 27, 2010 at 8:18 AM

I’m reading Open Leadership and a page doesn’t go by where I don’t think “EVERY association exec needs to read this book!” It is SO relevant to associations because, while according to NTEN’s new Nonprofit Social Benchmark Report, HALF of the organizations surveyed indicate that they plan to increase employee staffing related to social media, it will all fall flat if the leaders of those organizations aren’t on board. And I can assure you–right now they’re not.

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